Thomas Powers

S - Z

Powers, Thomas. "Saving the Shah." The Nation, 12 Apr. 1980. Chapter 9 in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 159-168. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

Using Kermit Roosevelt's Coutercoup (1979), the author looks at the nature and meaning of the 1953 Iranian coup.


Powers, Thomas. "Soviet Intentions and Capabilities." The Atlantic, Apr. 1982. Chapter 15 in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 235-242. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

Using John Prados' The Soviet Estimate (1982), Powers discusses issues surrounding intelligence analysis.


Powers, Thomas. "Spook of Spooks." New York Review of Books, 17 Aug. 1989, 40-43. "The Riddle Inside the Enigma." Chapter 7 in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 123-139. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

Ostensibly a review of Edward Jay Epstein's Deception (1989), this article is actually an essay on Angleton and the issues surrounding the controversial former chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence Staff. It is worth reading.


Powers, Thomas. "Spy Fever." New York Review of Books, 12 Feb. 2004. Chapter 6 in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 109-122. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

The author uses Ted Morgan's Reds (2003) as the springboard to a discussion of McCarthy and McCarthyism. He concludes that "[i]t was the bogies McCarthy and his colleagues persecuted -- the thousands of American of vaguely leftist bent -- who paid the price for the convenience the Moscow spymasters found in tapping [Communist] Party activitists for secret work."


Powers, Thomas. "The Trouble with the CIA." New York Review of Books, 17 Jan. 2002. []

Ostensibly a review of three books on terrorism [Pillar, Terrorism and US Foreign Policy (2001); Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America (1999); and Reeve, The New Jackals (1999)], the title gives the real thrust of the article. Powers concludes that there should be a wide-ranging investigation of the "intelligence failure" associated with 9/11 and that DCI Tenet should be replaced.

[CIA/DCIs/Tenet; Terrorism/02/Gen]

Powers, Thomas. "The Truth About the CIA." New York Review of Books 40, no. 9 (13 May 1993): 49-55. Chapter 20, "The Bottom Line," in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 295-320. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

The author looks at the "secret cold war" through the work of a number of writers: Persico, Casey (1990); Perry, Eclipse (1992); Yousaf, Bear Trap (1992); Bower, Red Web (1989); Lamphere and Shachtman, The FBI-KGB War (1986); Mangold, Cold Warrior (1991); Wise, Molehunt (1992); Blake, No Other Choice (1990); Newton, The Cambridge Spies (1991); Schecter and Deriabin, The Spy Who Saved the World (1993); Kessler, Moscow Station (1989); Darling, The Central Intelligence Agency (1990); Montague, General Walter Bedell Smith (1992); Hersh, The Old Boys (1992); and Richelson, American Espionage and the Soviet Target (1987) and America's Secret Eyes in Space (1990).

Clark comment: Beyond the silly and misleading title (rectified in Intelligence Wars), there is little to complain about in this article. Powers has executed a tour de force analysis of the "secret war concealed within the cold war." He incorporates into his narrative references which place within a broader context the contributions by a number of books to understanding "the secret war waged against the intelligence services of the Soviet Union and its allied states." In this war, "the CIA was to the Western effort as the US Army was to the Allied landing in Normandy in 1944, first among equals and the source of men and money."

Powers concludes that the "happy outcome" of the Cold War probably "depended heavily" on the U.S. intelligence effort. But this contribution differed from the World War II effort of obtaining the information necessary to victory. Rather, "what American intelligence contributed to the outcome was ... the confidence that we knew what the Soviets were up to."

[CIA/90s/Gen; GenPostwar/CW][c]

Powers, Thomas. "The Underground Entrepeneur." New York Review of Books, 12 May 1983. Chapter 1 in Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda, 3-20. Rev. & exp. ed. New York: New York Review of Books, 2004.

This is the author's review of four works on Donovan -- Anthony Cave Brown's The Last Hero (1982); Richard Dunlop's Donovan (1982); Bradley Smith's The Shadow Warriors (1983); and Thomas Troy's Donovan and the CIA (1981). It is also Powers' views on Donovan and his creation, the OSS.


