COVERT ACTION

Generally

2000s

K - Q

Kibbe, Jennifer D. "Covert Action and the Pentagon." Intelligence and National Security 22, no. 1 (Feb. 2007): 57-74.

The period since the 9/11 attacks has seen "a blurring of the distinction of whether or not military units are conducting covert operations"; this "raises important questions about congressional oversight.... The military's role in unacknowledged operations is an increasingly complex issue and it remain to be seen how Congress will serve the twin goals of protecting the United States from terrorism and ensuring that there is sufficient accountability to the public."

Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. New York: Times Books, 2006. 2007. [pb]

Clark comment: The author is a journalist who has previously writtem on the U.S.-supported coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954). Here, he begins in the late 19th century, sweeps across the 20th century, and covers the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the beginning of the 21st century. Kinzer's speculation, following each case he presents, about what might have been without U.S. "intervention" eventually gets quite tiresome.

According to Sweig, Washington Post, 16 Apr. 2006, the author's "narrative abounds with unusual anecdotes, vivid description and fine detail." However, the book "stumbles when its tone shifts from lively storytelling to World Book Encyclopedia entry." Nor does Overthrow "tell us enough about the domestic environments that shaped the perspectives of those leaders whom the United States was busy overthrowing, isolating or provoking."

Ikenberry, FA 86.2 (Mar.-Apr. 2007), finds the author's account to be "fascinating history ... recounted in lively and colorful detail." Kinzer "offers a useful portrait of the presidents who have influenced the exercise of U.S. power and the interesting judgment that interventions have often succeeded in their immediate goals but failed to advance U.S. interests in the long term." Lieven, NYT Book Review, 16 Apr. 2006, who clearly supports the argument that U.S. interventions have fueled anti-Americanism around the world, refers to this work as a "fine book," "detailed, passionate and convincing," and "meticulously reported."

On the other hand, Peake, Studies 50.4 (2006) and Intelligencer 15.2 (Fall-Winter 2006-2007), finds that while "[n]o one can argue that the events Kinzer cites did not take place," the book has "a barely latent malevolence" to it. The author clearly "doesn't approve of covert action but despite his best efforts, he has not succeeded in justifying its demise."

Le Gallo, André. "Covert Action: A Vital Option in U.S. National Security Policy." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 18, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 354-359.

In this "Commentary," the author argues that "[t]he solution to the problems foisted on the U.S. by Radical Islam ... reaches beyond a military-only effort."

Lucas, W. Scott. "Beyond Freedom, Beyond Control: Approaches to Culture and the State-Private Network in the Cold War." Intelligence and National Security 18, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 53-72.

While "the CIA led the implementation of the government's cultural strategy, it was a 'total' strategy which involved all agencies in the Executive.... The operations were part of an integrated strategy.... To put it bluntly, if the US government had not covertly funded the 'private' efforts (or, in some cases, assisted in their funding through foundations...), they would not have existed."

Mitrovich, Gregory. Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.

For Legvold, FA 79.3 (May-Jun. 1999), the author's "massive research in the archives of the State Department, CIA, and the National Security Council ... adds considerably to the ... picture of the calculations and arguments inside the Truman and Eisenhower administrations.... One does not have to buy his overdrawn characterization that 'rollback' was the be-all of U.S. policy to appreciate the contribution he has made."

Myers, Steven Lee, David E. Sanger, and Eric Schmitt. "U.S. Considers New Covert Push Within Pakistan." New York Times, 6 Jan. 2008. [http://www.nytimes.com]

According to senior administration officials, "Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a number of President Bush's top national security advisers" met on 4 January 2008 to discuss "whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan." Options include "loosening restrictions on the C.I.A. to strike selected targets in Pakistan.... Most counterterrorism operations in Pakistan have been conducted by the C.I.A.; in Afghanistan, where military operations are under way, including some with NATO forces, the military can take the lead."

Peebles, Curtis. Twilight Warriors: Covert Air Operations against the USSR. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005.

