Stanford University Press Publishes The CIA and the Culture of Failure
"Diamond has put together a sequence of long, trenchant, truly eclectic essays on the CIA's internal workings, consistently stressing its tendency to outsmart itself." --BookForum
Last update: 12:48 p.m. EST Nov. 17, 2008
PALO ALTO, Calif., Nov 17, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- One of the most pressing tasks confronting the new Obama administration is rebuilding and redirecting the nation's intelligence system. From closing Guantanamo Bay to ending the abusive treatment of terrorist detainees to halting warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens, Obama has promised major and rapid changes in the way our intelligence community does business. He has also pledged to do everything possible to capture Osama bin Laden, who remains at large.
How U.S. intelligence reached its current troubled state is the subject of John Diamond's new book, The CIA and the Culture of Failure: U.S. Intelligence from the End of the Cold War to the Invasion of Iraq. Diamond focuses on U.S. intelligence during the dozen years from the end of the Cold War in 1990-91 to the invasion of Iraq in early 2003 as a defining period in CIA history. In a story of political tension as well as intelligence judgment and misjudgment, Diamond writes, "The short distance between the White House and the CIA appears greater when measured in other ways. And the tension between these two power centers during the course of just over a decade--from about the time that unpainted slab of the Berlin Wall arrived at Langley to the day when Colin Powell and a room full of harried intelligence analysts assembled a case for war in Iraq--is the subject of this book."
The CIA which President Barack Obama will inherit on January 20, 2009 is in many ways a product of the events recounted by Diamond. The questions raised about whether we even need a CIA following the Soviet collapse; the Agency's miscues prior to the Persian Gulf War that contributed to even greater intelligence failures prior to the invasion of Iraq; the Aldrich Ames spy scandal; the halting attempts to find and attack Osama bin Laden in the years prior to the 9/11 attacks -- all these are recounted in fresh detail, based on original reporting and interviews with scores of current and former intelligence professionals, and on recently declassified documents.
A major underlying theme of the book, one the new administration would do well to heed, is the impact of political pressure on the quality of intelligence information put on the president's desk every morning. Political pressure -- from the right during the Reagan years over the scope of the Soviet threat, from the left during the Clinton years over CIA ties with repressive Latin American regimes -- constantly threatened to distort the intelligence used by the government to shape its foreign policy.
Diamond contends that a series of intelligence lapses (both real and alleged) in the decade following the Soviet collapse led "to a 'culture of failure'...a fatal cycle of error, criticism, overcorrection, distraction, and politicization that undermined the quality and quantity of information provided to decision-makers who compounded these failings with major misjudgments of their own."
The book breaks new ground in several areas:
-- Shows how a deliberate undermining of the CIA was critical to the neo-conservative push for the defense build-up in the 1970s and 80s, national missile defense in the 1990s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
-- Shows how the chance arrest by Pakistan of a suspect, Mohammed Sadeeq Odeh, in the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya tipped off bin Laden and caused al-Qaeda to change its plans for a leadership meeting, rendering the Clinton administration's retaliatory strike an embarrassing miss.
-- Explains how the Iraq/WMD failure, one of the most consequential in CIA history, stemmed from one of the Agency's most notable successes. The great misjudgment prior to the Iraq invasion was the failure -- by the White House, Congress, and the CIA itself -- to even consider the possibility that this combined effort to disarm Iraq had, in fact, succeeded.
The political and foreign policy agendas of new administrations and new majorities in Congress have led the CIA astray in the past, and can do so again, Diamond warns. The CIA and the Culture of Failure offers a persuasive case for learning from past failures and spelling out what is at stake, "intelligence disasters surrounding 9/11 and the war in Iraq did two things simultaneously: they undermined public confidence in the CIA, and they underscored how much the nation depends on quality intelligence."
John Diamond has been writing about defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs in Washington since 1989 for the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today. He is now researching and writing on nuclear security, terrorism, and other defense and foreign policy issues.
STANFORD SECURITY STUDIES
An imprint of Stanford University Press
September 2008 552 pages
Cloth Edition $29.95 978-0-8047-5601-3
SOURCE: Stanford University
Puja Sangar, 650-724-4211