Title: Company Confessions
Author: Christopher R. Moran
Moran, Christopher R. (2016). Company Confessions: Secrets, Memoirs, and the CIA. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press
- “ Spies are supposed to keep quiet, never betraying their agents nor discussing their operations. Somehow, this doesn’t apply to the CIA, which routinely vets, and approves, dozens of books by former officers. Many of these memoirs command huge advances and attract enormous publicity. Take Valerie Plame, the CIA officer whose identity was leaked by the Bush White House in 2003 and who reportedly received $2 million for her book Fair Game. Or former CIA director George Tenet whose 2007 memoir reached no. 2 in the Amazon bestseller list, beaten only by the final Harry Potter novel. If the CIA director is allowed to publish his story, it is little wonder that regular agents are choosing to tell theirs. Company Confessions delves into the motivations those spies that write memoirs as well as the politics and policies of the CIA Publication Review Board. Astonishing facts include: the steps taken by the agency to counter such leaks including breaking into publishing houses, putting authors on trial, and secretly authorizing pro-agency ‘memoirs’ to repair damage to its reputation. Based on interviews, private correspondence, and declassified files, Christopher Moran examines why America’s spies are so happy to spill the beans and looks at the damage done when they leak America’s secrets. “– Provided by publisher.
- “The absorbing and untold story of how the CIA, the world’s most famous and contoversial intellegence agency, has managed the problem of whistleblowers and dealt with the age-old puzzle of secrecy in an open society”– Provided by publisher.
- United States. Central Intelligence Agency–Officials and employees–Biography.
- United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Publications Review Board.
- Intelligence officers–United States–Biography.
- POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Intelligence.
- HISTORY / United States / 21st Century.
Date Updated: May 12, 2017
Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake
The Central Intelligence Agency is a rich source of reputation-enhancing material for historians, journalists, Hollywood, and even former intelligence officers. Hence readers and viewers of today’s media in all its forms have become accustomed to stories about the CIA and its activities. But it has not always been thus. In Company Confessions: Revealing CIA Secrets–it would be more properly subtitled “protecting” CIA secrets—University of Warwick historian Christopher Moran examines the origins and evolution of the agency’s battle with secrecy and openness. And from the myriad well-documented detail presented, the portrait constructed is a less than charitable one.
Moran begins by reviewing the precedents for maintaining secrecy in national security matters that led to the formation of the CIA’s Publications Review Board (PRB) by Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George H. W. Bush in June 1977. He then considers the results in subsequent years as the PRB acquired the degree of notoriety for which it is well-known.
His benchmark example is Herbert Yardley’s The American Black Chamber, a best-selling exposé memoir of America’s codebreaking exploits that included many official secrets. Yardley was never prosecuted, since no law covered his transgressions. But government response was firm; he received no pension, the manuscript for his sequel was impounded; and all his attempts to work again in any official capacity were actively thwarted. The second challenge was a 1958 memoir by Sylvia Press, a former OSS officer who had joined the CIA. Summarily dismissed for security reasons, she wrote The Care ofDevils, a thinly disguised autobiographic novel. The agency allegedly bought all copies, and Beacon Press, too, and [Press] was denied a pension. (p. 54) Moran attributes this decision to the CIA penchant for secrecy that “stemmed as much from a desire to maintain a mystique about the CIA as it did from a requirement to protect sources and methods,” a gratuitous judgment that he doesn’t support. (p. 54) In any case, for the balance of the decade, Moran concludes, “the CIA had never really had to worry about employees wanting to tell stories out of school” (p. 109) and to a large extent DCI Dulles controlled what was released to the public.
Then came the U-2 shoot down, the Bay of Pigs disaster, rumors of covert actions in Latin America and the assassination of President Kennedy. When the CIA refused to comment on its role in these matters, journalists, historians, and the KGB filed the gap with a mix of alleged wrongdoing, truth, and exaggeration. Among the many instances Moran discusses, several resulted in lasting precedents. The first was the 1962 book CIA: The Inside Story, a putative expose that drew on Soviet sources, though that was unknown at the time. (p. 94) From then on, the CIA was fair game. The following year, by then retired DCI Allen Dulles attempted to place intelligence, and by implication the CIA, in a more positive light with his book, The Craft of Intelligence, a quasi-memoir published, notes Moran, without his successor’s “knowledge or approval,” (p. 100) thus setting its own precedent.
Moran’s assertion is contradicted in CIA Chief Historian David Robarge’s recently released study, “John McCone as Director of Central Intelligence, 1961—1965,” which indicates that Dulles’s successor both acknowledged and approved of the contents of The Craft of Intelligence: “McCone and Dulles together formulated the terms of the consulting contract under which the ex-director would work on his proposed book on intelligence. The DCI ratified the procedures whereby Dulles would have access to CIA facilities and records, could discuss his work with Agency officials, and would not rebut open-source accounts with classified information.
