CLOAK AND DOLLAR: A History of American Secret Intelligence
Jeffreys-Jones, professor of American history at the University of Edinburgh, offers an anecdotal history of American intelligence from the era of George Washington to that of George W. Bush. This history is replete with provocative characters (Allan Pinkerton, J. Edgar Hoover) and covers a multitude of incidents, many notorious in their day, from the Zimmerman telegram of WWI to the Cuban missile crisis. The author sees all these people and events as connected by a single theme: a strain of hucksterism—"smooth talk, hyperbole, deception"—pervading U.S. intelligence efforts. For Jeffreys-Jones (The CIA and American Democracy), a leading authority on the history of American intelligence, the leaders of American intelligence have regularly "sheltered behind the veil of secrecy so vital to the promotion of false alarms and invented menaces." One example of this "con man" mentality is a tendency to reward failure. When intelligence agencies miss an important development, the upshot is a successful pitch for more money, more technology and more agents (this should sound familiar to post-9/11 ears). For Jeffreys-Jones, U.S. intelligence has chronically hyped its accomplishments and concealed its many failures, misleading the American people more often than it has baffled foreign enemies. The author's persistent invocation of the "con man" theme may actually do the book a disservice, opening the door to accusations of unfair exclusion of evidence contrary to the book's thesis. In fact, Jeffreys-Jones cites numerous instances of unobtrusive success by U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the breaking of Japanese codes in WWII. This account is more balanced in its content than the author's rhetoric might lead you to believe. (Apr.)
Forecast:This is bound to feed into current discussions of the CIA's efficacy. Look for mention of it by policy commentators.