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Legacy of Ashes: the History of the CIA
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Legacy of Ashes: the History of the CIA

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  5,598 ratings  ·  660 reviews
With shocking revelations that made headlines in papers across the country, Pulitzer-Prize-winner Tim Weiner gets at the truth behind the CIA and uncovers here why nearly every CIA Director has left the agency in worse shape than when he found it; and how these profound failures jeopardize our national security.
Paperback, 848 pages
Published May 20th 2008 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2007)
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Attention crazy people! If you are one of those poor souls who thinks that the Central Intelligence Agency is reading your thoughts and/or manipulating your brain waves, I have good news for you. You can take off your aluminum foil hat and stop trying to pull out that tooth with the tracking device. Here it is:

The CIA is too incompetent to do any of the things you are worried about. Seriously.

After reading Legacy of Ashes, I’m amazed that we weren’t taken down by the Soviets during the Cold Wa
The idea of a Central Intelligence Agency is quite a good one and I do understand why the US might want such an organisation. There are lots of nations in the world and some of them have very good reason to dislike the United States (they hate your freedom, your freedom to bomb them into the dark ages) and so it is a pretty good idea for the US to have some idea what these nations are up to. Are they building weapons of mass destruction, for example, and if they are what for? Not everyone that b ...more
Dec 22, 2007 Scott rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every American citizen
Written by a writer who has won the Pullitzer Prize for his work on National Security for the New York Times, this is the first ever comprehensive, on the record, history of the CIA. Every interview in the book is on the record, including 10 Directors and over 100 agents. With newfound access to thousands of recently declassified documents, and extensive notes, this is the best history of the CIA you're likely to read.

This is a devastating book. The experience of reading it reminded me of the e
Oddly enough, it was The Looking Glass War that early on opened my eyes to the fact that intelligence work was not conducted with the hyper-competency and machinelike efficiency with which it was depicted in most fiction. When it comes to the Western intelligence agencies, one would think, with a seemingly bottomless budget and access to vast congeries of technology, weaponry, and personnel - state-of-the-art all - there would be few secrets, allied or enemy, incapable of being swiftly ferreted ...more
Sometimes I think the CIA is kept around just so all those old movies and Tom Clancy books will make sense. Because really, from start to finish, the Agency has proven a monumental failure.

The title Legacy of Ashes comes from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who hopelessly battled the Agency throughout his eight years in office. Undoubtedly, his inability to change the CIA was partially responsible for his famous parting shot: the military-industrial complex speech.

Author Tim Weiner agrees with
Legacy of Ashes is founded on three premises.

1. The CIA is incompetent. The author gathers plenty of ammo to back this one up, to the point of downplaying the agency’s successes and highlighting its failures. He still makes a compelling argument that the CIA’s track record isn’t good.
2. The CIA’s dual functions – gathering intelligence and covert operations – are fundamentally at odds with each other. This is obvious: covert operations thrive on secrecy, not openness. On a more practical level:
This is a superbly reseached work and tells the shadowy tale of American foreign policy from the late 40's to the present day. But it is really a 700 page indictment of an example of how bad a government agency can be.

The one thing the CIA did well was give money away, BILLIONS of dollars spent with a slim margin of return at best, and at worse it became clear that the CIA had literally been conned out of hundreds of millions by other states and even individuals.

But any work of journalism, to
Aaron Crossen
A sprawling, fierce work of history, scholarship, and journalism. Markedly pessimistic in tone, Tim Weiner chronicles the often tragic history of America's once revered intelligence service. What he finds is that the the CIA has failed in its fundamental mission – to gather, analyze, and disseminate intelligence – for the better part of a century.

Weiner argues that the agency has suffered from and still suffers from several cancers. First is the propensity of its directors to bend to the politi
إرث من الرماد

هذا كتاب طويل، جاف ومفصل، والأسوأ من هذا كله أنه ترجم بطريقة زادته تعقيداً، إن تجاوزت هذا كله وقرأته كاملاً، فستجد بين يديك صورة أخرى لم تتوقعها، صورة لوكالة المخابرات الأمريكية تختلف تماماً عن ما قرأته في الروايات الخيالية، وما شاهدته في الأفلام الهوليودية.

