Eclipse: The Last Days of the Cia by Mark Perry

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

ECLIPSE: THE LAST DAYS OF THE CIA is journalism at its best. In this timely study Mark Perry examines one of the most controversial institutions of American society. The Central Intelligence Agency was at center stage from the beginning of the Cold War. Over the decades the CIA took on a persona which, to both its admirers and its detractors, often overshadowed the aims and policies of presidents and legislators.

The work relates the story of the CIA from the death of William Casey in 1987 through the tenure of William Webster to the accession of Robert Gates as director in 1991. Those were crucial years. The Iran-contra scandal had broken when Casey died. Soon after the Berlin wall came down, Pan Am 103 crashed, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Gulf War was fought. The Cold War ended and a new world, perhaps somewhat safer, undoubtedly less predictable, came into being.

The author argues that while the decline of the CIA was due to many factors, in large part its difficulties were self-inflicted. The agency lost credibility because of failed assignments and policy misjudgments, often because decisions were made to please politicians rather than offering the best intelligence assessments. The rise of rivals from the military and other branches of government ended the CIA’s monopoly. The agency became a slow-moving bureaucracy unable to respond quickly to new crises. Finally, with the end of the Cold War the CIA had lost the primary reason for its existence.

If the agency is presently in “eclipse,” this is not necessarily the final chapter. Though Perry is skeptical, the CIA could find a new role in the post-Cold War world. ECLIPSE is well-written and evenly balanced, and Perry has much to say about the past problems and future challenges facing American policymakers.