From the Shadows

By Brooks, T A | Naval War College Review, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

From the Shadows


Brooks, T A, Naval War College Review


Gates, Robert M. From the Shadows. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. 604pp. $30 The dust jacket of Bob Gates's book describes him as the "ultimate insider." While this description contains a touch of hyperbole designed to sell books, it is not far from the mark. Gates came to the Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1960s as an analyst. He served under six presidents and worked in the White House for four of them. His intervening years in the Agency included duties as the Executive Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), as Deputy Director for Intelligence (head of analysis), and Deputy DCI; he ended his career with tours as the Deputy National Security Advisor and then as DCI. Gates observes that no one other than Franklin Roosevelt spent more years in the White House. Whether or not this makes him the "ultimate insider," it surely provides him with a unique perspective on the history of the last two decades of the Cold War, how U.S. policy was derived during that period, and what role the CIA and intelligence played. Gates was able to witness history from the perspective both of an intelligence officer supporting decision making, and of a decision maker requiring that intelligence support.

He also had the advantage of being a Soviet scholar in the center of events that brought down the Soviet Union. Gates was therefore uniquely qualified to chronicle how the crush of history, the flow of world events, the actions of the United States government, and just plain happenstance contributed to its demise. In Gates's view, the inherent bankruptcy-moral and ideological even more than economic-of the communist system made its ultimate collapse inevitable, and the remarkable miscalculations of Mikhail Gorbachev were the precipitants that brought it crashing down by Christmas Day, 1991, the day Gorbachev resigned.

For over forty-five years the actions of the U.S. government had been designed with this ultimate end in mind, but Gates relegates most of these to secondary importance, with the single exception, perhaps, of President Ronald Reagan's clarity of vision and constancy of purpose in building U.S. military might and confronting Soviet initiatives around the world. Happening at a time of economic and political crisis inside the USSR, these initiatives escalated the economic collapse and forced accommodations that snowballed out of control under Gorbachev's ill-starred tenure.

Bob Gates was either the most meticulous keeper of diaries and notes or one of the most thorough and painstaking researchers ever to set about writing his memoirs. Probably he was both. He documents his points with quotes from high-level government memoranda and records of conversations, sprinkling them liberally with excerpts from hitherto highly classified CIA documents and national intelligence estimates. His success in getting these released and in obtaining permission to declassify details of CIA covert operations makes this book particularly valuable to historians and simply fascinating to those of us who served in intelligence billets during the period but saw only the one-fifth of the iceberg that was visible-even to those who were "highly cleared."

Not unexpectedly, the book contains an element of apologetics on behalf of the CIA, as well as a challenge to some of the anti-CIA bias found in George Shultz's memoirs. On the whole, however, this is much more a reference book on Cold War history and the workings of the U.S. government than a treatise on the CIA or intelligence.

A unique aspect of Gates's treatment is his detailed description of the personalities and abilities of the presidents, DCIs, cabinet officers, and other senior government officials with whom he served and whom he observed either attempting to shape history, react to opportunities, or simply cope with events. …

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