فالمخابرات هنا، جسم غريب ظهر في الحكومة الأمريكية أثناء الحرب العالمية الثانية، وظل لسنوات يعاني من فهم مكانه ودوره، عامله الرؤساء باستخفاف، طالبه بعضهم بالمستحيل، بينما لم يلتفت له البعض الآخر، جهاز فشل في الكثير من العمليات ا
despite being both wildly entertaining and wildly informative, this book catches a three-star rating for all that it lacks. the subject matter requires the full-on multi-volume robert caro approach... weiner's 514 pgs just can't suffice. he skims over so much, leaves out so much necessary and vital information, that as much as i enjoyed it i cannot go above three stars. moreover, i had two fundamental complaints:

1) his conclusions are waaaay too linear. okay, you're writing a book on the CIA, an
Oct 29, 2007 Nathan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dwight D. Eisenhower, were he still with us.
The title of Tim Weiner's tome about the CIA, "Legacy of Ashes", is a quote taken from a comment Dwight Eisenhower made about what he was leaving behind for subsequent presidents. Ike felt he had left a broken and ineffectual intelligence agency far removed from the reality of what America needed. In "Legacy of Ashes", Weiner proves Ike right. Starting with the 1947 birth of the Central Intelligence Agency, Weiner takes us through intelligence bungle after intelligence bungle. Today, everyone is ...more
A.J. Howard
Legacy of Ashes greatest successes and greatest faults are both attributable to its author, Tim Weiner. Weiner is an incredible journalist. Legacy of Ashes is extremely well-researched, you can really tell that Weiner has spent the better part of a lifetime covering the events and the people covered in the book. I would argue that this is the kind of book that requires at least 20 years of familiarity with the subject. Weiner provides an adequate survey of the history of the CIA, covering the ma ...more
Justin Evans
A five star topic, with five star research, does not a five star book make. I give Mr. Weiner one star for this 'book,' which is not a book at all. It is a collection of research notes that would be better titled "What the CIA did after the second world war to ruin the world for most people, including its own agents."

Though Weiner has done a great job of bringing them together, there's no 'organization' to the facts. The title of each chapter is a quote from someone taken from that chapter; eac
Aug 09, 2013 Zac is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
If you're a naive, flag-saluting American citizen, you're probably going to react to reading this book by reflexively denying the claims in it and, as you turn the pages, muttering stupid, naive shit to yourself like "Oh, surely not" and "That can't be true" and "This guy has it in for the CIA".

LBJ regarded the people protesting the Vietnam War as enemies of the state and used the CIA to spy on them. The CIA was ordered to spy on American citizens, and did so as part of something
It's a very interesting read, from a historical perspective, at any rate. Some of the conclusions are suspect, at least in my eyes. One has to wonder, if the CIA was such a bungling, inept, rigid, clueless and blind institution, then why weren't we at the mercy of other countries' intelligence departments? Especially when most were, according to the author, so much better than ours was.

On the other hand, I can very well imagine it being a great piece of intelligence misdirection if everyone is c
a blistering and exhaustively-sourced condemnation of the CIA, an agency (as Henry Kissinger put it) has a reputation of ruthless efficiency that does not in any way reflect reality, which is persistent incompetence. Not only has the CIA failed in the vast majority of its covert operations, it also failed in the most rudimentary of its functions - providing the President with accurate intelligence upon the intentions and capabilities of America's enemies.
Phil Newman
Great read! If you think the CIA is watching you or knows what's going on all over the world, you are mistaken. This book details the incompetence, the bungling, and the politics of an agency of fools. Unfortunately, this has cost lives of innocent people throughout the world.

"For sixty years tens of thousands clandestine service officers have gathered only the barest threads of truly important intelligence - and that is the CIA's deepest secret. Manufactured data, answers looking for problems
It's hard to believe that a book can be described as both exciting and heart-breaking at the same time, but Legacy of Ashes definitely fits both of those descriptions. In this eye-opening history of the CIA, Mr. Weiner has shown not only why the CIA dropped the ball on Iraq and the Soviet Union, but how they were pretty much destined to do so by the first leaders who had set up the CIA to run an secret (and questionably legal) war against the Soviet Union instead of creating a first-rate intelli ...more
Patrick Sprunger
Tim Weiner begins with something like a disclaimer. By nature and definition, no one can present a complete history of a secretive entity - especially one whose secrets and secrecy remain vital to the national interest. Therefore the author has admitted that his book does not present "the whole truth" but aspires to at least present "nothing but the truth." There's some irony in the latter, as Weiner's subject's mission does not aim for the same.

The question is: How well does Legacy of Ashes per
The history of the CIA has always been shrouded in secrecy. Recently more and more documents have quietly been made public. With these documents an interesting and darker history of the agency begins to emerge. Time after time the agency has shown disaster, failure, and complete stupidity. Those outside the agency (often including the President) are only shown the smoke and mirrors creating a splendid and false perspective of the agency.

This history was produced to show that the agency has more
Neil Pierson
A detailed description of the depressing cycle of intelligence failures at the CIA. Torn between intelligence gathering and covert activity, uncertain of its priorities, the CIA does neither well. Time after time, failure is followed by investigation and a report that is suppressed because it would destroy the agency. And nothing changes.

