They asked me to review R. Gerald Hughes’ “Of Revelatory Histories and Hatchet Jobs: Propaganda and Method in Intelligence History,” Intelligence and National Security, 23:6, (2008), pp. 842-877 which in turn took on Tim Weiner’s book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.
The appearance of the blockbuster book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Washington Post reporter Tim Weiner, has provided a valuable “teachable moment” for historians. Gerald Hughes’ article shows us that this should have been an obvious fact. Blowing away the smoke surrounding Weiner’s book and its critical reception, Hughes shines a light on the real differences between academic history on the one hand and popular or journalistic history on the other. At the same time he provides a useful warning to intelligence historians and, indeed, all historians who wish to be relevant to the real world.
Hughes’ bracing article proposes to explore certain methodological, epistemological, and presentational issues with regard to intelligence studies. He does this by dissecting—disemboweling might be a better metaphor—Weiner’s book. He makes a convincing case that Weiner has misappropriated the trappings of academic work in a quest for sensation and sales. At the same time, Hughes argues for accessibility in language and the avoidance of jargon, skills which good journalists such as Weiner have in abundance.
Weiner’s thesis is that the CIA has been an unmitigated failure in its most important mission…[See here for the rest.]