I was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in thisI was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in this general topic area CAN'T SHUT UP ABOUT HOW FRIGGIN' GREAT IT IS. It is so often referenced in other books about the developments related to 9/11, Al Qaeda and military involvment in Iraq and Afghanistan that it's practically ubiquitous, and every time someone mentions it they have to mention it's oh-so-great. I was prepared to despise it, because I'm that way. Oh well. I was hugely disappointed by the fact that I have to stand somewhat in awe of it; it really is an impressive document. It's not one of those "compulsively readable" histories like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men, Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah, or Matthew Brzezinski's Red Moon Rising -- or even the same author's The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in an American Century, but it's completely packed with lots of information about obscure Afghan and American turns of fate that must have been kind of a bitch to get. It's meticulously referenced, and the afterword details all the ways the author feels he screwed up -- categorizing the corrections to the second edition, basically. Those are fascinating because they illuminate the way in which motivation in political history is difficult to gauge and may change from generation to generation or even year to year -- in particular, in this case, with the release of the 9/11 Commission's final report. In at least one case, for instance, discussion of using drone strikes was misplaced in the original text by a YEAR, because of a misrepresentation or mis-remembrance on Clinton's part, which was later corrected by the Commission. To his credit, Coll corrected it and called it out in the afterword. The overall events are (in broad strokes) nothing I didn't already know, but the specific machinations were fascinating and in far greater detail than I have seen represented elsewhere.
Two stars is pushing it. This was really cheesy. I was expecting Tom Clancy with more cigars and right hooks. It was more like a slightly butcher JameTwo stars is pushing it. This was really cheesy. I was expecting Tom Clancy with more cigars and right hooks. It was more like a slightly butcher James Bond with Mike Meyers in the role of the villain and R. Lee Ermey playing all the senior military officers. Then at the end it jumps off the rails as the main characters falls in love with a woman apparently because 1) she tried to kill him, and 2) she's hot. WTF? This was a really amateurish dollop of cheese. I enjoyed the themes enough to get me to try The Mediterranean Caper, which is reportedly less hokey, but I'm doing so with great suspicion....more
This book came out in 1990, and I've been sort of half-assedly planning on reading it ever since. Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment. The maiThis book came out in 1990, and I've been sort of half-assedly planning on reading it ever since. Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment. The main problem is that the author doesn't differentiate between his own experiences and things he's reporting from other sources; it becomes fairly obvious when you're reading it that most of the material is lifted -- whether from rumor, innuendo, scuttlebutt or legitimate reporting in other sources, I don't have the foggiest idea, because Ostrovsky's got all the citation chops of a fourth-rate potboiler, not a serious academic or political book. It comes across as hearsay garbage. What's more, while Ostrovsky may have broken some news at the time of first publication, there's nothing in here that was the least bit shocking to me; much of it felt INCREDIBLY repetitious, especially in the second half.
Pretty much everything interesting is confined to the first half, where Ostrovsky discusses his training in Mossad operations; there, the details of spycraft are FASCINATING. Had the book been half as long, I would have given it 4 stars, probably. Had it been three-quarters as long, maybe three stars. But after the halfway mark, Ostrovsky just drones on and on and on and on with the same bland scandals that are basically hearsay. It ends up sounding like "Shooting the shit with the Mossad." He he seems to be reporting most of these stories either unreferenced or taken from mainstream news stories, but damned if I can tell which is which.
What really made me feel burned, though, is that after a badly-paced second half that LITERALLY PUT ME TO SLEEP ON TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS WHILE I STRUGGLED THROUGH IT, Ostrovsky tries to wrap it all up with a sort of vapid statement of his moral rectitude. He references an old joke that the worst thing a Mossad officer can say to another Mossad officer is "I hope I read about you in the papers." He suggests that maybe it takes the light of public inquiry to change the Mossad's ways.
Yeah...it all seems so quaint, post-9/11, post-Gulf II, post-Afghan War, post-globalization, following Europe's mounting financial collapse...if the Mossad, or Israel in general, could be induced to change its ways by journalism, unfortunately Ostrovsky isn't the one to do it, because his thinking and his reporting is too fragmented, confusing, and unclear.
If you're interested in spycraft, read the first half of the book and skip the rest....more
Exhaustive account of the 1953 coup that deposed nationalist Iranian Mohammad Mosaddeq, who was anti-British but mildly pro-American, in order to instExhaustive account of the 1953 coup that deposed nationalist Iranian Mohammad Mosaddeq, who was anti-British but mildly pro-American, in order to install the oppressive regime more directly controlled by Shah Reza Mohammed Pahlavi, whom this book portrays as about the most gutless dictator ever born. A direct path is drawn between the pro-American attitude of the Iranian people, and Mosaddeq in particular, before the British were expelled for what Mosaddeq called "meddling" in Iranian politics by trying to reverse the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and, when that failed, planning a coup. One the British were expelled, we Yanks became British stooges -- or, if you want to take the Kermit Roosevelt-Allan Dulles view, we planned a coup to depose the secular Nationalist Mossadeq so that our planning a coup wouldn't make him ask the Soviets for protection. Kind of mind-bending logic, there. The result? Twenty-five years later, we got Ayatollah Khomeni, the Hostage Crisis, and the most rabidly anti-American government on the planet. Thanks, Kermit.
