Burn before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors, and Central Intelligence

Article excerpt

Turner, Stansfield. Burn before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors, and Central Intelligence. New York: Hyperion, 2005. 319pp. $23.95

Presumably Stansfield Turner did not devise the nonsensical title of this history of the DCI's (Director, Central Intelligence) relationship with the president of the United States.

In twelve chapters on chief executives from Franklin D. Roosevelt through George W. Bush, Turner discusses the nineteen men who headed America's intelligence organization. "Within six months of Pearl Harbor, FDR's enthusiasm for 'Wild Bill' [Donovan's] 'innovative thinking' had evaporated," Turner writes, noting that Donovan was never given access to the ULTRA/MAGIC code-breaking program, and he regularly lost struggles with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and J. Edgar Hoover.

In January 1946, Harry Truman created the Central Intelligence Group and appointed Sidney Souers as the first director of central intelligence, with simple expectations: "to keep him personally well-informed of all that was going on in the outside world." By September 1949, however, the CIA had not been privy to Atomic Energy Commission information, so the day after Truman learned that the Soviet Union had exploded its first atomic bomb, he read Intelligence Memorandum 225: "The earliest possible date by which the USSR might be expected to produce an atomic bomb is mid-1950 and the most probable date is mid-1953."

Turner recounts subsequent intelligence failures, but because the manuscript was submitted to the CIA for security review, few readers should be surprised by this history.

While most facts are familiar, Turner's thesis is that the director of Central Intelligence serves the president in two capacities: leading the CIA in providing unbiased intelligence; and heading the intelligence community, "fifteen federal agencies, offices, and bureaus within the executive branch. …