February 12, 2010


Charlie Wilson's CIA Adventures: When the legendary congressman passed away this week, attention once again turned to his exploits with the CIA. The Daily Beast presents an exclusive excerpt from the book that made him a household name. (George Crile, 2/11/10, Daily Beast)

The director quickly came to the point. “The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. There were many heroes in this battle, but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition.” Woolsey compared Wilson’s role to that of Lech Walesa climbing over the fence at Gdansk to launch the Solidarity movement. He described how invincible the Soviets had appeared to be just 13 years before and how Wilson had engineered one of the lethal body blows that had wrecked the communist empire. Without him, Woolsey concluded, “History might have been hugely different and sadly different.”

Sitting in the third row of the audience, a man in his fifties with thick glasses and a bushy mustache chewed gum manically, as if he were about to explode. Twenty-five years of clandestine service had accustomed him to looking beneath the surface of events. Wheels within wheels moved in his brain as he thought of the incredible irony of this ceremony. He hadn’t been back to the agency for three years, but one thing was certain: The men currently running the CIA weren’t about to tip their hat to the role he had played with Wilson in turning a timid, uncertain operation into the biggest, meanest, and far and away most successful CIA campaign in history. The truth was, Gust Avrakotos was the only person in the room who understood how it had all happened, how he had broken the rules to make it happen, and how easy it would have been, if he had let the bureaucrats have their way, for things to have gone very, very differently. The gray man, so used to operating in the shadows, recognized that once again he would have to sit back and let Charlie take the honors for both of them.

The screen with the “Charlie Did It” slide on it was now being lowered into the stage floor as Frank Anderson took command of the proceedings. “To say that this is an unusual moment would be to underplay how unique it really is.”

The Near East Division had been Anderson’s home ever since he had been recruited out of the University of Illinois and joined the agency’s Clandestine Services. Now he was responsible for all American espionage activities from Morocco to Bangladesh. It was his great good fortune to have been in charge of the South Asia task force in the final years when his men, funneling billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the mujahideen, had chased the Red Army, tail between its legs, out of Afghanistan. Then, promoted to division chief, Anderson had watched the mystical process unfold as the entire Soviet Bloc disintegrated, until an exhausted and helpless foe stood vanquished before America’s secret warriors.

Anderson explained that he and the CIA were about to do something that had never been done for a civilian nonmember of the Agency. They were about to anoint Charlie Wilson as one of their own. “This moment is about elitism. Within the Clandestine Services we are a self-proclaimed elite unit called the Near East Division. It is an organization whose greatest weakness is hubris. One of the things about elites is that they only care about the approbation of the members of their own elites. So within the division we created an Honored Colleague award, something never before presented to anyone outside the service.”

Perhaps no one but the handpicked officers of the Near East Division could fully understand how unusual it was to grant this recognition to an outsider, especially to a member of Congress. Any wariness and hostility that Congress seems to harbor for the CIA is more than reciprocated by the spies who suffer the politicians’ scrutiny and endless criticism. But for some reason this man was different. “We really do feel that you are a member of our community,” Anderson said with the look of a man who knew he was about to give out the most precious of all gifts. “So if you would, stand with me, Charlie, and be our Honored Colleague.” There were no television cameras present. No newspaper articles the following day would register the event. But curiously, even if the CIA had decided that day that it was appropriate to tell the real story of the CIA’s Afghan war and how “Charlie did it,” no one there would have been able to explain how it all began.

It's a great book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2010 6:54 AM
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