In his debut, a CIA veteran recounts his challenges and frustrations working for the intelligence agency from 1966 to 1991.
Following college and a stint in the Marines, Costanzo, son of an American Foreign Service worker, signed on to work for the CIA in the 1960s. So began his tale of dealing with a rather Kafkaesque bureaucracy for the next 25 years. Costanzo enjoyed his espionage training and has respect for nonnalluring procedures—e.g., ensuring consistent language in surveillance summaries—but the pettiness of senior officers, many of them holdovers from World War II, almost made him quit several times. Instead, he persevered, often by circumventing the system, especially after he realized that the CIA rarely fires anyone since such departures could pose a security risk. He got deployed overseas and held jobs at cover organizations while also conducting clandestine operations, ultimately reaching the position of chief of station in an unnamed country. Costanzo provides some fascinating peeks into the mechanics of cultivating recruits and using disguises and safe houses, but alas, he must remain mum about the actual places where he served, as mandated by his CIA manuscript reviewers for reasons of national security. Still, Costanzo has some fun within this directive, christening countries with such Orwellian monikers as Latrinia, Effluvia and Rattalia. He also manages to sneak in some assessments of CIA leaders, including James Jesus Angleton (“a real operational genius, but later he grew irrational”), Dick Helms (“cronyism abounded”), James R. Schlesinger (“myopia and incomprehension of the service’s problems”), Bill Colby (“some good reforms”) and Bob Gates (“his policies fully embodied the prejudices toward the perceived elitism of the clandestine service”). Costanzo provides some pithy takes on political events as well, usually casting the blame squarely on outside parties—blaming émigrés for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, for example—rather than on bad informants. Elsewhere, he skims over his personal life—his wife and daughter are only briefly mentioned—and comes off a bit cranky with his relentless workplace complaints. Overall, however, Costanzo files a commendable report on agency life.
A fascinating though somewhat censored memoir that also serves as an organizational critique of the CIA.