Three Directors stand out for their attempts to lead the agency in a new direction: John McCone, whose principled approach failed because the Kennedys could see
LEGACY OF ASHES: The History of the CIA


America’s foes and rivals have long overrated the CIA. When Henry Kissinger traveled to China in 1971, Prime Minister Chou En-lai asked about the CIA. Kissinger told Chou that he “vastly overestimates the competence of the CIA.” Chou persisted that “whenever something happens in the world they are always thought of.” Kissinger acknowledged, “That is true, and it flatters them, but they don’t deserve it.” “Legacy of Ashes” is a litany of failure.
Scott Fraser
A very well researched and referenced history of the CIA.

The only problem with this book was that it took me months to read, because I couldn't read more than a chapter or two at a time without getting incensed with the governmential incompetance and mismanagment that repeatedly undermined valiant efforts to establish a professional results-driven service.

We repeated the same bonehead actions, over and over again, with faithful and dedicated people needlessly getting killed in the process.

This book does not deserve 5 stars because, well, very few non-fiction books do. It's not written in an artful fashion, because it's not supposed to be.

Still, it's one of the best non-fiction books I've read. If you're interested in U.S. History, in U.S. Foreign Affairs, in the History of the CIA, in the CIA itself, you NEED to read this book. You should also read it if you're just generally into spy crap and conspiracy theories, or as a conscientious citizen using information about history in o
"Legacy of Ashes" is exhilarating-- I read all 600 pages in two days. It is also deeply troubling to learn about the CIA's checkered history. The author Tim Weiner is certainly qualified, as he spent twenty years as a journalist covering intelligence. To write this work, he interviewed hundreds of agents, analysts, and former directors. He also poured through thousands of CIA documents, most of which were declassified in the last ten years.
What Weiner found was chronically poor intelligence gath
Samidhya Sarker Torsho

It's astounding to find that so much of American taxpayer's money and American lives were wasted in such worthless activities. I played a lot of games like Call of duty Black ops but never thought the history is much more bleak. I didn't know CIA is a failed organization regardless of the money and manpower it has sucked. The CIA has wasted millions and yet it was unable to create a real spy agency like KGB or MI-5 or MOSSAD.

Today, political parties in Thailand are fighting in vain for power. Mo
Erez Davidi
In Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner details the origins of the CIA and how the CIA developed along the years and strayed from its original function of gathering and analyzing international information to an organization which intervenes militarily, economically and politically in a dozen different countries all over the world.

The research done by Weiner is thorough and highly impressive. Most of his research is based on various declassified CIA documents and first-hand convers
Legacy of Ashes is a comprehensive history of the CIA from its beginnings at the end of WWII to the present day, written using only on-the-record sources, many of which, surprisingly, became declassified only in the past few years. Much of the history is familiar: the toppling of democratic governments and their replacement with right-wing dictatorships around the globe (Iraq, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile); the incompetence, alcoholism, and madness at the top of the organization (Jam ...more
May 05, 2011 Bentley rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in Security, CIA
Shelves: spotlighted, 2011
Legacy of Ashes is well written, thought provoking and a good example of everything that can go wrong and did within the confines of the CIA. The book was based primarily upon recently released intelligence documents so what the author has culled from these documents is highly accurate.

However, it would have been nice to have some successes documented to balance the scorecard. We finished our book discussion on a higher note with the success of the CIA's recent mission.

But honestly there was no
If you read this book, you stop believing in what is happening in different parts in world. For example, you start doubting in today's scenario about what actually happening in Syria and if it is really a political rift there or it is just a well directed coupe. CIA is one of the institute that is beyond law of any country and also beyond law of humanity. Even their mission is not just to keep dominance of USA in the world. Their mission is to keep their own dominance intact in US political aren ...more
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The History of the CIA: Interview with Tim Weiner 1 51 Jun 23, 2009 12:01PM  
  • Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century
  • A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State
  • Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to al-Qaeda
  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
  • Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II
  • A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
  • Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987
  • From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776
  • The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive & the Secret History of the KGB
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
  • One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
  • Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War
  • State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration
  • The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
  • Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945
  • The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq
  • All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
  • Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times
Tim Weiner has been a reported for the New York Times since 1993 as a foreign correspondent in Mexico and as a national security correspondent in Washington, DC. He won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting as an investigative reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer for his articles on the black budget spending at the Pentagon and the CIA.
More about Tim Weiner...
Enemies: A History of the FBI Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget

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“Intelligence fails because it is human, no stronger than the power of one mind to understand another. (480)” 4 likes
“Washington was a small town run by people who believed that they lived in the center of the universe.” 3 likes
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