PRESIDENTS SECRET WARS: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II by John Prados

PRESIDENTS SECRET WARS: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The CIA is 40 years old and it is time to assess its effect on American foreign policy, says Prados, a specialist in intelligence matters. He limits his assessment to covert actions that have had a paramilitary component because they ""have the greatest potential for damaging American national interests."" This is the first overall view of such actions, from the first in Albania down to support for today's Contras in Nicaragua. Prados' view is that the paramilitary covert game is hardly worth the candle. The rationale behind many actions has been strained, and there have been many failures. Even apparent successes, like the overthrow of the governments of Iran and Guatemala, have been successful only in the short run: the government of Iran today is an enemy, the government of Guatemala an embarrassing dictatorship. The conventional wisdom has it that the Reagan administration has ""unleashed"" the CIA, but Prados makes it clear that the agency never has been really leashed, for it has been expert at evading effective Congressional oversight. He writes, ""The questions of which activities are appropriate for an intelligence organization in a democratic nation, and what is the legal basis for those activities, are still with us today; they were not in any way resolved by the addition of formal oversight in the 1970's."" He warns, "". . .Under present: [oversight] arrangements, it's only a matter of time before another Nicaragua [harbor] mining, or, for that matter, another Bay of Pigs."" This is a competent, fascinating--and sometimes frightening--account of a government agency whose highest allegiance seems to be to the often wrongly perceived demands of the Cold War, to the detriment of democracy. Read it in tandem with John Ranelagh's The Rise and Fall of the CIA (p. 625) for a superb history and analysis of what the CIA is all about.

Pub Date: Nov. 24th, 1986
Publisher: Morrow