The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. By Mark Mazzetti. The Penguin Press, 293 pages, $29.95, hardcover.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency was created to inform and warn presidents and other top policy makers about the forces and dynamics shaping world events. CIA operatives focused on gathering information, usually secretly, about local disruptions, popular movements around the globe and the likelihood of foreign leaders staying in power.
On occasion, the CIA helped promote the overthrow of democratically elected leaders, such as Mohammed Mossedgh in Iran in 1953, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1960 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973.
But things have changed. After 9/11, Congress allowed "global war" efforts.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama shifted the CIA's top priority from "gathering intelligence on foreign governments" to "man hunting." The agency became a secret machine to locate and kill "terrorists."
This is the central theme of "The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth," a new book by Mark Mazzetti, one of the nation's leading national security reporters, who writes for "The New York Times."
Today, the CIA and Pentagon both use higher levels of clandestine violence. The government also employs far more private military contractors than ever before.
American intelligence operations, meanwhile, have come to rely more on unstable dictators and questionable foreign intelligence agencies. There is only minimal oversight over defense, especially for secret intelligence operations and private military contractors, or PMCs.
"Congress had approved billions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there was little Congressional oversight about how the money was spent," Mazzetti writes.
After 9/11, the United States fought two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nation also fought a third war -- a secret war in the shadows in places like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
But in a region of the world defined by incredibly complex political relationships, the CIA seemed oblivious and unable to predict major developments.
"Like a desert sandstorm," Mazzetti writes, "the popular revolts spreading across the states of North Africa were in the process of burying decades of authoritarianism."
But the CIA had no idea, Mazzetti points out, about major revolts that would erupt in countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Morocco.
"It was the first mass uprising of the social-media age."
New war zones
During the first year of Obama's presidency, the U.S. Central Command issued a sweeping directive -- the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Executive Order -- as part of a broad initiative "to define the role of the American military in countries beyond declared war zones. ...
"Special-operations officers now had even broader authorities to run spying missions across the globe. These orders became a new blueprint for the secret wars that President Obama would come to embrace," Mazzetti writes.
Under Obama, the White House developed a centralized "kill list," that went beyond "declared war zones."
Critics have not been received warmly.