The 1950s

Barrett, David M. The CIA and Congress: The Untold Story from Truman to Kennedy. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005.

Clark comment: This work is a triumph of scholarship. If the author does not turn previous assessments of Congressional oversight for this period upside down, he at least has turned them away from a deeply rutted path. Given the immense amount of detailed material presented here, it was easy to expect the writing to slip into tediousness. However, except for infrequent lapses, that did not happen -- which can be attributed to Barrett's strong sense of where he was going, combined with energetic writing. For a work of this size and depth, The CIA and Congress reads quite easily. His careful descriptions of what he could not find -- and therefore does not know -- are in some instances as important as what he did find.

DKR, AFIO WIN 33-05 (29 Aug. 2005), says that the author finds that "Congress was a firm, if not always wise, taskmaster in the agency's early decades. The CIA was repeatedly criticized for Intel failures, harassed by budget cutters and witch hunts, and pressed by legislators to slant analysis on politically charged issues.... Barrett has written a trenchant study of Congressional oversight that is in sharp contrast to a widespread, popular image of the CIA."

For Scheuer, Washington Post, 27 Nov. 2005, this work is "is a triumph of research." Faced with "widely dispersed research materials," the author has "displayed sound analytic sense and balance in their use." Along the way, he provides "superb portraits and assessments of the key players." Nolen, IJI&C 21.1 (Spring 2008), lauds the author as "a master at culling the important details of secret history hidden in the dusty attic archives of America.... Barrett tells new tales of congressional oversight, reinterprets the old, and whets the appetite for more to come."

Snider, Studies 50.1 (Mar. 2006), finds that the author paints "a far richer picture" of the Congress-CIA relationship "than we had before. Intriguing tidbits are scattered throughout," and "almost every chapter reveals something that we did not quite appreciate before.... [T]he DCI and other senior CIA officials appeared far more often before congressional committees ... than was previously understood. In 1958, for example, DCI Dulles appeared a surprising 27 times before 16 different committees.... Still, as Barrett's account documents, a great deal of what passed for oversight during this period was informal and less than rigorous."

To Platt, I&NS 22.4 (Aug. 2007), the author provides "a detailed, comprehensive, and highly persuasive examination of congressional oversight" of the CIA "during the early Cold War.... Barrett's lengthy, somewhat densely written tome convincingly demolishes the myth of congressional deference to and salutary neglect towards the CIA from its founding in 1947 to the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961."

Finding the author's study "both fascinating and provocative," McCarthy, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews [http://www.h-net.org], Sep. 2008, opines that "it is unquestionably one of the most important books ever published on the early history of the CIA.... In the hands of a less talented author, this would have been an incredibly tedious book. Barrett, however, has a good eye for revealing quotations and fun anecdotes."

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