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Spring 2002 cover

National Observer Home > No. 54 - Spring 2002 > Book Reviews

Book Review: the Secret History of the C.I.A.


By Joseph J. Trento

Roseville (California): Forum (Prima Publishing), 2001, pages 516 and index, $55.

The author is an investigative journalist who has worked within the U.S. media. The Secret History of the C.I.A. hence has a sensationalist tendency. Further, the liberal and pro-Democrat bias of the American media produces a tendency - here strikingly evident - to criticise and not support the C.I.A.

So Mr. Trento states in his Preface:

"The Secret History of the C.I.A. is not about America conquering god-less Communism and winning the Cold War. It is more about ambition and betrayal than about patriotic achievement. It is about what happened when an age of fear caused us to turn extraordinary power over to a government agency run by human beings with weaknesses that we all share. It is about careerism, callousness, self-interest and hybris.

From the very day the C.I.A. opened for business, its management risked the lives of mostly innocent people who were not combatants in the spy wars. Over the course of the Cold War, hundred of thousands of people died in a series of proxy wars and secret operations, often for purposes that had little do to with our own national interest."

Similarly Mr. Trento refers to U.S. oppositon to communism as: "anti-Communist paranoia".

All of this must be viewed with much caution. For example, the war in Korea could not realistically be described as a "proxy" war. The South was defending itself from invasion and struggling to survive. Similar analyses may be made of U.S. support for other countries facing communist aggression: to dismiss these struggles as "proxy" does little justice to the Americans or their allies. Further, it is now fashionable amongst the soft left to describe anti-communist activity as "paranoid". But the Cold War was a very serious matter: there was an attempt by the Soviet Union and its allies to defeat the democratic West; and without some of those whom Mr. Trento and other liberals criticise the Soviet Union would certainly have succeeded.

Hence in reading The Secret History of the C.I.A. the left-liberal bias of Mr. Trento must be borne in mind and his analysis treated with suspicion. This gives rise to a difficulty in knowing which of the facts he sets out are accurate and which are distorted or wrong. So he discusses at length such well-known and important figures in post-World War espionage as Beria, Jim Angleton, Kim Philby, Allen Dulles, J. Edgar Hoover, Orlov and many others. But should his account be accepted when he attacks Pinochet remorselessly, without giving credit to Pinochet for having prevented a communist take-over, planned by Allende and Fidel Castro, which would have led to a police state in Chile and the death of many more than the relatively few who died as a result of Pinochet's thwarting of the attempted communist coup? Ignoring these matters, Mr. Trento sums up his views on the Allende episode by concluding bizarrely, "Chile is the clearest example of how much damage American foreign policy can do when it places commercial interests ahead of justice."

A significant aspect of The Secret History of the C.I.A. is that it is concerned to over-stress errors made by the C.I.A. and not to give credit for its successes. It is hence an unbalanced work, and apparently deliberately so. This reviewer has met a number of C.I.A. officers, who have without exception revealed themselves to be conscientious and patriotic. Proper acknowledgement is not given by Mr. Trento to such men. Indeed, his apparently relentless quest to exaggerate the C.I.A.'s failings and to attack that organisation provides an example of conduct by the media in the United States that gave great advantages to the K.G.B.

R.M. Pearce

National Observer No. 54 - Spring 2002