Clark comment: This is an interesting and useful review of U.S. covert operations from the end of World War II through the Vietnam War. However, the subtitle is remarkably inaccurate, in that operations against the USSR constitute only a small portion of the activites described here and much more is discussed than "air operations." In addition, the handling of the reference materials is too general to satisfy any curiousity as to where the author obtained a particular item of information; and the absence of page numbers in the citing of articles is bothersome.

Peake, Studies 50.1 (Mar. 2006), finds that "[d]espite the subtitle, this book is really a summary of US covert action operations since World War II..... There is even an interesting chapter on the CIA's Domestic Contact Division and how its resources were used to collect against the Soviet Union.... Twilight Warriors presents an interesting but less than comprehensive review of the field, based mainly on secondary sources." For Van Nederveen, Air & Space Power Journal 22.1 (Spring 2008), this work "offers the right mix of scholarship, archival details, and spy stories to appeal to every reader."

Pincus, Walter. "CIA Cited for Not Disclosing Covert Action." Washington Post, 10 May 2007, A13. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

On 9 may 2007, the HPSCI said that "the CIA violated the law last year when it failed to inform the panel of 'a significant covert action activity.'" In its report on the fiscal 2008 intelligence authorization bill, the committee said that "'[d]espite agency explanations that the failure was inadvertent, the committee is deeply troubled over the fact that such an oversight could occur, whether intentionally or inadvertent.'... The committee gave no hint of what the covert activity involved."

Prados, John. Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006.

Clark comment: This work began life as The Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II, published in 1986 with 480 pages. It saw renewed life as Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II Through the Persian Gulf War, published in 1996 with 576 pages. This version drops the more accurate title that clearly identifies the real begin point for covert "wars" -- U.S. Presidents -- for the presumably more saleable subtitle of Secret Wars of the CIA, with neither presidents nor the Pentagon seemingly interesting enough to make it into the title or subtitle. In addition, the work has now grown to 752 pages.

Peake, Studies 51.2 (2007), states flatly that "[t]his is not an objective study. Prados clearly held negative views of covert action before he set pen to paper, and set out to prove his point. Even the covert support given to ... anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan is a negative; the Soviet Union would have collapsed in any event in Prados' view. Still, this is thorough review of covert action, and readers may well reach different conclusions."

For Arpin, NWCR 60.4 (Autumn 2007), this is "a detailed, if somewhat disjointed, chronology of CIA covert actions since the inception of the agency." Prados "generally takes a negative view of covert actions, maintaining (for the most part) that they are antithetical to American ideals.... The author’s treatment is not balanced," but this "long and detailed book" remains "a valuable book for students of intelligence activities."

Freeman, Booklist (via Amazon.com), sees this as "a comprehensive and superbly researched effort.... Some of the topics covered are familiar ground,... [b]ut Prados also details lesser-known CIA activities in Guyana, Eastern Europe, and even Western Europe in the aftermath of World War II." [Clark comment on review: This review raises serious questions as to whether the reviewer is familiar with Prados' earlier work mentioned above.]

This massive volume apparently deserves an equally massive review. While this reader is always interested in the take of B. Hugh Tovar on matters of which he has close and even intimate knowledge, his review of Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA in IJI&C 21.1 (Spring 2008) is one of the longest I remember in this journal. Yet, nowhere does Tovar make the point (of which he is without doubt aware; see his review of Prados' Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby [2003]) that much of this material is recycled from Prados' multiple efforts of the past. Tovar refers to such matters as the author's "rollicking fast-moving style that characrizes much of the book"; "[a]s usual, [Prados] musters great detail, but it is not always clear where that detail came from"; "[h]is long-running narratives are interesting, sometimes fascinating, but always frustrating because linking a striking, even sensational, statement to a specific source in his endnotes is often impossible"; "[a] lot of good material is already in the public domain on the war in Laos, and Prados would have done better to draw upon it"; and the author "delights in details of the type that reflects an insider's knowledge and then leads him to make mistakes."

An aspect of this book that Johnson, I&NS 23.2 (Apr. 2008), finds "weak is its inattention to the burgeoning scholarly literature that has crystallized around the subject of intelligence, including covert action.... As with the earlier version, Safe for Democracy is a treasure trove of personalities, facts, and policies related to the CIA's (and therefore various presidents') secret and mostly failed wars."

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