Just who came up with the idea to dust Fidel Castro with a chemical that would burn off his beloved beard? Turner, retired spook-in-chief, knows—and if he’s not telling all, he’s telling lots.
Turner served as director of national intelligence—not just of the CIA, but of “the fifteen agencies that comprise the Intelligence Community” under the benighted Carter administration. In this cleared-by-CIA account of how the modern U.S. intelligence apparatus came about, he is refreshingly open in admitting failures, along with successes. He opens with an unorthodox look at canonical founder William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Intelligence had hitherto been the province of the military and a few club-like organizations of private citizens, such as one “that met in New York to discuss gossip in the guise of foreign intelligence, aided by heavy drinking.” Donovan helped organize and professionalize the service; Franklin Roosevelt, in turn, kept Donovan in the dark about information he had received from other intelligence sources and, in the end, kept the OSS under military control rather than create a strong Cabinet-level director of intelligence, at least in part, Turner guesses, because “there was strong opposition from the military (something that has never abated).” The author recounts a decidedly checkered history as subsequent intelligence directors tried to coordinate their activities with the agenda of chief executives—which has a surprisingly personal dimension, for the CIA head who wins is the one whom the president likes, and such individuals are rare indeed. Along the way, Turner drops anecdotes about Castro’s beard (the proposed assault on which was the brainchild of spy novelist Ian Fleming), the little-known but successful rescue of six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis, the military’s jealousy when the CIA developed neat toys and the character of certain directors such as Reagan advisor William Casey, who “serves as a warning of what can happen if the DCI is given too much power.”
An engaging update to Allen Dulles’s Craft of Intelligence.