In his introduction, Monje, a political science professor and independent scholar, describes “the dilemma of a secret organization in an open society” and the difficulty that creates in writing a documentary history of the CIA. In the past few years, over 31 million documents have been declassified by the CIA; on the other hand, the agency refused to declassify more than double that and declassified documents about key activities have been so heavily redacted as to become
meaningless. Although the picture we derive from these documents is partial and biased at best, it is nevertheless a picture we have never viewed before, one that gives us a different impression of the CIA. Monje selects 18 key organizing principles for his chapters; some are structurally related to the CIA-its charter, the headquarters during the 1960s, the presence of counterintelligence, its relationship to domestic agencies-and some are the events and places in which the CIA played an important role-the Korean War, Cuba, Chile, Watergate, Nicaragua, 9/11, the “War on Terrorism” and the war in Iraq. The author’s treatment of the intelligence agency’s role in the run-up to the war in Iraq exemplifies the technique used throughout the text. Monje provides succinct background, brief analysis and then lets primary source documents tell the story. One of the key impressions produced here and elsewhere is that the strictures of secrecy impose limitations both within the agency in terms of restricting the free and open competition of ideas and between the agency and the politicians who use the CIA’s intelligence in service of their own agendas. When politicians exaggerate intelligence
claims or make statements that directly contradict the agency’s own analysis, as both Bush and Cheney did in their claims of Iraq’s nuclear capabilities, the CIA is largely unable to refute those claims. “Secrecy,” concludes the author, “makes the CIA a very weak bureaucratic player.” The volume includes a timeline of key events in the CIA’s history, as well as appendices listing U.S. intelligence organizations, heads of the CIA and of
National Intelligence and, thankfully, a list of common acronyms used throughout. A selected bibliography and index conclude the volume. Recommended as a first-priority purchase for high school, public and college libraries.