Powers, Thomas. "The Vanishing Case for War." New York Review of Books 50, no. 19 (4 Dec. 2003). []

The U.S. "invasion and conquest of Iraq ... was the result of what is probably the least ambiguous case of the misreading of secret intelligence information in American history. Whether it is even possible that a misreading so profound could yet be in some sense 'a mistake' is a question....

"[W]hat American intelligence organizations learn is all filtered through the CIA, which is part of the executive branch of the government, led by directors appointed by the president, answerable to the president. In theory the director of the CIA can and should reach his own independent judgment; but in fact no director of central intelligence can disagree with the White House and keep his job for long. What Congress knew came entirely from CIA officials....

"[T]he United States is certain to pay a debilitating price for the conquest of Iraq for a generation, and the argument over the cause of the disaster is sure to be long and bitter. The first round in this contest is already taking shape inside the Senate Intelligence Committee, where the majority is drafting a critique that blames the 'mistake' on the CIA, while the minority argues that equally to blame were the marching orders coming out of the White House.

"The two sides will never agree, but they are both right. The administration could never have convinced Congress of its argument for war without the mystique of secret intelligence to lend gravity to its case; and the CIA would never have made so much of so little if George Tenet had not been a willing member of the President's team. The problem is structural, not personal. Presidents can fire directors they don't like, and the CIA has no other customer. The big mistakes all come when presidents don't listen, or let it be known what they want to hear. The CIA is as serious, as prudent, as honest as the presidents for whom it works -- never more. Directors deliver what is wanted, or depart....

"[W]e have ample reason to conclude that the intelligence wasn't solid at all, there was no need for war, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction didn't exist. This discovery ought to put the American people on constructive notice that the functioning of our democracy is threatened by the nexus of the White House and a too-pliant CIA -- a closed loop of presidents who know what they want, intelligence chiefs willing to make the argument and classify the evidence, and members of Congress under their spell."

[CIA/00s/03/Gen; MI/Ops/Iraq]

Powers, Thomas. "The Whiz Kid vs. the Old Boys." New York Times Magazine, 3 Dec. 2000. []

In this lengthy and at times insightful article, Powers looks at John Deutch's career and personality (inseparable components of the man), at the "culture" of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, and at the interaction between the two.

Writing about Deutch's stint as undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, Powers notes that "Deutch had an ability to undermine his best efforts. His relations with Congress were particularly bumpy. Even when committee members wanted the same thing he wanted[,]... Deutch managed to ruffle feathers.... The word for Deutch's way of pushing his way forward, spontaneously offered by many people interviewed for this article, was 'arrogance.'"

In discussing Deutch's introduction to the CIA, Powers puts great emphasis on the clash between the new DCI (who really did not want the job) and what he terms a "deep, careerist cynicism in what was being called 'the clandestine culture' of the directorate of operations.... The abiding theme of Deutch's tenure at the C.I.A. was a kind of ongoing guerrilla war between the D.C.I.'s office ... and the clandestine folks, marked by disrespect on Deutch's side and increasing dislike on the D.O.'s."

In one of best summations I have seen of the difficulties inherent in discussing the DO, Powers states: "The ethos of the directorate of operations is difficult to understand by outsiders; there is no way to sum up what the D.O. does. A company makes money, a bureaucracy processes paper, policemen make arrests, but attempts to count what the D.O. does -- and many have been made over the years -- invariably miss the point. One good operation outweighs a hundred failures, and a good operation is a thing of beauty -- it slips something away from a victim who never knows it is gone." Powers then notes that "[n]obody understood the technical side of intelligence collection better than Deutch, but he was blind to the human side."

Deutch's surrender of his CIA ID badge on 14 December 1996 normally "would have marked the end of public interest in the C.I.A. career of John Deutch." However, "the discovery that he had been breaking security regulations virtually from the day of his arrival by routinely working on classified documents on his computers at home" has meant a continuation of the saga. Powers reviews Deutch's violations in the handling of classified information, and clearly differentiates them from the case of Los Alamos physicist Wen Ho Lee. Nevertheless, the threat still remains that "the Justice Department may feel compelled to ... insist on a legal sanction" for Deutch's actions.


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