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Richelson (2002) in the book, ‘The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology’ traces the Science and Technology Directorate from its inception in 1947 to post 9/11 period. The book contains an assessment of every aspect of the directorate activities including its responsibilities and the infighting arising from political wrangles and resource distribution.
Richelson places emphasis on the institution and development of the technological spy hardware, especially its advanced reconnaissance technology. The author mentions numerous innovations that have had a significant impact not just in the intelligence community, but also in the scientific community.
For instance he has mentioned the U2 spy planes used even by NASA in weather mapping and the lithium batteries used commonly in pacemakers and recognition of breast cancer.
The aim of this book review is to evaluate the author’s definitive evaluation of CIA Directorate of Science and Technology, referred to as DS&T and to reveal whether they are carefully researched, dependable, and dispassionate.
Richelson traces the fight to control spy technology and reviews the DS&T’s capacity to keep at bay challenges particularly from the US air force. He seems to be against the US air force ultimate success in gaining control of U-2 spy plane programs and some satellite reconnaissance programs (Richelson 15).
Richelson also believes that the National Reconnaissance Office turned out to be a formidable challenge to DS&T work especially in wrestling control of the satellite surveillance programs from the directorate.
Richelson also judges the legacy and performance of each Directorate leaders from its inception. He is very critical of some of the programs initiated.
For instance, Richelson mentions a number of missteps done by the agency like the administering of LSD to several of its scientists, such as Olson death after being administered with the drug in 1953 without their awareness (Richelson 10).
He considered such programs along with the use of cats placed with bugging devices as a diversion from the directorate real work of intelligence innovation.
He also sheds light on the directorate leadership, especially on what he considers as failures like Ruth David who served as it leader between 1995 to 1998, and led to the DS&T decline in terms of importance, innovation and status (Richelson 264).
Richelson argues that even though the then CIA director John Deutch imposed most of these changes on Ruth David, she without meaningful objections allowed the directorate to lose command over its major responsibilities. Richelson is also very critical of former CIA director George J. Tenet (1997-2004), as he presided over a sequence of intelligence failures.
Richelson using commentaries from former insiders asserts that Tenet leadership made the directorate and the CIA in general to become just its own shadow (Richelson 283).
Richelson in the end admits that CIA has created intelligence capabilities that are far much superior compared to the rest of the world while ensuring higher level of national security. In particular, he acknowledges that the development of the U-2 spy plane together with surveillance satellites turned out to be key developments in photo-interpretation and gathering of signals-intelligence.
Furthermore, such innovations gave assisted in the analysis of foreign missile and space programs. The book also sheds light on numerous code names applied by the directorate in some of its operations and programs.
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For instance, espionage fanatics are made aware of code names such as JENNIFER, or the MKULTRA, while familiar spy heroes such as Ray Cline, or William Colby, and Richard Helms are also mentioned in much detail.
The main shortcoming of this book is its lack of details especially with regards to the top-secret missions. This then leaves question on some of the operations as they come out as more of sci-fi-style, especially the remote-observation experiments. Secondly, most of the so called unsung heroes and famous projects are already known, since they are already in the public domain and Richelson provides no new insights into them.
For instance, development aerial spy systems and space reconnaissance structures are things already known and he should have provided more operational insight regarding the missions. Thirdly, Richelson does not explain why the directorate initial use of animals in intelligence gathering failed, and why he felt they were insignificant.
He has instead discreetly avoided explaining why the agency scientists became disappointed with the initiative. This could have provided a balanced judgment of the program.
Changes that should have been made
Firstly, the creation of Scientific Intelligence Committee as a subcommittee of the department of defense in 1949 did interfere with the coordination of scientific intelligence effort (Richelson 4). This led to long confrontations between the military and civilian personnel, especially during the 1950.
This is because it did not differentiate between primary scientific capabilities on one hand, and weapons systems and equipments intelligence gathering on the other side.
The solution should have been to assign primary intelligence and invention responsibility to the directorate relating to weapon systems, equipments and intelligence on scientific research directly, instead of allowing the department of defense to have full control.
Secondly, the directorate should have made the function of gathering scientific human intelligence to be necessary. This is because signal intelligence does not normally offer adequate access to sites, especially nuclear and chemical weapons test sites.
For instance, such failures became evident when President Reagan administration falsely accused former USSR of conducting tests of high yield nuclear explosives when they clearly did not, and also in 1997 when they misled President Clinton that Russia had performed a nuclear test in its Arctic test site when indeed it was an undersea earthquake (Richelson 226).
Thirdly, following the collapse of USSR the directorate has not devoted significant amount of attention in implementing technology to ease modern day intelligence burden.
For instance, current threats posed by nation states and individuals through fiber optic systems, cell phones, cyber-warfare and encryption have not been taken seriously by the directorate.
It is through efficient data mining that the gathering of data sets from hostile foreign programs can be linked to formulated relationships, as well as time series evaluations and visualizations.
Also, the National Reconnaissance Office should have never become a dual identity of the directorate. This is because the influx of personnel from satellite reconnaissance team made the directorate to lose touch of remote surveillance and analysis capabilities.
Leadership has to come from the top of DS&T hierarchy and not another dual entity, so that the finest technologists should be under a daily basis contact with operatives and analysts (Richelson 308).
Richelson provides a straightforward and dispassionate account of DS&T’s conception, capabilities, innovation, leadership and shortcomings. Richelson has avoided the often inflamed speculation, and conspiratorial obsession associated with intelligence scholarship, as he has managed to make the text not to be an ideological advocacy proposal.
For instance, the details on the reconnaissance airplanes and advance surveillance satellites provide a rare insight into the intelligence community overestimation of USSR missile and nuclear capabilities.
However, he has not provided any new detailed information regarding the programs and leadership failures within the directorate, since most of the information provided is already in the public domain.
Richelson, Jeffrey. The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology. Boulder: Westview Press, 2002. Print.