Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. New York: Penguin, 2004.
Clark comment: Heavy and nuanced, this is a compelling work. Reading it is somewhat like watching the rerun of a train wreck the results of which you already know. This book is well-written but still is not easy going because of the massive amount of detail included. However, skim reading did not seem to work because the narrative is so tightly woven. Although there is no indication anywhere on the cover or inside, the "Afterword" of my paperback copy makes plain that it is a second edition with some changes from the first edition.
Bamford, Washington Post, 29 Feb. 2004, says the author has produced "a well-written, authoritative, high-altitude drama." Coll "is at his best when describing the convoluted relationships among the Afghan warlords and the resident spooks." Grasso, NIPQ 20.3, calls this "possibly the most comprehensive study available on the subject of Afghanistan, Bin Laden and the CIA's activities in South West Asia." The author "manages to dispassionately present the facts and circumstances so that political coloration will come solely from the reader.... While the story that Coll tells is a fascinating and engaging read, it is the research that makes his book so valuable."
For Latif, NWCR 58.3 (Summer 2005), the author "provides a useful, if overly long, chronology and analysis of pivotal events, missteps, indecision, apathy, and ultimately tragedy up to the day before the [9/11] attacks.... Coll meticulously documents every player and agenda in this drama.... One of the major strengths of Ghost Wars is how it skillfully captures the interagency debates within the U.S. government on Afghanistan ... which were wide-ranging and often contentious."
This series of articles is based on Coll's Ghost Wars (2004).
1. "A Secret Hunt Unravels in Afghanistan: Mission to Capture or Kill al Qaeda Leader Frustrated by Near Misses, Political Disputes." Part 1 of 2. Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2004, A1. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]
"In the years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the CIA carried out a secret but ultimately unsuccessful manhunt for [Osama] bin Laden. It was based at first on [a] band of Afghan tribal agents, and later expanded to include other agents and allies.... But the search became mired in mutual frustrations, near misses and increasingly bitter policy disputes in Washington between the Clinton White House and the CIA."
2. "Flawed Ally Was Hunt's Best Hope: Afghan Guerrilla, U.S. Shared Enemy." Part 2 of 2. Washington Post, 23 Feb. 2004, A1. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]
In October 1999, the CIA plan was to initiate "secret intelligence and combat operations against bin Laden in partnership with guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance."
However, "Massoud was seen by some at the Pentagon and inside the Clinton Cabinet as a spent force commanding bands of thugs.... Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Henry H. 'Hugh' Shelton ... argued that Massoud's alliance was tainted and in decline. But at the CIA,... career officers passionately described Massoud ... as the United States' last, best hope to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan before his al Qaeda network claimed more American lives." Massoud was assassinated on 9 September 2001.
3. "Legal Disputes Over Hunt Paralyzed Clinton's Aides." Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2004, A17. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]
"Between 1998 and 2000, the CIA and President Bill Clinton's national security team were caught up in paralyzing policy disputes as they secretly debated the legal permissions for covert operations against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The debates left both White House counterterrorism analysts and CIA career operators frustrated and at times confused about what kinds of operations could be carried out."
Dempsey, J.X. "The CIA and Secrecy." In A Culture of Secrecy: The Government Versus the People's Right To Know, ed. Athan G. Theoharis, 37-59. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Hitz, Frederick P. "The Incredibly Shrinking Spy Machine." Washington Post, 15 Sep. 1998, A21.
The author served as the CIA's first statutory Inspector General 1990-1998.
"Now that the administration has declared war on terrorism..., it is appropriate to concern ourselves with the condition of the front-line troops the United States will need to fight this war, the Clandestine Service (CS) of the Central Intelligence Agency. The picture is not encouraging. The service ... has been shrinking in size and capability since the end of the Cold War.
"The service, along with the rest of the agency, has been on a mandated slimming-down based on attrition since 1990. It has lost more experienced professionals to retirement during this period than it had perhaps envisioned.... The agency ... is not currently replacing front-line professionals on a one-for-one basis.... The real questions that must be answered to put more capable foot soldiers into the war against terrorism relate to spiritual and monetary compensation, motivation and esprit de corps."
Johnson, Loch K. "Smart Intelligence." Foreign Policy 89 (Winter 1992): 53-69.
This article is an excellent benchmark for the state of the discussion mid-to-late 1992 as to "where do we go from here" with regard to American intelligence in the wake of the disappearance of the Soviet Union. Johnson stated then a point that is worth reiterating: "The best policy would be to remove the CIA from the drug mission. Its officers neither like it nor are they particularly good at it."
Lert, Frederic. Wings of the CIA. Paris: Histoire et Collections, 1998.
According to Hauver, CIRA Newsletter 23.2, "[c]overage begins with the B-26s of the Bay of Pigs and proceeds through the U-2, the SR-71 and drone aircraft. A unique portrait of Agency air ops from 1948." Leary, JMH 64.1, finds little of value to this work, calling it "poorly written..., episodic, disjointed, filled with invented conversations, and -- worst of all -- frequently inaccurate." The book has "no footnotes and only a sketchy bibliography"; it "should be treated with great suspicion."
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