American intelligence

Cold War spying had much in common with the colonial era

The CIA, this fascinating new history notes, is ‘possibly the most infamous organisation on the planet’. Its hidden hand is often presumed to be everywhere, pulling the strings. That’s pretty impressive, given that it only has, by most estimates, around 20,000 employees. (The exact number is, naturally, classified.) At the same time, it’s routinely portrayed as comically inept – a bunch of ‘clowns’ and ‘a refuge for Ivy League intellectuals’, as Richard Nixon put it. This has led to a dichotomy in CIA histories. On the one hand it is depicted as an all-powerful evil force, responsible for many of the world’s ills since its foundation in 1947. On the