A concise overview of the CIA’s troubled dealings with spies-turned-authors.
For an organization guided by the oft-quoted proverb “the secret of our success is the secret of our success,” the breadth of CIA literature, especially memoirs from former agents, is surprisingly extensive. Moran (U.S. National Security/Univ. of Warwick; Classified: Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain, 2013) provides a history of the CIA’s relationship with memoir writers and of the American intelligence community’s approach to public relations. The author points to the publication of Herbert Yardley’s The American Black Chamber in 1931 as a critical moment in the soon-to-emerge genre of U.S. spy memoirs. Years before the founding of the CIA or its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, Yardley’s commercially successful book sparked national security debates by disclosing sensitive cryptographic secrets. In addition, the book “established money as a key motivating factor as to why spies might be tempted to publish.” For several decades after World War II, the CIA adopted a policy of “limited hangout,” which amounted to “hiding as much as possible but occasionally allowing for a carefully controlled blast of publicity executed by its Director.” The Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 effectively ended the CIA’s closemouthed golden age, inspiring a “culture of conspiracy about the CIA” and a flood of “renegades and whistle-blowers” writing embarrassing memoirs. Moran engagingly documents the ensuing crackdown on authors by the CIA, including honeypot schemes, elaborately planted bugs, intimidating surveillance, endless litigation, buying up entire first printings, stealing manuscripts, and the dreaded Publication Review Board. The author demonstrates the truth in one agent’s joke that “on the Agency’s scale of preferential occupations for ex-employees a second career in writing has plummeted to a cut above double agents and a shade below gunrunners.” Moran’s book is scholarly in intent but proves a surprisingly cracking read.
An informative historical summation of CIA memoirs with enough skulduggery to entertain casual readers.