PositiveThe New RepublicMeier’s book compiles and synthesizes several stories about recent private intelligence misadventures. While a fair amount is aggregation—readers of Ronan Farrow’s groundbreaking reporting on Black Cube’s work for Harvey Weinstein, for example, may find portions of that part of the book to be familiar territory—Meier’s research and original interviews flesh out the stories and characters involved. Through his eyes, they are often unsavory people. The best part of his book, upstaging the other sagas, covers the Steele dossier ... The tragic arc of WikiLeaks is a warning that the lines between traditional journalists, private detectives, very-online activist-investigators, and nation-state intelligence operatives constantly threaten to blur. That inherent instability provides a backdrop to Meier’s fundamental point that people outside government performing intelligence-style work seem to be having a rising impact.
PositiveThe New Republic... most of its chapters read like more polished versions of the reports the organization previously published online. These case studies are characterized by showing the group’s deductive homework—walking the reader through the identification and verification of each tile in a gradually appearing mosaic of proof. Sometimes exhaustive discussion of minutiae is necessary to bolster the credibility of the conclusions asserted—rebuttals to the inevitable question: How can you amateurs, just sitting at computers thousands of miles away, know that? As a result, the book can be dense at times. But at its best, it reads like that moment at the end of Sherlock Holmes stories, when the detective explains to his sidekick, Dr. Watson, how he deduced the solution to a mystery from overlooked and seemingly minor clues.
John O' Brennan
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewBrennan’s memoir presents a rich portrait of his unusual life, which took him from a working-class New Jersey neighborhood to a position as a Middle East specialist who met with kings and presidents and witnessed the rise of Al Qaeda. But as a reporter who has spent much of the last two decades writing about counterterrorism matters in which Brennan played an important role, I recognized the virtual absence of certain topics ... One wonders if his inability to use his files to refresh his memory resulted in such holes ... memoirs by former national security officials always exhibit a certain Swiss cheese quality because so much about their professional experiences remains classified. Brennan sometimes writes around that problem, as when he invents a hypothetical briefing to President Obama about whether to approve a drone strike ... even if Brennan’s narrative often cannot stand alone as a one-stop-shopping account of the events it covers, his own reflections on his long and momentous career are a worthy addition to the available history of the post-9/11 era.
MixedThe NationStructured as a series of diary entries in which he tells us what he knows for sure about American bioweapons efforts in that era, Baseless allows Baker to highlight that the government is still actively hiding things all these years later and to speculate about what they may be. At the same time, he tries to capture the frustration of growing older as the government runs out the clock on disclosing its secrets while they might still matter to anyone living ... I found myself wondering at this failure of imagination about what he could do. Why didn’t Baker reach out to one of the public interest organizations that provide free legal services to journalists and researchers with a righteous FOIA request and see if they would be interested in taking on his case? How can he publish a book that laments FOIA’s deficiencies—its subtitle is My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act —without doing what is necessary, if not always sufficient, to make that law work? ... Baker the person, interesting and imperfect as are we all in our own ways, rises from the pages of Baseless with a generally firm understanding that he has produced a very strange book.
Guy M Snodgrass
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewSnodgrass, a former Navy fighter pilot who worked in Mattis’s office from the spring of 2017 until the summer of 2018, has stepped forward to fill some of the vacuum created by Mattis’s silence. To be sure, his vantage point was limited...But Snodgrass saw more than enough for his memoir to take its place in the growing annals of government dysfunction ... Snodgrass, who eventually quit after clashing with a top Mattis aide, clearly admires his former boss but does not canonize him.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... a valuable guide to the story so far and offers some predictions about what the next chapter may look like, after the Islamic State is forced back into a mere insurgency ... Despite its subtitle, Soufan retells the Qaeda story from the beginning, enriching that now oft-told tale with newer materials, including some from the trove of communications seized in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. His approach is to explain the movement through the eyes of a few key terrorist figures ... the best and most interesting parts of Soufan’s book center on a less famous figure: Saif al-Adel, a pragmatic Egyptian ex-soldier who devoted his professional life to the post-Cold War global Sunni Islamist movement and played a secondary role, Zelig-like, in most of the important events in Qaeda’s history ... Soufan offers lucid explanations of a worldview that to casual Western eyes may seem mindlessly nihilistic, but is coherent within its own terms of seeking to establish a caliphate.
Michael V. Hayden
MixedThe New York Review of Books...when it comes to matters that raise questions about the competence, reputation, and potential criminal liability of intelligence officials, 'the world as it was seen from Langley' may not always be the same as 'the world as it is'...truth to Hayden sometimes seems to be whatever serves the interests of his own faction: the permanent bureaucracy of intelligence and military professionals ... while I believe that major aspects of his book are flawed, I also think that other parts are excellent. Hayden spent his career grappling with some of the world’s most complex problems and he has many interesting, if often bleak, things to say about them—especially when his account is less driven by his concern to defend the record of the intelligence agencies.