Ronald Kessler

A - I


Kessler, Ronald. "Another Spy Agency? No Way." USA Today, 21 Apr. 2004, 11a.

Creating a domestic intelligence agency similar to Britain's MI5 "would erect yet another barrier to sharing information. What is needed is not more bureaucracies but more information about evolving plots in the first place.... While minor structural changes could be made, the basic architecture of the FBI and CIA is sound."

Kessler, Ronald. The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI. New York: St. Martin's, 2002. With Epilogue. New York: St. Martin's, 2003. [pb]

According to Stein, Washington Post Book World, 5 May 2002, Kessler finds that then-FBI director Louis J. Freeh "almost destroyed the bureau through colossal mismanagement, borne of sheer donkey-like stubbornness and arrogance." The author portrays an FBI that seems to have failed to master today's world of computer-assisted intelligence gathering. Kessler concludes that with the "appointment of Robert Mueller as the FBI's eleventh director, the bureau appears to be in good hands."

Clark comment: As a journalistic versus a scholarly account, this work has its faults. Finding people who say that Hoover used his secret files to "blackmail" even presidents does not mean that it happened that way. Too many quotes from even named sources essentially saying the same thing do not help to advance understanding. Given that it is stronger on 1972-2002 (30 years, 345 pages) than on 1908-1972 (64 years, 189 pages), it is difficult to accept this work as truly a "history" of the FBI. That said, however, the author has produced a work that cuts closer to the bone in describing the Bureau than the usual dichotomous "hate-Hoover" and "defend-Hoover" presentations. Although Kessler spends more words on the FBI's failings than on its successes, he clearly has developed a substantial respect for the organization and the people who populate it. His concluding argument for more leeway and more resources for the FBI is not truly supported by his narrative, but it seems to be heartfelt. Overall, I found this book very useful and, despite its length, easy to read.


Kessler, Ronald. The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign against Terror. New York: St. Martin's, 2003.

Seamon, Proceedings 129.12 (Dec. 2003), says that the author "has written a comprehensive history brightened by anecdotes and deftly drawn character sketches. The war ... turns out to be as much an internal squabble ... and a disappointing scrap with other government agencies as it is an after-action report on the company's often unheralded successes against terrorists of all varieties, to say nothing of its spectacular failures."

For Peake, Studies 48.3 (2004), even though this book "is not a history, those unfamiliar with the Agency will get a good overview of its pre-9/11 activity.... The treatment is balanced, though not always accurate." On the other hand, Chapman, IJI&C 17.4 (Winter 2004-2005), finds this work "unbalanced and way off the mark." While reading The CIA at War, the reviewer "slipped into thinking I was into another Tom Clancy novel."

[CIA/00s/Gen; Terrorism/00s/Gen]

Kessler, Ronald. Escape from the CIA: How the CIA Won and Lost the Most Important KGB Spy Ever to Defect to the U.S. New York: Pocket Books, 1991. [pb]

Clark comment: Escape from the CIA concerns the defection and redefection in 1985 of KGB First Chief Directorate officer Vitaly Yurchenko. The title clearly exaggerates Yurchenko's relative importance.

Fein, FILS 11.6, says that Kessler's "indictment of the CIA ... seems vastly exaggerated" and his "starry-eyed view of Yurchenko is ... discredited." The author "betrays an acute anti-CIA bias." Allen, DIJ 2.1, adds that Kessler is "unconvincing.... While the account reads well it often does not seem credible." On the other hand, Surveillant 1.4 finds "numerous insights" in the book, gained "from interviews Kessler had with Yurchenko in Moscow."

Dick Gay, "Yurchenko, Bona Fides or Bogus," CIRA Newsletter 31, no.1 (Spring 2006), reprints his entry on Yurchenko from Encyclopedia of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (2005), followed by his thoughts "Between the Lines," in which he suggests that the defection was an act to take the attention away from Aldrich Ames.

[CIA/80s/Gen; Russia/Defectors/Gen][c]

Kessler, Ronald. The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Expanded and updated. The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency - By the Award-Winning Journalist Whose Investigation Brought Down FBI Director William S. Sessions. New York: Pocket Books, 1994. [pb]

Kessler, Ronald. "Fire Freeh." Washington Post, 27 Feb. 2001, A23.

In this Op-Ed piece, the author points to the FBI Director's failure to implement FBI-wide polygraph tests as the latest of a series of mistakes on Freeh's part. "[U]nder Freeh's leadership, the FBI has lurched from one debacle to another. In almost every case, Freeh has been personally involved and has often contributed to the fiascoes.... [President] Bush ... should move quickly to replace Freeh with a director who will inspire confidence."


Kessler, Ronald. Inside the CIA: Revealing the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Spy Agency. New York: Pocket Books, 1992. [pb]

Clark comment: Kessler's Inside the CIA is divided into five parts, one each for the four directorates and a fifth covering the Office of the DCI. Kessler makes clear, both in the obligatory "Acknowledgements" and an "Author's Note," that DCI William Webster afforded him "limited cooperation" (pp. xi, xviii) in preparing the book.

For Surveillant 2.6, there is "considerable regurgitation of old offenses some of which are supported, others not." There is a "good chapter on the Career Training Program." Although it contains "many undocumented assertions..., Inside the CIA does make an interesting and valuable contribution; but "it falls far short of the expectations raised by the advertising copywriters."

Macartney, Intelligencer 10.1, says this "is an easy read with a lot of information, history, trade craft, and so on." However, it "is getting out of date." Bates, NIPQ 9.2, says he "found nothing new or startling," but thinks Kessler is "fairly supportive of the CIA." Fein, FILS 12.1, notes that Kessler tends to "make uninformed judgments of the agency ... on issues worthy of more serious discussion." Many of Kessler's "verdicts are either groundless or seriously arguable" and the book's "analytical and factual errors ... are serious barriers to sophisticated understanding."

According to Peake, AIJ 14.1, "[n]o secrets are exposed.... Ranelagh's book provides more on what was done" even though "Kessler is ... several years more current." Nevertheless, this is the "well-written product of an enterprising journalist who has provided a good overview of the functional organization sprinkled with interesting anecdotal material." The author's "statement that the security guards carry machine guns and wear park ranger hats will bring chuckles to those performing security duties." In addition, the book is an "unabashed tribute to the Judge ... [and] has enough factual errors to convince most readers to be weary [sic] of undocumented claims."

NameBase finds that "[w]hile Ronald Kessler is not a critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, neither is he an unqualified booster. The strength of this book is that he's the first outsider to be allowed inside for a tour of CIA headquarters, and granted interviews with present and former CIA officials, for the specific purpose of writing it.... He blends a bit of historical context (including some dirty laundry) with a description of day-to-day operations, and the result is worthwhile even for those ... who have read dozens of books about the CIA."

[CIA/C&C/Gen; CIA/Overviews/90s]

Kessler, Ronald. In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect. New York: Crown, 2009.

Bamford, Washington Post, 23 Aug. 2009, says that rather than using a wealth of information from scores of current and former agents "to write a serious book examining the inner workings of the long-veiled agency..., the author simply milked the agents for the juiciest gossip he could get and mixed it with a rambling list of their complaints.... [I]t is all boring and familiar," and the book is filled with "inane and endless anecdotes."


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