Investigative journalist Grey (Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program, 2006) has his finger on the pulse of all things espionage. While explaining the changes in the spying world since the end of the Cold War, he delves deeply into the strengths and weaknesses of the industry and discloses previously unknown events.
The first hints of the changing world came with the Iranian revolution of 1979, followed by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. Those events led to the radicalization of Islam, both Iranian Sunni and the Afghan Shia. The author repeatedly points out that the secret to good spying is knowing where to look. If there was a “man on a rock” reporting the thoughts of Osama bin Laden, might 9/11 have been prevented? At the same time, spies lie, truth-shock makes analysts ignore awful facts, and verification is extremely difficult. The instances of information available and information ignored are widespread. At the same time, information is worthless without analysis. The events of 1979-1980 predicted a sea change, but the end of the Soviet Union was the real catalyst for structural changes. It was easier to focus on the KGB since it was a structured institution, but autonomous terrorist cells were almost impossible to crack. Grey understands his subject intimately, and he sees the dangers of spies who might turn, go rogue, or actually influence their subjects. He alerts us to the problems with relying on human intelligence without signals intelligence (communications) and vice versa. Is it worth the trouble, and will it help? Grey believes that spying can be successful as a last resort; it’s invaluable during war but often counterproductive in peacetime. The author has answers, but he also has many questions, all of them food for thought.
A comprehensive, intelligent look at the evolving world of spies.