Memoir Literature

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Mahle, Melissa Boyle. Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA From Iran-Contra to 9/11. New York: Thunder's Mouth, Nation Books, 2005.

To Hedley, Studies 49.3 (2005), the author presents "a balanced mix of personal story and thoughtful, well-researched perspective on the Agency and its leadership." Mahle renders "an educational service with a book that is at once autobiography, primer, and commentary on the Agency and its tribulations."

Coll, Washington Post, 14 Jan. 2005, notes that the author "served five tours in the Arab world, running operations and recruiting agents. But now, after departing unhappily from the CIA in 2002..., Mahle is the latest in a parade of disillusioned spies to write a memoir.... [She] sees her former agency as too often mired in process, averse to risk and poorly managed." Nevertheless, her book "is measured in tone and often generous to former colleagues and CIA leaders."

For Shane, NYT, 15 Mar. 2005, Mahle's book "blend[s] personal experiences with policy critiques." The author is "an Arabic speaker who worked mostly in the Middle East during her 14-year career" with the CIA. DKR, AFIO WIN 08-05 (21 Feb. 2005), says that the author provides "[a]n informative work, clearly written, critical but with unusual fairness."

Mason, Phillip H. An American Freedom Fighter Inside the CIA Making a Difference: One Man’s Struggle for Freedom, Opportunity, and Respect for African Americans in the CIA. Alexandria, VA: Washington House, 2001.

Peake, Studies 48.4 (2004), says that in his more than 20 years with the CIA, the author "certainly made a difference ... and his memoir is a candid, forthright contribution to the intelligence literature."

McGarvey, Patrick J. CIA: The Myth and the Madness. New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972. New York: Penguin, 1973. [pb]

According to Pforzheimer, McGarvey's "biased and unbalanced criticisms, frequent errors of fact, and lack of realistic solutions [to the problems illustrated] detract from the book's value." Constantinides points out that the author was only in the CIA for three years, and those were with the Directorate of Intelligence. There are errors here that "show a careless and unreliable work."

McGehee, Ralph. Deadly Deceits: My Twenty-Five Years in the CIA. New York: Sheridan Square, 1983. Washington, DC: Dignity, 1990.

According to Surveillant 1.4, McGehee entered the CIA as a super-patriot in the 1950s and "left disillusioned and shattered by what he had seen and learned in Vietnam." He argues that the CIA was "not an intelligence gathering agency ... but rather a covert action arm of the American Presidency during that time period."

Clark comment: McGehee is probably best known today for CIABASE, his massive database tracking CIA and intelligence activities. He remains active in anti-CIA causes, and continues to argue that the CIA should be disbanded because its intelligence is marred by the association with operations. McGehee was inordinately pleased when Hanoi announced the release of a Vietnamese edition of his book.

Mendez, Antonio J. "A Classic Case of Deception." Studies in Intelligence (Winter 1999-2000): 1-16.

This is a marvelously detailed -- although still circumspect -- account from someone well situated to tell the story of the operation to exfiltrate six U.S. State Department personnel from Tehran in the wake of the Iranians' seizure of the U.S. Embassy. It offers between-the-lines insight into one aspect of the work of the CIA's Office of Technical Services.

Ample and respectful credit is given to the Canadians for their central role in, first, protecting the Americans and, later, in facilitating the exfiltration effort. Two aspects that clearly come through in Mendez' account is the enormous need for all types of general and specific information in planning such an operation and the many things, human and otherwise, that can go wrong even when activities are in the hands of professionals.

Mendez, Antonio J., with Malcolm McConnell. The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA. New York: Morrow, 1999.

Clark comment: Mendez is the recipient of the CIA's Trailblazer Award, given in 1997 to 50 "CIA officers who by their actions, example, or initiative helped shape" the CIA's first 50 years. For Shryock, IJI&C 16.4, Mendez' memoir is "an interesting and instructive account." However, his "prose is now and again excessively novelistic and often overblown."

According to Powers, AFIO WIN 43-99 (30 Oct. 1999), the author provides a "candid behind-the-scenes account of his 25-year-career as the CIA's foremost inventor of disguises." Mendez "reveals the artistic craft and state-of-the-art techniques required to forge official documents, create propaganda, and manufacture convincing disguises complete with hair pieces, masks, make-up, and costumes." Along the way, he "offers a rare inside look at Agency politics, leadership, and other operations, including espionage tradecraft, surveillance, and cloaking techniques, as well as propaganda activities from 1965 to 1990."

Paseman, Intelligencer 11.1, finds Master of Disguise "an easy and enjoyable read," with "excellent" detail. It provides "a real feel for the difficult business of dealing with human sources." The reviewer does feel that Mendez "paints a very rosy picture of everything involving the Agency." Paseman, CIA Officer in Residence at Marquette University, notes that reading the book has given the students in his "American Intelligence History" course "a better understanding of the shadowy world of secret intelligence and the realities of espionage."

