Why Spy? by Brian Stewart and Samantha Newbery

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Why Spy? The Art of Intelligence (Hurst/Oxford University Press, 288 pp., $29.95 ) makes a strong argument for the proper use of intelligence in determining a nation’s course of actions. The British authors, Brain Stewart and Samantha Newbery, examine several cases—including the American wars in Iraq and Vietnam—to prove their point.

The discussion on Iraq focuses on Great Britain’s “Butler Review.” Its conclusions are nothing new. Basically, the authors show that the decision to invade Iraq relied on weak information. The UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee placed too much emphasis on input from dissident and émigré sources with an interest in returning to Iraq and made questionable interpretations of objective data, Stewart and Newbery say.

Furthermore, No. 10 Downing Street provided input in drafting the committee’s report. That interference was a major error, the authors say, because rules of good intelligence forbid the customer from tainting the findings.

Overall, the conclusions parallel what Americans have determined to be the truth: that although facts should have proved otherwise, we still invaded Iraq based on contrived fear that weapons of mass destruction existed there.

In reference to the Vietnam War, the authors write that beyond a failure to recognize the willingness of the North Vietnamese to fight on forever, the U.S. ignored the absence of an effective South Vietnamese government upon which we could build the nation our presidents desired. In four pages of personal reflection, with perfect logic, Stewart ties together that idea and other well-known U.S. intelligence shortcomings.

The book’s arguments often rely on the first-hand experiences of Stewart, who served worldwide in the intelligence community for seventy years. In 1967-68, he was the British Consul General in Hanoi, and afterward met with the CIA. His career began with the British Military Administration in Malaya in 1945. He devotes a section of the book to the use of good intelligence in quelling the 1949-60 communist-inspired insurgency in that nation.

The Prince Of Wales And The Duchess Of Cornwall Visit 'The Last Of The Tide' Exhibition

Brian Stewart with Prince Charles

Co-author Samantha Newbery lectures in Contemporary Intelligence Studies at the University of Salford, in Manchester, England.

The authors provide a short course in the machinery and methodology of intelligence, including collection methods and assessment problems and fallacies. They illustrate lessons with real-life examples, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The book provides little new information on world events, but is important because it examines the extreme means used by political and military leaders to reach the ends they desire, regardless of contradictory intelligence findings.

—Henry Zeybel

Lords of Secrecy by Scott Horton

The Vietnam War, “ in its essence,” was “the national security experts’ war.” That’s journalist and lawyer Scott Horton’s interpretation in a nutshell in Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare (NationBooks, 272 pp., $26.99). This is Horton’s book-length take on how—as his subtitle indicates—the nation’s “national security elite” came to dominate the nation’s war policy-making starting with the Vietnam War.

Who exactly are these elite experts? Horton describes them as “military and intelligence professionals, as well as scientists and other academics skilled in international relations theory and area studies.” In other words: “think tanks, academics, and the cream of the government’s national security intelligentsia.”

This situation began, Horton says, under the Kennedy administration and flourished under the Johnson and Nixon presidencies. This is not a good thing, Horton says, mainly because much of this behind-the-scenes war policy-making takes place in secret: a “striking departure from prior American wars.” The main problem is that largely secret policy making means there is “no meaningful public debate.” That leaves Congress and the American people more or less on the sidelines in planning the nation’s war-making decisions.

Scott Horton

Horton names names—among them the disgraced former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and JFK and LBJ National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy—in this indictment of what he calls “the secret stewards of American security” and their undue influence on war-making.

The bulk of this readable book looks at the twenty-first century ramifications of what began during the Vietnam War. That includes the planning for (and execution of) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as U.S. military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan.

One of the less desirable aspects of the all this secret policy-making, Horton says, has been the increasing use of private security contractors in our recent wars—and all that that entails. He also expresses strong reservations about the widespread use of surveillance by a raft of federal intelligence agencies and the increasing use of drones and other non-human military weapons.

—Marc Leepson