Nation Washington editor Corn delves thoroughly and with gusto into the career of Ted Shackley, one of the more shadowy CIA agents of the Cold War period. Shackley was the child of a broken home, son of an immigrant woman who bequeathed him his fluent Polish, a skill that landed him his first counterintelligence job in postwar Berlin. An intense but informed and intelligent patriot, he entered the CIA at its inception in 1947. His career, therefore, mirrors the development and fortunes of the agency itself. Shackley was in Miami to orchestrate assassination attempts on Castro; he was in Laos to organize the covert war against the Pathet Lao; he was in Vietnam, where, from his office in the Saigon embassy as chief of the East Asia Division, he earned the nickname ""Blond Ghost."" (In 1975, back in the States, as he watched TV images of the embassy evacuation, his 11-year-old daughter found him weeping -- a rare moment of emotion for a man portrayed here as cold, balanced, and ruthless.) Corn sounds a note of recrimination throughout this biography, which somewhat unfairly lays at Shackley's door such fiascos as the posting by an agency employee of a CIA-forged letter from a Thai Communist rebel to the Thai government in an attempt to foster divisions within that country's left (it was traced back to the CIA and caused a storm of anti-American protest in Thailand). The book might have benefited from the perspective of Shackley himself, who did not consent to be interviewed. By his own admission, Corn has used Shackley's career to open a window into the world of intelligence, and his book succeeds more as an account of the CIA's workings in general than as a portrait of one agent. A fairly absorbing read about the CIA, though the special significance of its protagonist isn't really established.