The Book of Honor

The headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has a Wall of Honor with seventy-one engraved stars, accompanied by the words: “In honor of those members of the Central Intelligence Agency who gave their lives in the service of their country.” Below the field of stars is a Book of Honor that gives the names of less than half of these people. The rest of the names are officially classified as secret information.

Ted Gup, a former Time reporter who now teaches journalism at Case Western Reserve University, has managed to identify all of the missing names and to learn a great deal about the seventy-one slain CIA employees. In doing the impressive research, he spent three busy years interviewing some four hundred family members and people affiliated with the CIA.

The results are well-written and fascinating portraits. A master in the use of anecdotes, Gup gives so many details about the individuals that the reader almost has the impression of having known them personally. In the process, moreover, Gup provides a great deal of information about how the CIA actually conducts business in its day-to-day activities, including several of its covert operations.

A person of balanced judgment, Gup never demonizes the CIA or its leadership, and he recognizes the legitimate need for much of the agency’s work. He convincingly argues, however, that the CIA has often been irrationally preoccupied with secrecy. Also, he gives several examples in which the agency has sacrificed both principles and its agents in pursuit of questionable objectives.