In his memoir, Michael Morell, a veteran CIA officer who spent part of the 1990s serving in the unit tasked with monitoring al-Qaeda, describes his experience of America’s war on terror. In his review, Gabriel Schoenfeld describes the book as both compelling and informative, but suggests that it does not hold the agency to sufficient scrutiny:
Neither the twin embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 nor the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 prompted [the then-CIA director George] Tenet to return to the problem [of the threat of al-Qaeda]. Only after 9/11 did the CIA issue a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on terrorism. Tenet was not exactly shaking the trees on this critical subject. . . .
But beyond [the frequent] superficiality [of CIA analysis that Morell himself admits], there was the long and familiar record of CIA analytical and collection failures. Among other things, the agency missed the first Soviet atomic-bomb test in 1949, the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, the first Soviet H-bomb in 1953, the outbreak of the Suez war in 1956, the Soviet placement of missiles in Cuba in 1962, the Egyptian attack that started the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the Iranian revolution that same year. Understanding secretive adversaries is a very difficult challenge, and even the best spy agencies in the world regularly get even the most important questions wrong. In the wake of the 9/11 lapse and all previous lapses, President George W. Bush and his men would have been irresponsible if they did not look at CIA judgments sideways and upside down.
While casting aspersions on agency outsiders, Morell conspicuously elides those episodes where insiders themselves appear to politicize intelligence. The most notorious recent example is the declaration in the unclassified summary of the 2007 NIE that “we judge with high confidence that, in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.” This startling finding was reached, as a footnote reveals, by excluding from consideration “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.” In other words, relying on a preposterously narrow definition of a “nuclear-weapons program,” the NIE injected a profoundly misleading assertion into the bloodstream of national debate, thereby altering the direction of American policy.