Michael Morell’s book covers the three plus decades of his work with the CIA through several White House administrations, both Republican and Democrat. Largely non-partisan, his book is written very well. It is an honest and entertaining read, although it reveals little of earth shattering consequence. He humanizes each of the Presidents and colleagues he works with, often with humorous anecdotes that are not widely known, and he illustrates his deep involvement with the anti-terrorism effort in our country. Although he is a fence sitter on most issues, not taking a definitive stand, he does voice his displeasure on certain issues, one being a report on the enhanced interrogation techniques and another on the information provided to General Colin Powell for his speech before the UN. He blames the incorrect data on information provided by Scooter Libby at the behest of Vice President Cheney. While he does not have much to say that is positive about either of those two gentlemen, he does express respect and genuine affection for most others with whom he worked or was in contact, both his superiors and inferiors.
The only time he expresses real emotion and displeasure is when his own integrity is questioned, and also when blame for failure or wrongdoing is incorrectly placed on the shoulders of the CIA, assigning them powers they do not have, rather than placing the blame where it belongs, on Congress and other agencies that might be more to blame, on those agencies that actively prevented the CIA from accomplishing a more fruitful investigation or action by withholding approvals or on the White House. He also expresses deep displeasure when reports are disseminated with false information that is cited as fact and put out in the public domain by the media or others, without regard for its ultimate effect on our national security and safety. When it comes to the discussion on an investigation called for by the Democrats and released prematurely by Diane Feinstein, on enhanced interrogation techniques, he vehemently denies the conclusions reached in the report, insisting they were not based on facts or a proper investigation, and he unequivocally states that it was highly political in nature. He absolutely believes that the EIT’s gathered information that helped prevent further terrorist attacks, contrary to what the report stated in its final draft.
He addresses the second Bush and the Obama administration more heavily than the others but he does also briefly address the first Bush administration’s national security efforts and the Clinton administration’s failed effort to catch Osama Bin Laden in his early days. He provides many details on the decade of intense search for him. He thinks very highly of Bush, father and son, as men who are genuine and sincere when dealing with people and also in their effort to protect the country and its citizens. He exonerates George W, when it comes to the war in Iraq, placing most of the blame for the rush to war on Vice President Cheney who, according to Morrell, pushed Scooter Libby to encourage the war by presenting improperly vetted and misleading intelligence to, among others, Colin Powell. In the book he offers Powell an apology, blaming it on a failure of intelligence gathering.
He raises all of the major issues our country has faced over the last three decades, the rise of al Qa’ida, the attacks on our bases and embassies, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Wikileaks, Snowden, the Kohl attack, the thwarted attempt of the shoe bomber to bring down an airplane, 9/11, the Arab Spring, the NSA’s collection of metadata, Iran sanctions and nuclear research, North Korea, China’s spying, Pakistan’s possible collusion with al Qu’ida in protecting Bin Laden, Russia’s flexing of muscle, US/Israel relations, the rise of Isis, and also a host of successfully thwarted attacks on our homeland. He covers all of these in great detail, often including little known informative and humorous tidbits of information.
When he got to the chapter describing the Benghazi incident, he seemed less non-partisan. He blamed one party more than another, without justification, merely based on his personal judgment and opinion, which it must be said is worth a lot since he has years of experience. However, as he has stated when he has evaluated other incidents, often people’s personal backgrounds affect their decisions, sometimes incorrectly. I think, in this case, his personal circumstances affected his ultimate conclusions. He acquits the White House without proof of their non-involvement and is angry with the GOP for not believing his version, which adheres largely to the version of the White House. He does not give proper emphasis or explanation to the false premise put out about the video, falsely blamed for the uprising, and pretty much excuses Susan Rice’s explanation as simply the message she was told to give, essentially to blame the attacks on the video, while emphasizing the lack of an organized approach. Then the White House doubled down on that opinion even after it was absolutely and definitively proven not to be the case. In her position, Susan Rice should have known better, and we know now that the administration certainly did. The buck should also stop at the top, but he does not blame the White House or the Department of Defense or State. He seems to make a concerted effort to justify their ignorance, non involvement, lack of response and false conclusions. Some of his explanations seemed hypocritical, as he presented one argument in one instance and the opposite argument in another, when it suited his assessment and served his purpose. He seemed to be trying hard to protect the administration, a charge he had been accused of and had denied. If he wasn’t trying to protect them, why did he seem to be steering clear of any references to either Obama’s or Hillary Clinton’s part in Benghazi, which upon reflection and further information, seemed a bit ludicrous? When he discussed the capture of Bin Laden, he had no qualms about praising Obama, although he also gave praise to the effort of George W.
Today, we know that the White House is withholding some of Hillary Clinton’s emails that concerned Benghazi, and we know that she had unauthorized emails from certain people the White House frowned upon, therefore, we also may be right in considering her involvement and the administration’s far more suspect than Morell acknowledged. His conclusions may very well have been incorrect, while the judgment of the dissenters may be vindicated as the more accurate assessment and not one that is an indication of their playing politics, the charge of which he accused them.
All in all, while there are no great secrets revealed as the book outlines the part he played in the last 30+ years, working in various capacities to fight terrorism, it presents a pretty accurate and detailed history of the country’s anti-terrorism effort for the layman, particularly the effort of the CIA, beginning with al Qa’ida and extending to the rise of Isis. He praises all those he has worked with and for, and is careful not to speak negatively about anyone or compromise sensitive information. He remains neutral, most of the time, laying out the information that is already widely known about how each operation and event took place. He speaks well of General Petraeus and steers away from controversies. He does not speak that well of Obama’s effort to fight the war on terror, and he expresses his fear that the country has already and is now, taking its eye off the ball, exposing us to danger because politically, the country does not want war. However, he believes if we drop the ball, our national security will suffer. Most of his assessments are neutral with the exception of our efforts going forward. He steered away from opinion and he is to be commended for writing this honest appraisal and also for donating a portion of the profits from the book to charity.