Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA

The Secret Wars of the CIA

I just finished Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 by Bob Woodward. I respect Bob Woodward. I think he’s one of the best investigative journalist out there. His body of work is impressive and he has been working for the Washington Post since 1971. Woodward with Carl Bernstein did much of the  news reporting on the Watergate scandal that led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. You can read about the Watergate scandal in All the President’s Men by Woodward and Bernstein.

Why did I read this book? It wasn’t on my list of things to read and I felt like I needed something “light” for the summer. I also have this box of spy books that was given to me that I want to get through. Well this book is anything but light. It’s a very detailed well researched book. It’s a good book but I think you need to be a little crazy to put yourself through it. You must love history and lots of tiny details about everything. It’s insane the level of research Woodward puts himself through. Using hundreds of inside sources and secret documents, Woodward has pieced together an unparalleled account of the CIA, its Director, and the United States government.

As the title suggest, it’s a book about the CIA during President Reagan’s years.  The book covers the the directorship of William J. Casey from 1981-1987. The 70s was a tough time for the CIA. The agency was plagued with scandals and the massive intelligence failure of Iran. The CIA failed to foresaw the overthrow of the Shah who was supported by the U.S. This also resulted in the Iran hostage crisis. When Reagan/Casey took over, morale was low and the agency was a mess. Casey was an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) veteran— the predecessor to the CIA. He wanted to reform the CIA and he wanted the agency to get its respect back. Casey saw himself as an old OSS operator and had a sentimental about intelligence work.

The book is mostly about the covert wars that the U.S. conducted during the Reagan years. The U.S. was afraid of another Vietnam disaster so it was very careful on how it conducted its foreign policy. The book is 50% Nicaragua, 25% Libya, and the rest is Iran and other countries. Somehow, the Soviet-Union and Cuba is tied in all of this. One thing I didn’t realized is how insane Muammar Gaddafi was. I knew he was a bad guy but he definitely had some loose screws in his head. He supported terrorism activity and several violent organization. His personal behavior and personality fueled was not one of a reasonable man or leader. Nobody liked the guy and he was very unpredictable. The U.S. bombed Libya in 1986 but never got Gaddafi out of power. Nicaragua was the main topic of the book. The leftist Sandinista overthrew the Somoza dynasty in 1979. The U.S. didn’t want a model leftist state to exist so he backed the Contras. The CIA was afraid that the revolutionary fires could sweep north, especially to Mexico were the social conditions for breeding socialism was in place.

There’s a lot to debate on what is the role of the CIA? Is it just a intelligence gathering agency for the President or does it take a more hand-off approach with operations? The CIA did intelligence, but is it supposed to kill people also? During Casey’s tenure, the CIA to directly and covertly influence the internal and foreign affairs of countries relevant to American policy. It acted as a shadow secretary of state. With money, secrets, and direct access to the President you have a lot of power. Under Casey, the CIA had become a tool bent on forcing its view on the world.

It’s possible that the CIA’s influence was too great. The CIA apparatus had been used as a policy-planning service for Casey and finally  it had become an implementing agency through its own operations or through the White House. This is how you got the Iran-Contra affair scandal. The whole thing is huge complicated mess. The U.S. selling arms to their arch enemy Iran (a couple years after the hostage crisis) and funneling the profits to the Contras. The details of that scandal is beyond this post. Six people were charged but were later pardon by President Bush.  One of them, Olivier North, became a on-air personality for Fox News.

If you really wanted to know what’s was going on behind the scene during the Reagan administration, this book will fulfill that request. The Reagan administration displayed a certain image in public, an image that people are still attached too today. However the behind the scene stuff is the exact opposite of that image the administration cultivated. I understand why. There are so many factors and people involved in the decision making process that it’s an absolute mess. Good book but not your relaxing summer reading