It was The Invisible Government with its “fully-fledged attack on the myth of the CIA that sent shock waves through Washington.” (p. 95) The agency responded with herculean and ultimately unsuccessful behind-the-scenes efforts to discredit and suppress the book. These included a failed attempt to purchase all copies. (pp. 95-96) “The CIA’s decision to stay quiet as its dirty laundry flooded the marketplace” (p. 102) wasn’t working, Moran asserts, and in the 1970s it only got worse.
Then amid the fallout from Watergate, Vietnam, charges of “domestic spying,” and congressional investigations, agency “whistleblowers” struck. For the first time, dissident former officers broke the secrecy agreement all officers signed and published memoirs attacking the CIA. Victor Marchetti’s The CIA and The Cult of Intelligence (1974) set the pace. Philip Agee followed in 1975 with Inside the Company. Moran describes the self-inflicted ordeals both endured while CIA countered with its “strategy for dealing with the renegades and whistle-blowers… a carefully coordinated PR programme.” (p. 179) But it didn’t work either, and the PRB was established with the objective of preventing revelations before they occurred.
The first test of the PRB and the legality of the secrecy agreement came quickly with Frank Snepp’s 1977 book, Decent Interval. Snepp, a CIA analyst, did not submit his manuscript for review. The agency, under DCI Stansfield Turner, filed a civil suit that eventually reached the US Supreme Court. Snepp lost and was denied all royalties. Moran relates two ironical consequences of the case. First, Snepp was prosecuted, though at least three former agency officers had published memoirs without any review and gone unpunished. Second, when Turner wrote his memoir—another precedent-setting act—he was “trapped in a maze of his own making;” the manuscript “had been gutted” in review. (p. 214)
Moran explains how in the succeeding decades the PRE became a permanent fixture in the CIA bureaucracy. That is not to say that its relationship with agency authors was without challenges. Moran gives many detailed examples, mostly from the writer’s perspective, of the often extended conflicts that justify the “prevailing wisdom that its review procedure is inconsistent and unfair.” (p. 279)
While Company Confessions is generally balanced, it is not error free. Two instances are worth mention. During a discussion of how former OSS Director William Donovan encouraged publication of individual WWII exploits, Moran notes that FBI Director Hoover circulated the rumor that Donovan “was sleeping with President Truman’s daughter-in-law Mary, a blatant lie.” (p. 63) Indeed it was: the president did not have a daughter-in-law. The second error involves Walter Pforzheimer, who reviewed many of the early controversial books; he was never in the OSS, nor was his father a rare book dealer.
The very existence of Company Confessions is a measure of the change from the days of “officers don’t write memoirs or publish articles on their profession” to today’s policy of controlled openness. Christopher Moran has portrayed the process well while leaving the solution of persistent problems he identifies to the CIA.
Review by Edward F. Mickolus
First the good news: Christopher Moran, an associate professor of US national security at the University of Warwick, UK, has written a very readable, often entertaining, history of US Government review of memoirs and other books written by serving and former members of the US Intelligence Community, focusing principally on CIA writers. While much of the book centers on the CIA and the history of its Publications Review Board, readers are also treated to cases predating the CIA (Herbert Yardley) and the PRB (Marchetti and Marks) and instances of review by other US Government defense and intelligence organizations. Those looking for a thumbnail sketch of some of the major cases (Agee, Snepp, Stockwell) regarding intelligence, publication review, and leaks of sensitive material, whether benign or malign, and a little bit of intelligence history, should start here.
But the bad news: one should not end here. Factual errors, thematic inconsistency, and limited coverage problems abound.
The book suffers from several factual errors stemming from having been written by an individual with no firsthand knowledge of US intelligence. The book is festooned with footnotes, but academic and journalistic treatments can go only so far. Two glaring errors serve as examples.
- In the Introduction, we are told that the Agency’s memorial ceremony is an arid affair, closed to covert officers and with little said of the lives and sacrifices of the heroes represented on the Memorial Wall, and families being kept in the dark about their loved ones. During my 33+ year career at the Agency, I attended numerous memorial gatherings that included family members and employees under cover. The remarks of incumbent Directors of Central Intelligence featured eulogies of one or two of the stars on the Wall.
- Late in the book, we are told that the arms-length treatment of the Agency by then-President Bill Clinton included him never visiting the Agency. While he did not attend the memorial for those killed by Amal Kasi during Clinton’s first week in office—Hillary Clinton gave an in-person tribute to the fallen in his stead—he later visited. My grip-and-grin photo of President Clinton and me in front of one of the first floor corridors attests to his meeting with the troops.
- The bibliography appears to have been hastily constructed. It does not include all of the books featured in the text. The proofreaders also did Moran no favors: Jose Rodriguez’s book is titled Hard Measures, not Harsh Measures (the error appears in the text of the book, but is corrected in the bibliography).
