An evenhanded audit of the CIA's recent history concluding that, in the years since William Casey's death, the agency has become a ""quintessential government bureaucracy."" In a tellingly detailed narrative that flashes back and forth in time, Perry (Four Stars, 1989) inventories the factors that have combined to clip the wings of an espionage organization whose powers probably never were as great as either critics or partisans imagined. In addition to self-inflicted wounds resulting from its role in any number of public scandals, he notes, the CIA has been injured by the ascendance of rival agencies--like the DIA, NRO, and NSC--whose stock in trade is intelligence gathered by electronic (mainly satellite) means rather than from human sources. Equally important has been the CIA's willingness to provide the executive branch with ""politicized product,"" i.e., analyses tailored to the perceived biases or wishful thinking of policy-makers. This unfortunate bent, Perry argues, goes a long way toward explaining the agency's failure to foresee the overnight collapse of the Soviet Union's ""evil empire,"" as well as its lapses in China, Iraq, Panama, and other global hot spots. Nonetheless, the author does give the contemporary CIA credit for some considerable accomplishments--e.g., clear warnings on the worldwide proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons, on civil war in Yugoslavia, on the plot against Gorbachev, and on Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. He also offers a bare-bones account of how agency operatives rescued 15 of the fugitives on Beijing's list of 21 most-wanted dissidents is the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Covered as well are the CIA's joint ventures with China (in Afghanistan) and with Iraq's military during the prolonged conflict with Iran. A first-rate briefing.