BOOKS & THE CULTURE Cloak and Dollar:A History of” American Secret Intelligence By Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones Yale University Press 288 pages, $29.95. he history of American intelli gence is a history of malfea sance, scandal, hyperbole, and self-promotion. It’s been that way for 150 years, argues Rhodri Jeffreys Jones, a pro fessor of American history at the University of Edinburgh. The author of numerous books, including three earlier volumes on the subject of American espionage, Jeffreys Jones’s newest book offers some badly needed historical per spective to current debates about the uses and non-uses of secret intelligence in the United States. Cloak and Dollar:A History of American Secret Intelligence begins with George Washington and ends with George Bush, arguing that “failures” in American intelligence repeat themselves like history, as do public and official debates and uproars about the practices and credibility of intelligence. In the final paragraphs Jeffreys Jonesdiscusses the role of intel ligence in the wake of the attacks of 9 11. As if that epilogue didn’t make his sobering and insightful history timely enough, the revelations in recent weeks of the existence of advance intelligence prior to the September 2001 attacks should make his book required reading. Jeffreys Jonesis a historian, not a political scientist, and one of the book’s strengths is that it tells a good story. Because his historical perspective locates secret intelligence agents and agencies within broad cultural move ments, it’s possible to see, for example, how the ascendancy of the Pinkerton agency in the intelligence game is very much a function of the temper of the times \(e.g. fear of assassination, distrust over, that as much as the culture of secret intelligence has changed along with the larger culture, there are some enduring characteristics of those who work in secret intelligence that can be traced from Allen Pinkerton to Oliver North. These are the characteristics which, clustered together, form the trope of the Confidence Man, the craven, prevaricating, self-promoting huckster portrayed in American literature in such works as Melville’s darkest novel, The Confidence Man, and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The emergence and persistence of confidence man culture is “a special reason ‘why secret intelligence [in the United States] has tended to run amok with the taxpayers’ money,” writes JeffreysJones. The ways that the confidence man ethos manifests itself on the institutional level, he argues, is in the tendency in American secret intelligence practice toward “indiscriminate gathering of too much information and the neglect of analysis, subordination of national security to bureaucratic ambition,” and the insistence of an American “intelligence monopoly,” which feeds distrust among allies and keeps the American people “in the dark about alternative viewpoints.” The long view of secret intelligence in America reveals a series of episodes in which ambitious intelligence men “painted the menace” of their day and reaped the rewards in the form of power, money, and prestige. “American espionage,” Jeffreys Jonesexplains, “has since the 1850s become progressively more commercial, more bureaucratic, and more populist. The wiles of the intelligence confidence man have been directed not just at foreign foes but at American citizens as well. The American public has been importuned to believe in a variety of menaces and crises that were by no means always what they seemed to be. They have ranged from Confederate assassination plots to Western land fraud, from white slavery to communism, from German sabotage to Chinese espionage, from crack cocaine scares to digital encryption.” To some degree all of these menaces were real, just as we must acknowledge today the legitimacy of warnings about shoe bombs and mysterious white powders, but intelligence men have always found it advantageous to exaggerate the severity or imminence of the threats. Although the early history of secret intelligence is no doubt important, especially because of its roots in private investigation and security, Cloak and Dollar hits its stride in the chapter on Pearl Harbor. Jeffreys Jonesargues that “by means of energetic propaganda, a version of the Pearl Harbor story convenient to the Roosevelt administration and to CIA expansionists has been woven into intelligence history.” The story of Pearl Harbor goes like this: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor succeeded because American intelligence failed; for reasons of national security and to protect intelligence sources, investigations into the causes of failure were veiled and hampered; failure was rewarded with increased budgets, personnel, and power; and the CIA was created by the National Security Act of 1947. The success of this account of intelligence’s role in the attack contributed to a “conspiracy of silence,” an obsession with prediction as the primary function of intelligence, and a bureaucratic practice of rewarding failure. “For this reason:’ he writes, “the myth of Pearl Harbor as the epitome of lack of preparedness in peacetime has distorted perceptions of America’s postWorld War II intelligence mission.” Arguably, Pearl Harbor has now been displaced as the epitome of unreadiness Secret Agent Men BY ELISABETH H. PIEDMONT-MARTON 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7’Yn”
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