Legacy of Ashes is an in-depth look at the history of the Central Intelligence Agency from its founding in the 1940s to the present day. Culled from tens of thousands of pages of declassified reports, it looks at the several failures and occasional successes of the United States intelligence community. The author, Tim Weiner, is qualified as few others are, having written from within the CIA for over twenty years. He brings his unique knowledge and Pulitzer Prize-winning ability to bear in analyzing how the Agency has failed to keep the President of the U.S. adequately informed on national security.
Legacy of Ashes is an incredibly informative book, packed with detailed reviews of past intelligence operations. It is surprising what the CIA has declassified and is available to the public. However, it takes a reporter like Tim Weiner to dig through the mountains of existing documents to paint a picture understandable by the layperson. Even at a length of over 800 pages with endnotes, the book feels like a short overview of Central Intelligence history. Unfortunately, most of this overview is a catalog of breakdowns in communication between the Agency and the President, and Intelligence Estimates of zero worth.
Legacy of Ashes paints a bleak landscape of the United States’ understanding of foreign governments and the threats faced each day by the country’s citizens. It is frightening to consider how uninformed national leaders are about the thoughts and intentions of their fellow heads of state. The bleakness that permeates this book could be seen as its most glaring flaw; some of that is likely attributable to an author disenchanted by his long experience in national security. However, much of it likely comes from actual failings in the intelligence industry. It would have been nice to see a greater focus on the positive work done by the Central Intelligence Agency, but this deficit may be the result of too little success.
Tim Weiner does an incredible job of introducing the strange world of intelligence to the uninitiated. It is clear with Legacy of Ashes that he did his homework, and the revelations inside will both surprise and frighten the reader. This is an important work; it is only through books like this that citizens of the U.S. can discover what is being done with tax dollars, the mistakes being made, and the changes that need to take place. Here’s to hoping that authors like Tim Weiner continue to provide stunning works on the everyday operations of shadowy government agencies.