Saturday, July 30, 2005

Book review--A Pretext For War

A fascinating exploration into some of the darkest corners of our government, James Bamford's A Pretext For War outlines how our intelligence agencies failed (and are continuing to fail) us in our efforts to know just what the hell is going on around the globe. Bamford provides three things in Pretext: 1) an insider's (many insiders, actually) account of how both the NSA and the CIA are completely bereft of useful strategies to fight terrorism--in fact, Bamford's book calls their entire post-Cold War existence into question; 2) a narrative of how, and more importantly why, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda formed a coherent plan to attack the US on 9/11; and 3) an indictment of the Bush Administration's usage of the virtually inept NSA and CIA to provide the evidence necessary to convince our country that Iraq should be attacked.
These three stories are interwoven so as to make it clear that our intelligence agencies have been out of any loops for far longer than just January 20, 2001. "Ah ha!", I hear the Smirkyslaves say, "It's all Clinton's fault. I knew it because Rush told me so!" Unfortunately for those morons, Bamford goes even further. Just because Bamford's narratives begin in the mid-1990s, he traces the origins of the NSA/CIA sudden uselessness back to the fall of the Soviet Union, which neither agency foresaw. Both of the agencies were formed to fight statist foes, and with the rise of stateless terrorism as a new enemy, neither have been institutionally capable of switching gears to address them. Bamford describes the two floundering and complacent agencies as being filled with both operational cowardice and bureaucratic short-sightedness, and makes the point that neither agency can be trusted any longer. That Bush did so in such a dramatic and deceitful manner shows him and his cronies to be either self-deluded fools or disingenuous liars. Take your pick, Smirkyslaves . . .
Bamford's book relies heavily on anonymous sources--for obvious reasons--and it is here that one can find problems of historicity. We can't really prove or disprove what's being said here, unfortunately. Until documents from the period become available, if ever, or Bamford's witnesses come forward, we'll never know for sure that his stories are accurate. Given that, though, Bamford has woven an internally consistent and logical argument. The proof lies in the narrative that opens the book--a grisly description of what happened inside the Two Towers on 9/11. If the NSA, CIA, and to a lesser extent, the FBI, had been doing their jobs properly, is it possible that known terrorists could have lived under our noses for so long and so boldly openly to effect such an attack? In this case, I would agree with Bamford in saying, "I doubt it."


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