Saturday, October 13, 2012
The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Service
by Henry A. Crumpton ; 327 pages
If it weren't for my new, self-imposed mandate to "finish what I start", I would've closed this book permanently after I'd gotten about 20 pages into it. If it weren't for the fact that it was a library copy that I held in my hands, this book would've inspired an impromptu bonfire in my backyard. The inside of the back cover proclaims, "No book like it has ever been written: an epic thriller...". I'm here to tell you that's a damned lie. This book is as vapid as it gets, folks. If you follow geopolitics at all, you will most likely spend the first 140 pages wondering when the "thrilling" part starts, or when the author will offer up something that you don't already know; I chose to ponder up alternative ways of using the $27.95 demanded of you at retail outlets, and at some point I decided investing that money with Bernie Madoff would be preferable.
Any value found in this book is anecdotal rather than substantive, and even those parts are few and far between. For example, it was interesting to note that the author, a former high ranking official in the intelligence community, who served for over two decades, can further attest to the fact that Iraq not only had no affiliation with Al Qaeda or any other radical Islamic group, but that certain members of the Bush administration, like Paul Wolfowitz, were intent on a war with Iraq even before 9/11. But of course, we already knew that. Furthermore, a few pages provide a genuinely enthralling account of the clandestine operations in Afghanistan before and after 9/11, which Mr. Crumpton commanded; he recounts the fruition of the UAV and Predator drone systems, even providing a command center perspective of actual operations that took place on the ground. When I said a "few" pages provided interesting material, I meant that literally; these ideas were communicated in sparse passages scattered throughout the middle of the book that would add up to around three pages in total; there are 327 pages, meaning this book has about a .9% success rate.
The other 99.1% of the book is full of meaningless repetition of the importance of intelligence as a tool of statecraft (We know, that's why we picked up the book...), and a patriotic sentimentality that was cool the first time it was expressed, but after its continual reiteration took on a sickly sweet character and began to make me feel uncomfortable. This latter element is made worse by dialogue pulled straight out of a B-grade action flick. I couldn't decide whether I was more bothered that Mr. Crumpton decided to attribute gung-ho, hokey phrases to his colleagues, or the notion that his colleagues may have actually spoken in such a manner. One may never know. Nevertheless, this book convinced me that a career government official should hand his/her story off to a ghost writer, someone with a little more literary flair, rather than write it themselves. After all, it's not the story one tells, but rather how the story is told that counts.
In summation, unless you have absolutely zero knowledge about the CIA or geopolitics, I recommend that you learn from my mistake and steer clear of this book, which is minimally (very very minimally) stimulating in terms of ideas or entertainment to anyone who maintains an active interest in the subject, or, for that matter, anyone who has payed attention to the news at any point between now and 2001.