When I was twelve years old, my father said he wished his children had Chinese friends–so polite, so serious are Chinese children in my father’s estimation. The Spanish word he used was formal.
I didn’t have any Chinese friends. My father did. Seventh and I Street was my father’s Orient. My father made false teeth for several Chinese dentists downtown. When a Chinese family tried to move in a few blocks away from our house, I heard a friend’s father boast that the neighbors had banded together to “keep out the Japs.”…
With one breath people today speak of Hispanics and Asians–the new Americans. Between the two, Asians are the more admired–the model minority–more protestant than Protestants; so hardworking, self-driven; so bright. But the Asian remains more unsettling to American complacence, because the Asian is culturally more foreign.
Hispanics may be reluctant or pushy or light or dark, but Hispanics are recognizably European. They speak a European tongue. They worship or reject a European God. The shape of the meat they eat is identifiable. But the Asian?
Asians rounded the world for me. I was a Mexican teenager in America who had become an Irish Catholic. When I was growing up in the 1960s, I heard Americans describing their nation as simply bipartate: black and white. When black and white America argued, I felt I was overhearing some family quarrel that didn’t include me. Korean and Chinese and Japanese faces in Sacramento rescued me from the simplicities of black and white America.
I was in high school when my uncle from India died, my Uncle Raj, the dentist. After Raj died, we went to a succession of Chinese dentists, the first Asian names I connected with recognizable faces; the first Asian hands….
No belief is more cherished by Americans, no belief is more typical of America, than the belief that one can choose to be free of American culture. One can pick and choose. Learn Spanish. Study Buddhism…. My Mexican father was never so American as when he wished his children might cultivate Chinese friends.
Daily Archives: 18 December 2005
In the aftermath of September 11, I should have felt motivated to be a better case officer. But the actions, or lack thereof, of the CIA had caused me to lose faith altogether. The attacks in New York and Washington had sent everyone at Headquarters into a tailspin: to view 9-11 as anything but a massive intelligence failure, we all knew, was sheer denial. Everybody at the Agency was wondering where we had gone wrong, and what the hell we were supposed to do now.
I could no longer perceive the value of the “intel” we received from the likes of Jasna the dour Bosniak, or Ahmet and his network of pesky Albanians, or Dimé and Tony and their circle of chauvinistic [Macedonian] clowns. I argued to [my supervisor] Scott, and also in cables back to Headquarters, that these cases ought to be terminated; that in light of the events of September 11, we should cut loose our less productive agents–to include my own–and focus on developing a network of terrorist-related targets. But it seemed that my arguments–as well as, I was sure, those of other similarly concerned case officers–fell on a conspiracy of deaf ears back at Langley.
“It’s a good experience for you,” Scott said when I balked about traveling again to meet Jasna, who I knew would have nothing of import to say.
“But she’s useless,” I said. “And we pay her a ton of money–for what?!”
“Headquarters wants you to keep running the case.” Scott frequently blamed management back home.
And so I would continue to run Jasna, I realized, and a number of other second- and third-rate assets, because someone at the CIA thought it was good for my career. Privately, I conjectured what anybody who had lost a loved one in a terrorist attack would think of these pointless exercises. I felt that now, in addition to shortchanging myself, I was failing everyone else. The CIA, on the other hand, viewed me as one of their most promising junior officers.
One day, I was walking through Skopje when I got caught in the imaginary cross fire of a dozen young boys armed with plastic guns and rifles. They were playing “Macedonians and Albanians” like American boys used to play Cowboys and Indians. The boys ambushed one another from behind parked cars with a kind of maniacal zeal, and I thought, I am someone who is caught in a game. A little boys’ game that men continue to play as adults.
September 11 had upset the CIA, I realized, because it meant someone was not playing by the rules of the game. If ever there were a chilling indication that the Cold War was over, and that the traditional spy-versus-spy tactics were not going to work anymore, it should have been then.
But the CIA was, and still is, made up of men who are loath to give up playing their game.
This is the second-crappiest* CIA memoir that I’ve read. Nearly 300 pages of narcissistic drivel and only one passage worth excerpting on this blog. The book it most reminded me of was one I read decades ago, Coffee, Tea, or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses.
Better subtitles for this CIA memoir would be: The Lousy Spook Dating Scene, How the Company Ruined My Lovelife, My Life as a CIA Narcissist, or My Life as a Jetsetting CIA Rockclimber. This was a national bestseller? Bah, humbug! What a waste.
Moran’s book seems to have made a similar impression on Amazon reviewer Raja “Punjeeb”.
*The crappiest CIA memoir I’ve read so far is Robert Baer’s Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude (Three Rivers, 2004). Baer’s book needs further disclosures after the title, something along the lines of “As spoken into Intercontinental hotel bar taperecorders across the Middle East” and “How to ruin your credibility even with readers not hostile to your thesis.”
Amazon book reviewer Alejandro Contreras is pretty much on the mark about Baer, but still overrates him:
As one reads this book, one gets the impression that Baer became convinced of the Saudis’ double game, and wrote this book without fully structuring his thoughts and without bullet-proofing rationally his arguments.
What we get, then, is a somehow salad mix of anecdotes from Baer’s experience at the CIA and afterwards. These stories are almost randomly mixed with stories Baer heard and with some (possibly true and proved) historic facts.
Maybe I’ll post a few examples if I can find the time and patience.
UPDATE: Yikes. Read Daniel Drezner’s blogpost, entitled Worst Tradecraft Ever, about the CIA’s unbelievable bungling in Italy.