Evan Thomas


Thomas, Evan. "Expert's Picks: Books on Espionage, Selected by Evan Thomas." Washington Post, 31 Jan. 1999, X11. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

Thomas lists eight non-fiction works:

1. Peter Grose, Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles. "[B]alanced biography of the legendary CIA director."

2. David Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors. "[L]ively double biography of the two spookiest spooks of them all, William Harvey and James Jesus Angleton."

3. Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets. "[T]he best book ever written about the CIA."

4. John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA. "An encyclopedic and fair-minded overview of the agency into the 1980s."

5. William Stevenson, A Man Called Intrepid: The Secret War. "How code-breaking won World War II for the Allies." [Clark comment: A disappointing selection generally but even more when paired with Thomas' description of the book.]

6. Sam Tanenhaus, Whitaker Chambers. "This thoughtful biography ... is the best account of the communist spy trade in America."

7. David Wise, Molehunt: The Secret Search for the Traitors That Shattered the CIA. "[H]ow James Jesus Angleton's paranoia turned the spy v. spy war against the KGB into a witchhunt within the agency."

8. Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. "[F]ollows CIA director Bill Casey as he tries to bring back the covert-action 'good old days' to the CIA during the Reagan era."


Thomas, Evan. "Gaining Access to CIA's Records: A Singular Opportunity." Studies in Intelligence 39, no. 5 (1996): 19-23.

The author of The Very Best Men tells the story of how he gained access to classified records under the CIA's historical access policy. He concludes by expressing the belief that "it would be in the agency's interest to let historians see for themselves what remains classified."


Thomas, Evan. Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World. New York: Little, Brown, 2012.

To Dujmovic, Studies 58.1 (Mar. 2014), Ike's Bluff "is a mixed bag and overall ... fails to meet [the author's] previous standard for serious history. I would recommend it, however, as a valuable psychological study and period piece that evokes the uncertainty and fears of the early Cold War." However, "Thomas's treatment of Allen Dulles ... is unbalanced and overly harsh, emphasizing the man's flaws but not the attributes that Eisenhower found so valuable." Even with its several shortcomings, "[a]s an introduction to the high stakes and stresses of the Cold War in the 1950s, Ike's Bluff would be a good choice for the general reader."

Goulden, Washington Times, 9 Nov. 2012, and Intelligencer 19.3 (Winter-Spring 2013), suggests that "[w]orks such as 'Ike’s Bluff' are encouraging historians and the media to take a closer and more objective look at Dwight D. Eisenhower."


Thomas, Evan. "Spymaster General: The Adventures of Wild Bill Donovan and the 'Oh So Social' OSS." Intelligencer 18, no. 2 (Summer-Fall 2011): 37-43. [Vanity Fair, 3 Mar. 2011, web exclusive]

"Donovan may have been larger than life, but he defies easy caricature.... His exploits are utterly improbable but by now well documented in declassified wartime records that portray a brave, noble, headlong, gleeful, sometimes outrageous pursuit of action and skullduggery."


Thomas, Evan. The Very Best Men -- Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. JK468I6T455

Clark comment: This is a good book; but, as good as it is, it should not be the only study one reads on the CIA's early years. Reading and thinking about Very Best Men in concert with Peter Grose's Gentleman Spy, Robin W. Winks' Cloak and Gown, and Burton Hersh's The Old Boys would be a start toward understanding these formative years and the remarkable men who peopled them.

In a positive but emotional review, Warren, Surveillant 4.2 and CIRA Newsletter 21.2, finds it unfortunate that while Thomas gets "his facts ... right," his "analysis is wrong." That analysis, probably unintentionally, "seems to imply that patriotism, decency, good intentions, and bravery are not desirable qualities in the intelligence business." But whom should we hire for this work if not those Americans with exactly those qualities? "Frank Wisner, Richard Bissell, Tracy Barnes, and Desmond FitzGerald spent their lives in the arena in pursuit of that worthy cause called America. The results are in. They won."

Chambers says that Thomas "has put together a fascinating tale" in which the lives of the "fathers of the CIA's covert action programs" are "woven together through layers of family, society, politics, and the CIA.... The best parts of the story are those told by friends and family.... Other aspects of the book are less satisfying. The role of the CIA in policy making is handled superficially at best. The discussion of the role of the President in authorizing covert actions is also fumbled.... This book is well worth reading for its insights into these four personalities and the world that made them." Click for Chambers' full review.

