'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration':
Review of the Risen book by Walter Isaacson, that makes some larger points: "Even those of us who like the idea of the
intelligence agencies using data-mining and
electronic surveillance to detect terrorist communications
are uncomfortable with the possibility
that future presidents, with murkier agendas,
might secretly use such techniques, without
any authorization, for any purpose they alone
deem part of their war-making powers.
In these cases, oversight is supposed to
come from Congress, the special intelligence
courts and the lawyers at the Justice Department,
C.I.A. and White House. But in an administration
that has little appreciation for Congressional
authority or for meddling lawyers,
and in a town where the president's party controls
all branches of government, there were
no such checks or balances.
Except the press. Whether on torture or
wiretapping, the news media have become a de
facto fourth branch that provides some small
check on executive power. That is why so
many concerned or disgruntled sources, especially
from within the intelligence agencies,
came forward to give Risen information.
So what are we to believe in a book that relies
heavily on leaks from disgruntled
sources? We are in an age where the consumer
of information has to make an educated guess
about what percentage of assertions in books
like this are true. My own guess is that Risen
has earnest sources for everything he reports
but that they don't all know the full story, thus
resulting in a book that smells like it's 80 percent
true. If that sounds deeply flawed, let me
add that if he had relied on no anonymous
sources and reported instead only the on-the-record
line from official spinners, the result
would very likely have been only half as true.
In fact, the new way we consume information
provides a good argument for the role of
an independent press that relies on leakers.
Other journalists will and should build on, or
debunk, the allegations reported by Risen. This
will prompt many of the players to publish
their own version of the facts. L. Paul Bremer,
the American viceroy in Iraq after the invasion,
has just come out with his book pointing
fingers at the C.I.A. for giving him flawed intelligence
and at Donald Rumsfeld for not giving
him the troops he actually wanted. And
Tenet, one hopes, will someday cash in on a
hefty book contract by clamping cigar in
mouth and pen in hand to give evidence that he
was not the buffoonish toady Rumsfeld's aides
portray him to be. Besides being fun to watch,
this process is a boon for future historians.
So welcome to the new age of impressionistic
history. Like an Impressionist painting, it
relies on dots of varying hues and intensity.
Some come from leakers like those who spoke
to Risen. Other dots come from the memoirs
and comments of the players. Eventually, a
picture emerges, slowly getting clearer. It's up
to us to connect the dots and find our own
meanings in this landscape."