Legacy of Ashes Legacy_of_Ashes

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As successor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was directed through its first decade by the men who shepherded U.S. espionage during World War II. James J. Angleton was one of those men, becoming in 1947 the CIA’s number two officer, “the headquarters man responsible for the security of secret operations, the CIA’s guardian against double agents.” In 1949 Angleton brought on board his best friend, Kim Philby, a British M15 agent with whom he had worked during World War II. Philby’s official role was liaison between the CIA and British intelligence. But he was also a double agent having worked for the Soviets since the 1930s. His office sat next to the office of the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. For fourteen years (1949-1963) Philby provided the Soviets with the details of every CIA operation mounted. When, finally, in 1963 he fled to Moscow, Angleton’s seniority in The Firm prevented his being fired as he continued to deny his friend’s double-agency. Thus begins the legacy of ashes that is the history of the CIA.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in U.S. foreign policy since World War II and the inanities that brought failure after failure in Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Afghanistan, Iraq and so much more. The levels of official lying, unaccountability, and mayhem that are intrinsic to the agency defy believability. Perhaps the unbelievability is what gives ironic cover to the agency helping to protect it from public scrutiny and condemnation. This book makes the best case that the CIA deserves both.

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Tim Weiner