The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Under Western eyes


The Cold War was a covert war. Much of it was fought by spies and intelligence organizations. One of the key figures in this war was the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and many would say its ultimate victor as well. This book by one of America’s leading writers on intelligence matters relates the story of the CIA through a series of interconnected essays.

The CIA grew out of the Office of Strategic Services, which was created in June 1942 by Roosevelt. And William J. Donovan was the man chosen to head it by the president. Donovan’s tenure lasted about three years after which he was thrown out by Harry Truman. Under Donovan, the OSS was an extension of what has been called clubland spying, the hallmark of MI5 and MI6 across the pond. The OSS was a great hodgepodge of an organization. However, Donovan landed one big coup which became a major asset in the era of the Cold War. In November 1944, the OSS mission in Stockholm was approached by Finnish intelligence officers with an offer to sell some 1,500 pages of material relating to Soviet codes. Donovan was ordered to return the document since Soviet Russia was an ally. Donovan did so but only after making a copy. This was an important source of evidence for the uncovering of Donald Maclean and the Rosenbergs.

Donovan’s abiding goal was to establish a permanent American intelligence service. After his departure, the OSS was reconstituted as the CIA. The Agency came into its own under the directorship of Allen Welsh Dulles, the brother of John Foster, who as Eisenhower’s secretary of state preached the gospel of the Cold War, anti-communism. The brothers Dulles must have been, in their time or ever, the most powerful duo to walk the corridors of power in Washington. Powers writes, “The principal campaigns of the CIA under Dulles form a kind of silent coda to whatever was agitating the White House and John Foster Dulles at any given moment — the propaganda war with the Soviets, the ‘immoral’” (in Foster’s view) neutralism of Indonesia and India; Soviet ambitions in the Middle East, where oil, Israel, and European allies all tugged American policy in different directions; revolutionary movements in Africa, Central America and Cuba; and Soviet military programs which might threaten American reliance on nuclear deterrence.”

It was the “covert adventuring” of the Dulles years that resulted in the successful overthrows of governments in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954). But the CIA bungled the attempt to overthrow the Indonesian government in 1958. Dulles was also an ally of Joseph McCarthy’s Red-hunting excesses. But Dulles came a cropper with the disaster of the Bay of Pigs or the failed invasion of Cuba. Kennedy, after a decent interval, had to ask him to quit.

Powers pieces together the early days of the Agency through anecdotes and the available documentation. There are essays here on the JFK murder and on the almost perverse worldview of James Jesus Angleton, the celebrated head of counter-intelligence in the CIA, who literally saw Reds everywhere.

All the essays are lucidly written and make for gripping and occasionally startling reading The purist historian might raise a few eyebrows because many of the conclusions and anecdotes are based on recollections of former officers and have no corroborative documentation. This cannot, however, take away from the rich fare the book offers.

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