cover image The Ghosts of Langley: Into the CIA’s Heart of Darkness

The Ghosts of Langley: Into the CIA’s Heart of Darkness

John Prados. New Press, $35 (480p) ISBN 978-1-62097-088-1

Prados (Storm Over Leyte), a prolific military historian and senior fellow of the National Security Archive, unearths the ways in which the CIA, “over seven decades, has resisted—and finally decoupled itself from—government accountability.” The ghosts referred to in the title are individual CIA personalities who flashed across the firmament for a few years but whose spirits continue to inspire their successors. Their greatest collective accomplishment, Prados emphasizes, has been teaching the CIA how and why to operate free of oversight. He delivers scattershot biographies of CIA luminaries—including pioneers James Jesus Angleton, Allen Dulles, and Frank Wisner and more recent names such as Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and George Tenet—and details the bureaucratic infighting that occurred alongside the Bay of Pigs, Iran-Contra, and Iraq War debacles. Prados admirably aims to highlight positive moments in agency history, but a primary motivation is to document the means spies have employed to “escape from criticism and accountability.” The book begins and ends by discussing the most current example: the tumult over torture that produced widespread media and congressional outrage. The Bush administration announced that the U.S. didn’t use torture and that torture was forbidden; CIA officials insisted that torture produces priceless information and then destroyed interrogation videos. The result supports Prados’s theme: the CIA remains free to torture. The American intelligence establishment’s yearning to outdo its rivals, both foreign and domestic, has produced a mixture of both genuine and comic-opera horrors that make for entertaining, if dismaying, accounts such as this one. (Nov.)