Friday, April 04, 2008

Ain't nobody that spies like us

Larry Devlin is a retired CIA official, who was Chief of Station in the Congo in the 1960s. As such he saw the rise and death of Patrice Lumumba, the Civil War, the Katanaga Crisis and the Rise of Mobutu. His recent book Chief of Station describes his time there. He does provide his viewpoint on a number of pressing issues including the death of Lumumba. He says DC ordered his death, but the local US presence resisted and eventually local rivals assassinated him. On Mobutu, he discusses how he helped Mobuto rise to power.

Given the disastrous reign of Mobutu, it is somewhat surprising to hear that Devlin thinks he was the best possible option. Devlin is an un-apologetic wide focus Cold Warrior believing the US had to fight the Soviets wherever they expanded. This viewpoint is worth exploring and understanding and it is the ancestor of the view that the US must take action wherever possible and ally with bad people to serve larger policy goals. Reading this provides context for thinking about the relationship with Pervez Musharraf.

While his views on the major events make for interesting reading, much of the book consists of dry accounts of how CIA operatives went about their business. While at first this is fascinating, it becomes a bit tedious as the book goes on. This makes the ideal reader for the book difficult to determine. Those with a keen interest in international affairs are likely to be well read in intelligence operations, so they may just want to hear Devlin's views on what happened in Congo. Those looking for true life spy stories will find value, but may tire of the repetition.

Devlin discusses the book here on NPR .

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