- A running theme of the book is that the Publications Review Board is capricious with, and often metes out hostile treatment to, whistleblowers and critics but supports those who take pro-Agency stances in their memoirs. Yet the author details numerous cases of problematic treatment of former DCIs, plus book blurber Bob Wallace and his co-author Keith Melton, all of whom are as pro Agency as they come. This thematic inconsistency is never resolved.
- I’ve dealt with the Publications Review Board for 40 years, running some 30 books and numerous scholarly journal articles by them. I have never experienced the cartoonish ineptitude or hostile treatment described in the book, and wonder if I’ve been submitting my manuscripts to the wrong group. I’m not a best-selling author or former DCI, just a proud alum. The rare deletions requested by the PRB have made sense, and the PRB has often suggested alternative language that protected Agency sources-and-methods equities while still preserving the overall tenor of the substantive points being made.
- Publicity pieces for the book suggest that the author read every CIA memoir on the market. His coverage of the literature by Agency officers and alumni is spotty at best, focusing on some, but not all, of the major books of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Many books don’t even get mentioned in the bibliography, much less discussion in the text. Missing in action are:
- A thoroughgoing treatment of quasi-memoirs, written as novels, by such authors as Jason Matthews (Palace of Treason and Red Sparrow), Francine Mathews (Blown, Cutout, inter alia), André Le Gallo (The Red Cell, The Caliphate, and Satan’s Spy), Terry Williams (Cooper’s Revenge and Unit 400), Susan Hasler (Intelligence, Half-Sheep, and The Flat Bureaucrat) and a host of others which are subject to prepublication review.
- Books by family members, such as [Carl Colby] William Colby’s son (The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby) and Bina C. Kiyonaga (My Spy: Memoir of a CIA Wife).
- Memoirs by former DCI General Michael V. Hayden (Playing to the Edge); former Acting DCIA Michael Morell (The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism—From al Qa’ida to ISIS); and former Acting General Counsel John Rizzo (Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA).
- Memoirs by less senior, and/or less well-known officers, such as Henry Crumpton (The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service); Robert Grenier (88 Days to Kandahgar: A CIA Diary); Lawrence Devlin (Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone); Robert Baer (See No Evil and The Company We Keep, written with his wife); John Sullivan (Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner and Of Spies and Lies); Tennent Bagley (Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries and Deadly Games); Tom Gilligan CIA Life: 10,000 Days with the Agency); Elizabeth McIintosh (Sisterhood of Spies); J. Perry Smith (The Unlikely Priest); Richard Irwin (KH601); and Austin Goodrich (Born to Spy: Recollections of a CIA Case Officer).
- Tony Mendez’s two books. The Oscar-winning Argo is mentioned in the text, but Mendez’s Master of Disguise, upon which the film is based is not, nor is his book with his CIA alumna spouse, Jonna, Spy Dust. The couple, by the way, penned a foreword to the book, although only Tony’s name appears on the dust jacket.
- A more complete discussion of memoir-ish books of Agency humor. The OSS-era You’re Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger is mentioned; Moran is silent regarding the far more current Tom Sileo CIA Humor and my Secret Book of CIA Humor; a sequel to the latter will be available soon.
- My collection of mini-memoirs of dozens of Agency officers across the Directorates (Stories from Langley: A Glimpse Inside the CIA; a sequel is with the PRB).
- Important books on less-senior CIA officers by journalist/academics, including Ted Gup (The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives); H. Bradford Westerfield, ed. (Inside CIA’s Private World: Declassified Articles from the Agency’s Internal Journal, 1955-1992); Benjamin Weiser (A Secret Life); and former CIA analyst Clarence Ashley (CIA Spymaster).
- Academic studies by former CIA officers in their fields of professional expertise, including former DDO Michael Sulick (American Spies, and Spying in America); John Helgerson (Getting to Know the President); James Olson (Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying); Mark M. Lowenthal (Intelligence From Secrets to Policy); Paul Pillar (Terrorism and US Foreign Policy and Intelligence and US Foreign Policy); David Priess (The President’s Book of Secrets); Roger Z. George and James Bruce, eds. (Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations); and my Counterintelligence Chronology.
Memoir-writing and other scholarship will continue by senior and not-so-senior Agency officers, as well as other members of the US Intelligence Community. I look forward to a second try at a definitive look at this sub-genre. I would also welco
 Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 3, Winter 2016-17, pp. 116-118). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov
 Dulles, Allen W. (2006). The Craft of Intelligence: America’s Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press
 In fairness to Moran, the Robarge work, which was published In 2005 by the Center for the Study of Intelligence, was in review as Moran researched and wrote his book. It can be found in the Freedom of Information Act Reading Room, http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/DOC_0001262720.pdf
 Snepp, Frank (1978). Decent Interval : An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told By The CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst In Vietnam. New York: Vintage Books
 Examples include Smith, Joseph Burkholder (1976). Portrait of A Cold Warrior. New York: Putnam’s Sons; Copeland, Miles (1974). Without Cloak or Dagger: The Truth About The New Espionage. New York: Simon and Schuster; and Philip Agee (see foootnote 10.)
