For 18 years Cord Hart was an operator for the CIA, and he is now a scholar studying its inception beginning with the Office of Strategic Services. His focus of interest is Ernest Cunio — former pro football player, newsman, and the point of contact between British Intelligence and OSS here in America during World War II. Mr. Hart was kind enough to provide his review of a recent study of the history U.S. intelligence entitled, Honorable Treachery.
Readers who found useful G.J.A. O’Toole’s competent other book on intelligence, “Encyclopedia of American Intelligence and Espionage”, will appreciate his latest work, “Honorable Treachery”. Far from a simple restructuring of the same material used in the encyclopedia, “Honorable Treachery” provides much detail and context for U.S. intelligence matters and events over the years 1765 to 1962. Overall, it is a product of solid scholarship and excellent narrative writing. The book is truly easy to read–no small accomplishment among the few writers who address the arcane subject of intelligence.
O’Toole apparently wrote the introduction to “Honorable Treachery” after he completed the bulk of his historical work-exactly as it should have been one. He discusses the functions of intelligence, espionage and covert action and, citing appropriate historical examples, neatly dismisses the idea–held by many Americans, as well as by foreigners–that Americans are simply not very adept at pursuing clandestine activities. O’Toole concludes this excellent introduction by promising to put American secret service within its historical context in order to understand the events that gave rise to a particular covert operation and to discover what effect, if any, such operations had on subsequent history. O’Toole delivers on that promise. The substantive historical account that follows clearly shows his unique mix of experience and skills as both historian and intelligence professional.
Yet the book has disappointments great and small. One small disappointment has to do with the title of the book. If potential readers are at all attracted by the apparent contradiction in the title, “Honorable Treachery”, then O’Toole can be excused for using that term. But the title is too clever by half and simply not a term used in the professional field that O’Toole so ably addresses. Otherwise, including more of the vernacular of clandestine operations would have had good effect. For example, the informal title for accomplished intelligence operations officers largely unburdened by scruples, and the highest accolade of professional achievement, is “old whore”. America has had many of them.
A major disappointment is that the substantive portion of the historical account concludes too early: October 1962. Given the book’s subtitle, “A History of U.S. Inte}ligence, Espionage, and Covert Action from the American Revolution to the CIA”, most readers will assume that the book provides comment on intelligence events down to the present. O’Toole does cover the last three decades–a period chock full of important intelligence events and issues–but he does so in only four pages, whereas earlier in the book whole chapters are given over to detailing shorter periods of less significance.
While tripping liqhtly over the last 30 years in those four pages, O’Toole steps on a mine: he refers to Willian E. Colby, a former head of the CIA, having voluntarily” turned over to congressional committees the CIA’s “Family Jewels”, an account of several questionable or illegal operations by the CIA, including assassination plots. In 1975, Colby did pass such information to Congress, but his action was in response to legitimate demands for information by the congressional oversight committees. By using the word “voluntarily”, without further explanation of the situation, O’Toole has taken, perhaps inadvertently, the side of those in the CIA who consider Colby well-nigh a traitor for having divulged such embarrassing information. They would have had Colby lie to Congress and, if necessary, go to the cross for it.
Many years from now it may not matter that this book’s coverage of American intelligence matters 1962-92 is wholly inadequate. Today’s readers, however, will want much more detail about such things as the “Family Jewels”. And what about James Angleton, Yuriy Nosenko and the Great Mole Hunt? What about William Casey and the Iran-Contra affair? What about the rivalry between the CIA and its larger, more costly, but less well-known sister agency, the National Security Agency? Indeed, what about NSA? O’Toole’s latest book doesn’t even mention it.
Why has the author left so much territory unattended? His explanation is ” f. . .that which has been disclosed, officially or otherwise, has been so widely disseminated in the flood of books and other writings of the past dozen years or so that a recounting here would be redundant.” That is rather lame. Sir Walter Raleigh’s excuse of 1613 might be more explanatory. While imprisoned for 12 years in the Tower of London, Raleigh wrote “The History of the World”, but concluded his account at the fall of Rome. Asked why he stopped there, Raleigh explained that if one follows too closely on the heels of events, one is likely to get one’s teeth kicked in. Maybe that story was told to O’Toole by his former employer, the CIA. (O’Toole acknowledges, in a “Note on Sources”, that he had to submit his manuscript to CIA censors in order “to satisfy the legal requirements of the secrecy agreement that binds every former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency . “)
Some reservations about O’Toole’s scholarship may some from historians and intelligence professionals who spot gaps in his research on intelligence matters before 1962. For example, O’Toole mentions Ernest L. Cuneo, but only in passing, as but a “Democratic party official” who introduced the British intelligence representative, William S. Stephenson–the subject of the popular but largely fanciful book, The Man Called Intrepid–to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. O’Toole’s description discounts Cuneo’s role as an active and influential behind-the-scenes person for the White House, who later became a key operative with the OSS and the CIA. Cuneo was not a minor player. Code-named CRUSADER, he was Roosevelt’s wartime representative to the British intelligence service, and the counterpart of Stephenson, Winston Churchill’s representative, whose code name was INTREPID, This sort of additional detail not only would have enhanced O’Toole’s book, but would have proven the thoroughness of his research.
In sum, is “Honorable Treachery” worth reading? Despite its shortcomings, the book is a superb textbook on the nature and history of American intelligence. All my “old whore” friends liked it.