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Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  586 ratings  ·  49 reviews
From the “most influential career lawyer in CIA history” (Los Angeles Times) an unprecedented memoir filled with never-before-told stories from his thirty-year career at the center of the U.S. government’s intelligence program (1976-2009).

In 1975, fresh out of law school and working a numbing job at the Treasury Department, John Rizzo took “a total shot in the dark” and se
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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Oct 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
A gripping, well-written and readable memoir of Rizzo’s career as well as, more generally, a history of the thirty years in which Rizzo was employed by the CIA. Rizzo argues that the Agency really is an accountable organization generally aware of the legal implications of its actions. Obviously this thesis won’t be accepted by all, and the memoir is quite defensive. The theme of the book seems to be about the challenge of balancing the core mission of an intelligence agency with the need to obey ...more
May 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
R. John does more justice to this book (is there a pun in there?) than I ever could, so just go and read his review.
However, I just have to add..
Careerist? What an understatement! Rizzo believes that all the agents on the ground who were involved with the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques program were convinced it was necessary. How does he know this? Well, these were smart people-- so smart, that they'd know that participating in this program wasn't going to expressly help their career along -
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
In the last ten yeas a flood of CIA memoirs have been published. Rizzo's is pretty unique in that he was an attorney and not a case officer which provides a less documented perspective on The Agency since the mid-1970s. For instance, Rizzo delves into the history and mechanics of Presidential Findings since he helped create the modern process for writing and approving Findings. He discusses operations from a legal perspective rather than the nitty gritty of executing covert action. He does spend ...more
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Malcolm Gladwell recommended this book because he said a career bureaucrat have more to tell than a star. He was right.
Aug 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I haven’t wanted to burn a book in… ever. But I tell you what, if one was inclined to burn books, you could do a service to humanity and start with this one. Except that it may need to exist as proof of how psychopathic and monstrous the US “intelligence community” is. The banality of evil is horrendous, masked behind all the acronyms and platitudes and decades of indoctrinated normalcy.

It made me sick to my stomach, and that’s a tough thing to do.
Alex Clark
May 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Decent read that had good writing. The whole "I worked at the CIA for 30 years" ends up not yielding much for story telling (dude I met this one guy in this place and some cool stuff happened). It's more a very lawyer type story.
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
It's the story of a lawyer who rose to be the Acting General Counsel for the CIA. That explains why he's very careful with his words, why he uses lots and lots of abbreviations (at least he provides a list of acronyms at the beginning, and why there seems to be a lot of, I don't know, gaps, details, something missing from the story. In the epilogue, he explains that he had to submit the manuscript to the CIA for approval and they took stuff out.

The introduction bored me to sleep, literally, but
I thought this was excellent. Although I do not agree with the "extended interrogation techniques" that Rizzo helped erect and therefore took issue with some of the claims he made, the vast majority of this book is not an argument in favor or against torture or anything of the sort; instead, it is a chronicle of his experiences at the agency, a revelation of some of the inside workings of some of our nation's greatest intelligence crises, and an intriguing exploration of history. Well-written, i ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Really boring. I was interested to read this, but it reads more as an events and person list with very little dive into the details and 'secrets' of the inner workings. Also, if water boarding isn't torture, put yourself on the rack and take a dip. Report back.

Aug 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading about the CIA from an attorney's perspective. Rizzo is a good writer, and provides an important glimpse into U.S. national security policy. I do have two issues with the book:

1) It seems that the CIA, or at the least the CIA's upper management and OGC, was not only overwhelmingly white and male, but white men selected from a few elite east coast universities. (Has there ever been a CIA head or OGC head who was not a white male who went to east coast elite college? My research s
May 14, 2018 rated it liked it
This guy is a real piece of work. I can see right through his grandstanding and his attitude towards many of the people he writes about dealing with throughout the book. But all that said, it's a very interesting read and is particularly relevant right now. I picked it up out of the blue before Gina Haspel's nomination came before the Senate, but it was particularly relevant to be reading it while her confirmation hearings have been in the news. I recommend the read, but get it from the library ...more
Aug 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
A company man is an apt description of John Rizzo. He was one of the most influential men in the CIA for 20 plus years of his 34 year stint there. With that comes an insider perceptive on some of the most notable events in the CIA history, most importantly the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.

Rizzo articulates the reasons behind the EIT program with a logical and a surprisingly unbiased view. I found Rizzo making a compelling argument for the necessity of the program but at the same time an opi
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
1)Author is in plain denial about the cruel , inhumane ways for interrogations by CIA. That's what happens when you've grown too attached to something. Also shows effects of groupthink.

2) Lack of diversity in CIA.

3) Author appears to be not used to working alongside women (point #2).

4) I dislike how author brushes of Valerie Plume and tells as it her journalist/ ambitious husband that made her identity public.