See also, Michael E. Ruane, "Seeing Is Deceiving: Artist Antonio Mendez Put a New Face on the CIA's Work," Washington Post, 15 Feb. 2000, C1; David Holbrooke and Judy Woodruff, "Former CIA Agent Unveils Secrets that Made Him 'Master of Disguise,'" CNN, 3 May 2000, at: http://www.cnn.com/2000/books/news/05/03/master.of.disguise/index.html; and Jim Steinmeyer, "The Master of Disguise...," Studies in Intelligence 46, no. 1 (2002): 67-70.

Mendez, Antonio, and Jonna Mendez, with Bruce Henderson. Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War. New York: Atria, 2002.

Peake, Studies 47.1 (2003), notes that the authors' "narrative intermixes comments on their sometimes-turbulent careers, how they came to marry, the CIA bureaucracy, and the many contributions of the Office of Technical Services to field operations. The names of those involved and the dates of the operations have been changed for security reasons.... For those who want a sense of what really takes place in the field when magicians from the Office of Technical Services are involved, Spy Dust is a rewarding experience."

Methven, Stuart. Laughter in the Shadows: A CIA Memoir. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008.

According to the publisher, the author "served in the CIA from the 1950s through the 1970s." Chapman, IJI&C 23.1 (Spring 2010), seems conflicted both by the author's approach and the book as a whole: "Surely, the operations about which Stuart Methven writes are fiction. But they are labeled A CIA Memoir. Could they then be true accounts, but written as operational allegories in which Methven participated or knew about? More likely, it is the latter. We see a telltale ring of truth in every descriptive rung of Methven's intelligence ladder."

Peake, Studies 55.3 (Sep. 2011), finds that "[b]y sharing both the good and bad, Methven provides his readers with a product that feele honest and unpretentious.... [H]e does not come across as someone with an axe to grind."

Meyer, Cord. Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. 2d ed. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982.

Clark comment: Meyer's autobiography covers from the author's undergraduate years at Yale through 26 years with the CIA. Among other assignments, Meyer headed the CIA's International Organizations Division and (from 1962) the Covert Action Staff. It was in this position that Meyer's name became well known because of the Ramparts revelations in 1967 concerning CIA funding for the National Student Association. In 1973, Meyer became chief of station in London. He retired from the CIA at the end of 1977. Because of the positions he held and his close association with the use of covert political action as a weapon of the Cold War, Meyer's judicious presentation continues to be worth reading.

Cord Meyer, Jr., died on 13 March 2001 at the age of 80. Controversial to the end, the Washington Post found it necessary to correct the astonishingly misleading headline on Meyer's obituary. See Graeme Zielinski, "Key CIA Figure Cord Meyer Dies; Headed 'Dirty Tricks Department,'" Washington Post, 15 Mar. 2001, B6. The correction reads: "A headline on the obituary of Cord Meyer on March 15 incorrectly described his CIA role. As assistant deputy director for plans of the CIA, he was the number two figure in its Plans Directorate, sometimes referred to as the 'dirty tricks department.'" Washington Post, 16 Mar. 2001, B6.

Pforzheimer calls Facing Reality "an important and carefully written book." Similarly, Lowenthal finds it useful for giving a "sense of CIA views and outlook during the height of the Cold War."

Although only incidentally of intelligence interest, there is now a biography of Meyer's wife, killed in 1964 in the area of the C&O Canal towpath: Nina Burleigh, A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer (New York: Bantam, 1998). See Evan Thomas' review, Washington Post, 11 Oct. 1998, X5.

Moran, Lindsay. Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy. New York: Putnam, 2005.

According to Albion, Washington Post, 16 Jan. 2005, the author "lifts the lid on her cloak-and-dagger adventures from 1998 to 2003, when she underwent an education in espionage and then put her new skills to work in Macedonia.... Moran provides an unusually candid glimpse into the operational training and culture of America's clandestine services.... But this glimpse is intensely personal and takes place within the familiar story of a young woman's journey toward emotional fulfillment."

Shane, NYT, 15 Mar. 2005, finds that the author's memoir is a "breez[y] read, with lots of detail about her love life.... Martha Sutherland, who spent 18 years with the agency..., was outraged that [the] book recounts clandestine service training in detail." However, Moran "noted that everything in her book was cleared by the agency." Nolan, IJI&C 22.1 (Spring 2009), comments that the author's story "is actually a cautionary tale about following a fantasy.... Moran unintentionally reveals that she does not enjoy beiing a small part of a larger effort.... Her descriptions of the CIA's personnel border on the mean-spirited and self-aggrandizing."

For Hedley, Studies 49.3 (2005), this book "illustrates how a clever ex-employee can capitalize on the CIA’s undeniable mystique. One looks in vain for a serious message in her one-dimensional put-down of the Agency's operational training." However, "for a general readership she is a facile writer who comes across as a breezy romantic.... Moran's cheeky style and brisk prose makes for a good read."

Nelson, Kay Shaw. The Cloak and Dagger Cook: A Memoir. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2009.

This is the story of a CIA employee-turned-traveling-spouse of an operations officer. Peake, Studies 54.2 (Jun. 2010) and Intelligencer 18.1 (Fall-Winter 2010), notes that the book "is mainly about [the author's] cooking, dining, and travel experiences, although [she] does not ignore her life with a CIA case officer and as a mother." It will "have a special attraction" for Agency families.

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