Legacy of Ashes

Legacy of Ashes is quite shocking. Through movies and books, we are presented with an image of the CIA that it is amazing and knows all. The truth of it would appear to be the opposite, that it consitently makes errors and knows very little. As I listened to the Audiobook rather than read the print edition I am unable to give precise examples from the text, but off of the top of my head, several things that I found astonishing were:
  • The sheer number of double agents from the USSR, Cuba, China etc who managed to work for the CIA
  • The CIA lying outright to the President on a number of occasions
  • Despite having far greater resources, not really having a clue about anything that the USSR was doing throughout its existence
  • Kissinger's involvement in installing dictators like Pinochet
  • Pretty much anything to do with the Middle East being incorrect
  • Blowing up the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade
There are plenty more stories in the book. In fact, it seems that the CIA never really got much right and competed against other US agencies rather than work toward the greater good (perhaps they need to read Egonomics).

Despite having an exhausting amount of information to cover, Weiner breaks each of the 40+ chapters into manageable chunks, each containing a different story with enough background data to make it feel like you are getting the inside story but not too much so that you are sapped down by it all. Quite frankly, this is an excellent book and should be read by anyone with an interest in the events of the second half of the 20th Century. It helps to dispel the myth that America is a gentle, noble country that acts out of a greater good and shows that even with the most resources, you are not always guaranteed to win against rivals with lesser. It also shows the benefit of forward planning, as arguably some recent events in the world would have been prevented had the CIA taken the time to consider long-reaching implications. Let's just hope that the message has finally gotten through.


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