Sunday, October 26, 2014

Book Review: Art of Intelligence by Henry A. Crumpton

Book cover
My view on books on secret agencies is that they need to be thrilling and captivating. Holding my view, I recently picked Henry A Crumpton’s book Art of Intelligence. The writer has served decades in CIA’s Clandestine Service. The book traces his writing a letter to CIA recruitment office when he was a kid and the CIA replying to him that he needs to re-apply later in his life. The authored had travelled a lot in the world before joining the CIA. Perhaps his globe-trotting experience helped him join the world’s most discussed intelligence agency.
Many chapters in the book contained accounts of espionage. The writer didn’t even care about using fictional names. He would name the characters in his accounts as ‘a certain diplomat’, a ‘certain African guy’. This practice made otherwise lively accounts less interesting if not boring.
There is a lot of technical detail about the CIA’s structural organization. How various departments communicate and work with each other. Many pages of the books are wasted in describing these technical details.
However there were many interesting things such as keen appetite of North Korean diplomats for porn. That many multi-national companies help CIA cover its agents. The multi-nationals send CIA agents under the garb of their employees in various countries where CIA can’t gain direct access. The guise of an executive in a multi-national company works best in almost all countries. How the organization, ‘Doctors Without Borders’, ‘indirectly’ helped CIA find a route on Afghanistan’s northern border following the 9/11 attack on the US.
The CIA’s efforts to trace the relatives of dead spies and agents to transfer the escrow money to them. Many of the agents died with the secret that they were working for the CIA. It must be shocking for their relatives to have received money from an unknown source. The writer could have given such a narrative, but he didn’t.
There was one account about the CIA training its agents before sending them to Afghanistan for the first time after the 9/11. “We trained to use vehicles as both weapons and means of escape. We drove and maneuvered at high speeds. We breached roadblocks that sometimes required bashing through fixed barriers and other vehicles. A car could take an enormous amount of abuse and keep running. We combined driving and firearm tactics, using our vehicles as cover. The wheels and engine blocks afforded the best protection against high velocity rounds. We entered and exited our cars while drawing and firing weapons. We practiced with a variety of firearms, including foreign models, particularly the AK 47 and SKS carbine. Our teams in Afghanistan carried the AK 47 because of the local availability of ammunition and the local profile. Any man toting and firing a US manufactured M4 would be immediately identified as non-indigenous.   
My take on the book is that it is interesting but not thrilling. It may appeal to a mature reader but not to an amateur reader.

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