5) Tells the importance of networking and lobbying.

6) I still enjoy the book. Seem
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
You'd think a book written by a CIA lawyer would be like reading a text book, but this book was super engaging. It gives you an insiders look on how the CIA is run, and just how reliant the agency is on relationships with members of congress and administrations. The deep dive into the enhanced interrogation tesuniqes fiasco was also fascinating, and eye-opening. If you'd like to see how the sausage of intelligence policy is made, give it a try.
Scott Helms
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Inside the CIA from a long term career lawyer

I enjoyed this book!
Mr. Rizzo candidly weaved a four decade / 7 president / 11 director story about our premier intelligence apparatus's infrastructure.
Though I feel different than Rizzo about torture (he'd call it EIT), I can understand his rationale for the label and practice.
All in all, a good read by a good public servant.
Vic Davis
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and insightful read. John Rizzo did a great job telling his story. It was great to get his perspective of the EIT program as well as the Iran-Contra scandal.

In addition, John Rizzo shows that partisan politics doesn't have to infect everyone in D.C. despite decades of being surrounded and exposed to nothing but partisanship.
Nancy McCormick
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read on the CIA

Told from the perspective of a CIA lawyer, this memoir was surprisingly entertaining, not dry and plodding, as some legal times are. The view of CIA activities from a legal viewpoint - not flashy counterintelligence operatives - makes you think differently about this agency and their mandate.
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Fun to get insight into an interesting job: A lawyer for the CIA. Good stories, some that arose from
Known news stories. Rizzo's disdain for anyone critical of the CIA (including and especially Clinton and Obama) is tempered by his loyal roots. Good read.
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this memoir by John Rizzo, who was a lawyer for the CIA for three decades. He seems like a man of principle, with a great respect for his agency while at the same time not ignoring the faults and bad leadership he sometimes witnessed.
Too Many Toys
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Relatively balanced. Having read a number of accounts and perspectives of the CIA and national security from this time frame, Rizzo adds something useful. This book is worthwhile for anyone who wants to understand the complexities of national security in the last 25 years.
Sep 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, biography, memoir
Really is impressive how he managed to get all the way to the "these people were just following orders" defense. An illuminating read into the thinking behind things, but a person who takes his moral cues from the goals of the people for whom he works...
barry fleck
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great insite from an insider

Loved the book!
A great look inside the working of the VIA from there top lawyer at the time. Very honest and believable.
Reed Wolfley
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I knew nothing about the CIA and now I feel like I know even less, but have been truly entertained by Rizzo’s tales as a lawyer in the CIA. Everyone should read this book.
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Seems to be an honest account. Rizzo certainly experienced some of the CIA's darkest days.
Luke Ingalls
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting. At times a bit dry.
Jan 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Poor John Rizzo. He missed his calling as an affable stand up comedian. It takes him to page 182 to mention Hannah Arendt's THE BANALITY OF EVIL. An appearance I found incredibly tone deaf considering how much of his book is a tepid reworking of the Eichmann "careerist" excuse. There is no reason to doubt Rizzo's sincerity, though, he really was trying to protect the agents and assets under him from criminal prosecution. He understood the odious nature of the "enhanced interrogation program" and ...more
Carl R.
Oct 23, 2014 rated it liked it
John Rizzo spent over thirty years in various legal capacities with the CIA; that is, as a Company Man, serving several presidents, undergoing several near misses at the General Counsel post. He was acting general counsel on a number of occasions, but never achieved the top post. Politics, he says.

Although, much of his career was exciting as you might expect a lawyer for spies to be, and even selfless in his opinion, to my mind, his shameful last few years at the agency negated the whatever good
May 21, 2016 rated it liked it
If you knew nothing about John Rizzo, you'd see the title and think this was a juicy tell-all. But Rizzo plays the company man here as well, defending the CIA as a beleaguered organization of stand-up people working by the book, who took the fall for other people's mistakes.

You're not going to get more than the official story here, but its mere existence is a telling glimpse into the unredeemable situation the CIA finds itself in. In short, the excesses of the early years caught up to them in th
May 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
One would think from the title that this book would be about someone working in some corporation. But, no, it's about working in a government agency, namely the CIA. And loyal to his job he was even though he was not directly part of covert operations. Early on his main duty was to write directives for presidential signature, purpose being to ensure legality of CIA actions. Later on he would become embroiled with defending EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques). They were legally not torture, ...more
Grazyna Nawrocka
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
There is so much that really gets on my nerves about this book. It would appear that if there is some organization claiming to have anything to do with intelligence, it would not have to use tools straight from the Inquisition times to collect information. It would use "brain power." Alas, the organization does not even recognize brain as an organ of human body. Hence they claim that waterboarding somebody 150 times a week does not harm any organs, and that's why it is not a torture. In light of ...more
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