THE GHOSTS OF LANGLEY by John Prados

THE GHOSTS OF LANGLEY

Into the CIA's Heart of Darkness
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A history of the CIA told through an examination of the careers of its directors and other key figures.

National Security Archive senior fellow Prados (Storm over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy, 2016, etc.) has written about the CIA in many books and articles, including Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (2006). Here, he sets out to describe "how the agency, over seven decades, has resisted—and finally decoupled itself from—government accountability." The author proceeds to lay out extensively detailed accounts of well-known agency disasters, from its inception through the Bay of Pigs to the "black sites" of the Iraq War and the subsequent attempts to cover them up or obscure blame. Unfortunately, he makes little effort to show how all this detail contributes to his thesis. Showers of facts cascade down, directors and "barons" come and go, covert ops succeed or fail, the agency is reorganized yet again, congressional and internal investigating committees compile reports that are released or suppressed—too much of the information has little obvious relevance to the author's asserted theme. Instead of taking a chronological approach, Prados groups the spymasters by what he considers their character types, resulting in considerable overlap in the presentation and a constantly shifting time frame that becomes difficult to follow. Further, the author presents the narrative in a loose, frivolous style poorly suited to what he would present as a very serious subject. The author’s subjects are confusingly referenced by last name, first name, or nickname, according to his whim, agents are "spooks" and lawyers are "gunslingers," and idiom and sometimes-baffling metaphor substitute for carefully articulated assertions. Ultimately, Prados’ prime contention remains unproven, not for lack of facts but for lack of incisive argument tying them together.

A wearying journey through the spy agency's history that fails to take itself sufficiently seriously.

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62097-088-1
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2017




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