In a review that is ultimately annoying because of the difficulty in separating Thomas' interpretations from the reviewer's, Wise, WPNWE, 23-29 Oct. 1995, comments that "Thomas has produced a jewel of a book. 'The Very Best Men' is a road map to understanding what went on inside the CIA during the height of the Cold War." Thomas has detailed "the lives and fortunes of four men who ran the agency's covert operations during its most free-wheeling era in the 1950s and 1960s." The author "has not glorified these buccaneers of the Cold War. He captures their humanity and succeeds in making them real, often sympathetic, and sometimes likeable. But he also portrays their foibles."

Hood, IJI&C 9.2, says that Thomas "gets the most important facts right" but still "presents a somewhat tilted view of CIA" and his four subjects. The problem is that the author "concentrates on the most conspicuous covert-action operations and all but ignores the agency's intelligence collection, counterintelligence, and analytical responsibilities." In addition, the focus is on failed activities, while the "more successful covert action (CA) operations are mentioned only in passing, if at all." Garthoff, PSQ 111.3, finds that Thomas has developed "a well informed and insightful portrait." His protagonists "come alive" through his "deft biographic historical accounts."

To Waller, WIR 14.6, the book "at times unduly accentuates the negative" in analyzing the role of its protagonists in the Cold War. In addition, "to suggest that CIA was a club for the elite romping in a world-sized playpen is simply wrong." Thomas has failed to see that the "greatest significance" of his work "was in the remarkableness of the CIA's beginnings." Fromkin, FA 75.1 (Jan.-Feb. 1996), believes "Thomas argues persuasively that many of the qualities apparent in CIA covert activities in the formative years of the agency reflect traits of personality common to the Wall Streeters, who were its leaders in those days, and who were products of the same schools, law firms, banks, and clubs."

See also, Michael Thompson, "The Need for Integrity: Thoughts Provoked by The Very Best Men," Studies in Intelligence 39, no. 5 (1996): 25-34.

[CIA/40s/Gen & Biogs]

Thomas, Evan, John Barry, and Melinda Liu. "Ground Zero: India's Blasts Dramatize the New Nuclear Age. How Did the CIA Miss Them? And What's to Do Now?" Newsweek, 25 May 1998, 29-32A.

This report includes the story that India's preparations to test in 1995 were halted after the U.S. Ambassador confronted the Indian government with satellite photographs of the work going on at the Pokharan site.


Thomas, Evan, with Mark Hosenball, Tamara Lipper, and Michael Isikoff. "Shadow Struggle." Newsweek, 14 Oct. 2002, 29-31.

As Washington prepares for a war against Iraq, "there are real and serious divisions between Bush's war cabinet and the spy agencies that serve it, as well as troubling splits within the intelligence community itself…. [T]he CIA and FBI have done better in cooperating with each other, [b]ut close observers worry about the resistance of the intelligence community to real reform."

At the same time, the "CIA old boys … fear that high-risk covert operations will go bad…. They worry that if CIA analysts bend to political pressure from Bush's right-wing ideologues and play up the Iraqi threat, they will later be accused of cooking the books. The analysts fear that they will miss the one clue to the coming terror attack that is buried in the mountain of tips, leads and clues that inundate the CIA and FBI every day…. The spooks are very wary that they will be double-crossed by Congress….

"The hawks today are no more trusting of the CIA than they were in the 1970s. Though careful to praise the agency for working well with U.S. Special Forces to chase the Taliban out of Afghanistan…, these Bush hard-liners say the agency is both timid and wrong on Iraq…. The Pentagon is working around the CIA's caution by relying on its own spy shop -- the Defense Intelligence Agency -- and it may use U.S. Special Forces to handle covert operations that would ordinarily be carried out by CIA operatives."

[CIA/00s/02; Terrorism/02]

Thomas, Evan, and Gregory Vistica. "Spooking the Director." Newsweek, 6 Nov. 1995, 42.

DCI Deutch's "large, floppy, sensitive man" personality is not wearing well at the CIA. On the other side, Deutch's aides "are worried about being forced to confront yet more scandals." On Deutch's part "the former MIT professor is already looking forward to leaving the agency, even if Bill Clinton is re-elected."

[CIA/90s; DCIs]

Thomas, Evan, and Gregory L. Vistica. "The Spy Who Sold Out." Newsweek, 2 Dec. 1996, 35.

This rehashes most of the publicly known aspects of the Nicholson case, mixed together with a few gratuitous slaps (masquerading as analysis) at the Agency: "Nicholson ... is more accurately described as a clever careerist, a common breed at Langley since the 1980s"; "case officers spend many hours waiting around in bars"; "just as Ames was not the first CIA mole [sic] -- only the first to be caught -- Nicholson's case is almost surely not the last."



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