John Prados

A - M


Prados, John. The Blood Road: The Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Vietnam War. New York: Wiley, 1998.

Odom, Washington Post, 7 Jan. 1999, finds that the book's "strengths ... are its descriptions of SOG [Studies and Observation Group] and Special Forces operations and its considerable treatment of the North Vietnamese side of the conflict....The book's major weakness is its treatment of strategic choices.... On moral questions, where he passes out blame in large doses to U.S. leaders, the author leaves us uncertain as to whether the North Vietnamese leaders share any of the guilt. Keeping his opening promise, however, Prados does deliver the most comprehensive treatment yet of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and its place in the war."

According to Taylor, I&NS 15.4, "Prados devotes a good deal of attention to the intelligence-gathering efforts of the US forces.... [T]his book suffers from the lack of a bibliography and only the most cursory citations for direct quotations."


Prados, John. "Certainties, Doubts, and Imponderables: Levels of Analysis in the Military Balance." Intelligence and National Security 26, no. 6 (Dec. 2011): 778-790.

This essay examines "one aspect of intelligence performance, the importance of assumptions versus data.... On balance, for all the defects in the system American policy-makers during the Cold War were much better off for possessing a sophisticated intelligence community."


Prados, John. Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II. New York: Random House, 1995. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001

Clark comment: Prados is a prolific but not always critically acclaimed writer on military and intelligence-related subjects. With Combined Fleet Decoded, he seems to have produced his best work thus far, as the reviews have been almost uniformly positive.

According to Surveillant 4.2, Prados has examined "every aspect of the secret war ... -- from radio dispatches to espionage to vital information obtained from prisoners, document translations, and deep-sea divers' recoveries of critical material from wrecks at the bottom of the sea." Speer, Proceedings 122.10 (Oct. 1996), says that this "is a masterful account of the role played by intelligence in the Pacific theater." The author provides "[q]uite a few" special insights. Similarly, Kruh, Cryptologia 20.1, calls this "a superb book with sufficient new information and details to satisfy discrimnating readers and World War II buffs."

Carpenter, WIR 14.6, calls Combined Fleet Decoded "a book for all students of the Pacific War against Japan.... Prados has sought out every available piece of the mosaic that made up the unseen war between the two determined antagonists and has put them together in an informative and fascinating narrative.... Intelligence ... made Allied victory more certain and more rapid than otherwise would have been possible."

To Jacobsen, Cryptolog 17.1, this book is "the most complete narrative of naval cryptology TARGETED AGAINST [emphasis in original] Japan from its inception through WWII in print today. It details the training of language officers in Japan, pre-war cryptologic efforts against the Japanese Navy and successes during WWII.... Despite a few minor errors, this book should be of great interest to ... those interested in naval cryptologic history."

The Periscope 21.3 reviewer found it to be "the most comprehensive discussion of intelligence activities in the WW II Pacific area"; it is "[h]ighly recommended." Bates, NIPQ 12.3, suggests that Combined Fleet Decoded would be "an excellent text for ... teaching the war in the Pacific." Hull, at, says that Prados "has written an impeccable work of great depth and range. This book provides a dramatic new focus on the Pacific war and is likely to challenge many previous conceptions. It is an epic chronicle."

Commenting on the 2001 edition, Krebs, JIH 2.2, expresses regret that the author has not updated his material since there have been so "many studies published since then on this subject and related fields." Nonetheless, "much of the contents is still of great value."

Dean, DIJ 14.1 (2005), criticizes the author for getting "too bogged down in the various historical controversies" that surround the Pearl Harbor catastrophe; for failing "to develop his discussion of coalition intelligence" over the last half of the book; and for leaving "tantalizing threads of ideas" hanging and not following them throughout the war. However, the book "has a wealth of information about U.S. and Japanese naval intelligence bureaucracies.... Overall, it is an important work..., but the reader must be patient mining this tome."


Prados, John. "Come Down from the Clouds." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sep. 1998, 18-19.

"Satellite images are useful, but [in dealing with proliferation issues] U.S. intelligence needs to get back to basics -- namely, it needs more spies."


Prados, John. The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2013.

Peake, Studies 58.1 (Mar. 2014), and Intelligencer 20.3 (Spring-Summer 2014), sees this work as "a critical examination of disturbing historical and contemporary events.... The patterns he develops are subjectively, not objectively linked."


[Prados, John.] Fighting the War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 248.

"Previously secret U.S. Air Force official histories of the Vietnam war published [on 9 April 2008] by the National Security Archive ... include the Air Force's detailed official history of the war in northern Laos.... Also declassified were Air Force historical studies on specific years of the Vietnam War, documenting in great detail the Air Force's role in planning and implementing the air war in North and South Vietnam. Among other significant disclosures in these histories are:

"* Air Force interest in nuclear options during at least two flash points in the Southeast Asian conflict: Laos in 1959 and in 1968 during the battle of Khe Sanh.

"* CIA operational commitments for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion hampered the Agency's ability to carry out Kennedy administration policy in Laos.

"* CIA proprietary Air America directed search and rescue missions in Laos in addition to its role in combat operations.

"* The U.S. ambassador in Laos served as the field commander of the so-called 'secret war' there, a role that has been largely undocumented."

[CIA/Laos/Gen & Ref; MI/AF/To89; Vietnam/Gen & Ref]

Prados, John. The Hidden History of the Vietnam War. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995.


Prados, John. "High-Flying Spies." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sep. 1992, 11-12.


Prados, John. How The Cold War Ended: Debating and Doing History. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2011.

Peake, Studies 55.4 (Dec. 2011), notes that the author "concentrates on the period from 1979 to 1991.... This is a very thoughful and provocative book that does not pretend to be the last word on the topic."


Prados, John. Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun. New York: New American Library, 2012.

Frank, Proceedings 139.5 (May 2013), notes that the author "acknowledges that many factors contributed" to the successful outcome of the Solomons campaign, but "he singles out the importance of what he refers to as 'the pillars of intelligence.' These included not only radio intelligence but also particularly the Australian-led 'coast watchers' and photo reconnaissance." Regretably, however, this work "is blemished by an excessive numbers of factual errors, mostly but not exclusively about details."


Prados, John. Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush. New York: Morrow, 1991. 1991. [pb]

According to Surveillant 1.5, Prados "[a]rgues that the national security apparatus is used by presidents to avoid oversight." The reviewer in AIJ 16.1 calls the work "interesting, informative and recommended reading." On the other hand, Beisner, WPNWE, 20-26 May 1991, faults Prados for "malapropisms..., wobbly comprehension of Kissinger's pre-Washington writings ... [and] misinterpretation of such key events as the 1972 China summit.... And though diligent in probing primary sources, he neglects scholarly contributions." The author's "conclusions nonetheless demand attention," including his recommendation that Congress overhaul the NSC's legislative underpinnings.


Prados, John. Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Click for reviews.

[CIA/60s/Gen; CIA/70s/Gen & Investigations; CIA/Biogs; CIA/DCIs/Colby; CIA/Overviews/00s]

Return to Pp-Prh