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A spooky look at the CIA

A history of US intelligence makes for uncomfortable reading.

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The intelligence, if you could call it that, seemed solid.

The Guatemalan military bugged the bedroom of the US ambassador in 1994 and caught her cooing to someone who was not her husband but did share her female secretary's name.

The CIA passed on this juicy tidbit to Washington DC, where it became the buzz of the capital during a period of difficult relations with Guatemala. And who did the recipient of these sweet-nothings turn out to be? The ambassador's 2-year-old poodle.

It was yet another blunder in a long line of CIA debacles. This time, however, no dictators were propped up, no wars were started, and no one was assassinated. Presidents and Congress were not misled, and predictions about world affairs were not utterly, completely, and dangerously wrong.

In other words, the mistake was hardly newsworthy as these things go. After all, the agency routinely destroys whatever it touches, according to the aptly named Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.

The agency's past is filled with "fleeting successes and long-lasting failures abroad," writes author Tim Weiner, a national-security reporter at The New York Times. "The agency's triumphs have saved some blood and treasure. Its mistakes have squandered both."

Forget the latest James Patterson thriller. This is by far the scariest book of the year. By Mr. Weiner's account, the agency created after World War II to predict the next Pearl Harbor has spent six decades mishandling virtually every major world crisis. It's also managed to spy on American citizens while failing to anticipate everything from the Bay of Pigs fiasco to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and 9/11.

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