The book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the roots of anti-American Islamic fundamentalism, oil politics, British decolonization, Iran, or why setting up pro-American puppet governments directly in opposition to the will of 98% of the population is a shit-stupid idea -- and tends to lead to the codification of far more extreme ideologies that are far more anti-American....more
This is a truly great book about sigint in the 9/11 era, but it gets impossibly dull toward the end during the speculation about what the NSA's capaciThis is a truly great book about sigint in the 9/11 era, but it gets impossibly dull toward the end during the speculation about what the NSA's capacity will be in ten years. Or maybe I was just ready for it to be over; it is long and very dense. Nonetheless, a great reference for anyone interested in signals intelligence or politics, and personally I'm pretty sure it will be helpful if I ever write an espionage novel....more
I loved this meticulously researched book by The Economist's man in Africa about the attempt by a group of mercenary adventurers to stage a coup in EqI loved this meticulously researched book by The Economist's man in Africa about the attempt by a group of mercenary adventurers to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea. Along the way the story touches on Mark Thatcher, Margaret's son, and the novelist Jeffrey Archer (maybe). It's a fascinating story, well told, and infuriating when one considers both the politics involved and the overriding problems of Africa because of exactly the type of post-colonial economic neo-colonialism and corruption described in this book....more
Encyclopedic on its moment-to-moment chronology of the events in the Chechen war, but no analysis whatsoever. After reading 600 pages I was hoping toEncyclopedic on its moment-to-moment chronology of the events in the Chechen war, but no analysis whatsoever. After reading 600 pages I was hoping to know WHY the Russians didn't pull out of Chechnya. It may seem obvious, and it's the whole reason I was reading the book -- to have some background in it. I got none of that; I just got the details of the war from minute to minute to minute, and how it related to international terrorism and the global jihad.
Interesting stuff, but too much information and not enough analysis. I would probably rather have read a much shorter, more "big picture" kind of book -- this is more for people looking for a tight-in view of specific events, for purposes of further research.
That made it a pretty dull read, but I still give it four stars because of its comprehensiveness and exquisite procedural detail....more
From a purely informational and documentary perspective, this book is useful. However, it's just too kissy-assy from a journalist who clearly thinks tFrom a purely informational and documentary perspective, this book is useful. However, it's just too kissy-assy from a journalist who clearly thinks the CIA is oh so like totally awesome, and it reads as a mash note by a 13-year-old girl to a teen idol which she sprays with her perfume and stamps with her favorite hearts, flowers and kitty stamps just to let the recipient know how much she looooooooooooves him. "I just can't wait until you and I can live together in a 50-room mansion on the beach in Bora-Bora, CIA, and then you can braid my hair."
I'm sorry, did I say that out loud?
I guess I meant to say, in a more professional, if slightly less vivid, manner, it shows a powerful pro-CIA bias throughout. It completely glosses over the CIA's secret wars and other misdeeds, and treats it like a complex bureaucracy of hard-working Americans who love their country and want to make the world a better place (cue patriotic music).
I'm sure the author thought he was being objective, but any Teabagger wishing to argue that "Liberal journalists are just as biased as conservatives" seems stupefyingly idiotic after reading this book. From my perspective it's utterly indefensible how namby-pamby Kessler is with the CIA's serious problems. I didn't expect something genuinely objective from a journalist who is not an apologist but an out-and-out lionizer of the Bush administratin, but there is no excuse for a nonfiction book
I say this with the strong, although probably suspect, statement that I am not entirely anti-CIA. Despite my strongly liberal politics, I believe central intelligence is necessary and important, and I'm even open to the argument that secret wars are defensible. Seriously, people -- I may be a left-wing fanatic, but I'm about as far from knee-jerk as you can be.
The problem is, Kessler doesn't bother to address the argument whether the CIA has acted correctly or defensibly, either in practical or legal terms, throughout its existence. As a result, whether you have liberal or conservative politics, the result is that this book is boring as shit. What's the point of lauding the CIA if you're not going to argue FOR its policies any more than against them? What's the point of reading a book if the most political cogent thing you find out is how often William Webster played tennis?
And in the history of the CIA, does the entire Kermit Roosevelt Iran episode -- in which a CIA-backed coup put the Shah of Iran in power -- merit only a sentence or two?
It's the most non-controversial CIA book I could have imagined; it acts like the political questions around the CIA's various operations are irrelevant.
Furthermore, Kessler doesn't mention Jimmy Carter once, and at the end he rabidly attacks Clinton, essentially blaming the aftermath of the Aldrich Aames affair on him.
So I guess there's your answer about why the CIA coup in Iran isn't worth even delivering information about, let alone arguing for or against.
Lots of interesting nuts-and-bolts information, but it's too ass-kissy and biased, biased, biased....more