- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Longtime grasshoppers know that I am a big fan of David Ignatius both as a columnist (best analyst of doings in the intelligence community) and novelist. So it is no shock that I like his new novel.
The surprise to me was that in this one, he takes a deep dive into the world of American intelligence after Snowden and Manning. It makes for a lively read, especially the first half of the book. He depicts a real generation gap in the world of U.S. intelligence, as deep I think as occurred in the 1960s. One character sits and contemplates this question: “If the director of the National Security Agency had been given warning that he could dismantle the programs that Edward Snowden later would reveal to the press-take them down, without the chaotic damage of disclosure-would he have seized the opportunity?” (Tom’s answer: No, which is why some of Snowden’s actions are supportable even if his motivations and connections are questionable.)
He also has a great scene late in book (Chapter 37) about how insider threats can use the SOP to attack you.
As for the state of American intelligence, Ignatius is ambivalent. While he is sympathetic to CIA managers who now fear Snowdenism at every new hire’s keyboard, he also is critical of the path our intelligence leaders have taken over the last 13 years: “aside from getting Osama bin Laden, the main accomplishment has been to create hundreds of millions of new enemies for the United States.”
The book has a secondary theme that I really don’t get, which is that the CIA was created by British intelligence “as the operational arm of this post-imperial regime.” I get this in places like Iran ’53 and Guatemala ’54. But after that, I dunno. How do we explain sticking it to the Brits in Suez ’56, the reluctance of the Brits to support the United States in Vietnam, and other divergences through the years?
My only major complaint about the book is the generic Washington cyberthriller cover — the White House against a background of zeroes and ones. C’mon!