 Another perspective on the intelligence memoir can be found in a review of the separate memoirs of three former CIA officers by John Hedley in Studies in Intelligence (49, 3, December 2005). Hedley is a former chairman of the Publications Review Board.
 Edward F. Mickolus, The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp. 136-137). Edward F. Mickolus, Ph.D., did his undergraduate work at Georgetown University and earned his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. at Yale University. He served for 33 years with CIA as an analyst, operations officer, manager, recruiter, and public affairs officer. He is the author of 30 books and scores of scholarly journal articles on intelligence, international terrorism, international organizations, African politics, psychology, law, education, and humor. He later taught with Washington-area contracting firms at various Intelligence Community organizations. He is the Deborah M. Hixon Professor of Intelligence Tradecraft at the Daniel Morgan Academy in Washington, DC and also teaches at the University of North Florida. He is the founder and President of Vinyard Software, Inc., which produces computer-readable chronologies of terrorist events and biographies of terrorists.
 Rodriguez, Jose A. (2013) with Bill Harlow. Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives. New York: Threshold Editions
 Terry Williams books are published under T. L. Williams.
 Williams, T(erry) L. (2013). Cooper’s Revenge. Ponte Vedra Beach, FL: First Coast Publishers. Note: This book is not listed in the Library of Congress, and in WorldCat.org it is found in just 7 libraries in the US including the US CIA library.
 Colby, Carl (2011). The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby. First Run Features
 Hayden, Michael V. (2016). Playing to The Edge: American Intelligence in The Age of Terror. New York: Penguin Press
 Morell, Michael J. (2015) with Bill Harlow. The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism—From al Qa’ida to ISIS. New York: Twelve
 Rizzo, John (2014). Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA. NY: Scribner
 Crumpton, Henry A. (2012). The Art of Intelligence: Lesson from a Lifetime in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. New York: Penguin Press
 Baer, Robert (2002). See No Evil: The True Story of A Ground Soldier in The CIA’s War on Terrorism. New York: Three Rivers Press
 Baer, Robert (2011) and Dayna Baer. The Company We Keep: A Husband-And-Wife True-Life Spy Story. New York: Crown Publishers
 Sullivan, John F. (2002). Of Spies And Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas
 Smith, J. Perry (2011). The Unlikely Priest: Bullfighter, Soldier, Spy And Then by God’s Grace A Priest. Jacksonville, FL.: Padre Nuestro Books
 See Mickoilus, Edward (2014) ed. Stories from Langley: A Glimpse Inside The CIA. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, An imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. While a book by Irwin cannot be found in the Library of Congress or in Worldcat.org, a chapter of Stories from Langley is entitled “KH601.” It may be this that Mickolus is referring to.
 Mendez, Antonio J.(2012) and Matt Baglio. Argo: How The CIA And Hollywood Pulled Off The Most Audacious Rescue in History. New York: Viking
 Mendez, Antonio J. (2002) and Jonna Mendez, with Bruce Henderson. Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War. New York: Atria Books
 Sileo, Thomas (2004). CIA Humor: A Few True Stories From A 31-Year Career. Alexandria, VA: Washington House
 Gup, Ted (2000). Book of Honor: Covert Lives And Classified Deaths At The CIA. New York: Doubleday
 Westerfield, H. Bradford, Ed. (1995). Inside CIA’s Private World: Declassified Articles from the Agency’s International Journal, 1955-1992. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press
 Weisner, Benjamin (2004). A Secret Life: The Polish Colonel, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country. New York: Public Affairs.
 Ashley, Clarence (2004). CIA Spymaster: George Kisevalter: The Agency’s Top Case Officer Who Handled Penkovsky And Popov. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing
 Sulick, Michael J. (2013). American Spies: Espionage Against The United States From The Cold War to The Present. Washington, DC : Georgetown University Press
 Sulick, Michael J. (2012). Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press
 Helgerson, John L. (1996, 2004). Getting to Know the President: CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-1992. Washington, DC: Center for Study of Intelligence, CIA
 Pillar, Paul R. (2012). Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform. New York: Columbia U. Press
 Priess, David (2016). The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents From Kennedy to Obama. New York: PublicAffairs
 George, Roger Z. (2014) and James B. Bruce, eds. Analyzing Intelligence: National Security Practitioners’ Perspectives, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press
 Mickolus, Edward F. (2015). The Counterintelligence Chronology: Spying By And Against The United States From The 1700s Through 2014. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.,