I was Trashed in Foreign Affairs

They say that criticism makes you stronger. So Paul Pillar’s review of my book –Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11– in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs makes me a freakin Terminator.

Pillar, an ex-CIA guy, didn’t like much about my analysis of the CIA’s failure to adapt to terrorism before 9/11. Actually, he didn’t like anything at all. He also savaged Tim Weiner’s National Book Award-winning CIA history, Legacy of Ashes.

Weiner’s reaction?

“The dogs bark; the caravan moves on.”

Which proves Tim Weiner is more mature than I am.

Asking Paul Pillar to review an academic book about adaptation failures in the CIA and FBI before 9/11 is like asking a convicted man to comment on the work of the jury. Pillar wasn’t just any CIA official. He spent most of the 1990s doing counterterrorism analysis, rising to Deputy Director of the Counterterrorist Center–positions the FA review bio conveniently neglects to mention.

Since retiring from the CIA, Pillar has made a second career out of defending his first one. He has defended the agency’s analysis of Iraqi WMD programs (in which he played a central role). He has also attacked the 9/11 Commission for its critique of the CIA’s counterterrorism analysis (in which he also played a central role). Apparently, the CIA, at least the parts where he worked, did a good job. It’s everyone else who should be criticized.

It should come as no surprise that I disagree with Pillar. But the CIA does, too. The agency’s own Inspector General’s office issued a 9/11 review that finds grave deficiencies, system-wide breakdowns, and personal failures.

Perhaps Pillar should spend more time at the CIA, and less time defending his record there.

Author: Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. She is also a faculty affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (by courtesy). Her research examines national security agencies, American foreign policy, and anything scary. Academic publications include two award-winning books: Spying Blind, which examines intelligence adaptation failures before 9/11, and Flawed by Design, which chronicles the evolution of America’s national security architecture. She is currently working on a book about intelligence in the post-9/11 world. Zegart writes an intelligence column at foreignpolicy.com, and her pieces have also appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. Previously, she taught at UCLA and worked at McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar, she received an A.B. in East Asian Studies from Harvard and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford. A native Kentuckian, she loves to watch good college football and bad reality TV.