Monday, July 13, 2015

Good Hunting, Jack Devine

"A spy who funneled Stingers to the mujahedeen, helped hunt drug lord Pablo Escobar, and managed the turncoat Aldrich Ames", The WSJ.

Fascinating book, with great historic value, and written in a straight-shooter no-bullshit tone that perfectly resonates with me, especially after having read "The brothers" by Kinzer, about the Dulles brothers, a work that provides a very different perspective on the CIA's history and modus operandi.

Jack Devine covered many crucial CIA leadership roles over 32 years, and his career put him in touch with many of the most important foreign policy issues of the 70s, 80s and 90s. In particular, he was in charge, from 1986, of the CIA covert war in Afghanistan. You might have heard of "Charlie Wilson's War", that was also made into a movie with Tom Hanks. Devine watched the movie and found it to be too fictionalized. You get a lot of facts straight by reading this book.

Some reviewers on blogs and magazines commented that Devine seems to write with a tribal loyalty to the CIA, while they wanted him to be more critical of some CIA's decisions and actions. I disagree with this view. Devine clearly thinks the CIA mandate and mission are very important for the US, and he is proud of the many accomplishments that he is allowed to talk about. Anything wrong with that? He also has an eye for the many shortcomings and mistakes of the Agency, and shares his frustration with the problems that naturally go with this type of "business", from the inevitability of counterespionage to the impossibility of providing measurable, objective and easy to digest results.

Yes, like most autobiographies, this is the career story of a workaholic, and you will find the very normal "look how good I am" approach, but that is human nature. Overall I felt a sense of fairness in Devine's memories. No bullshit. No score-settling chapters. He even goes almost as far as to confess that his being 6 foot 5 helped him in his career. How many of today's leaders and managers - many of whom have been helped in their career by simply being tall - would be honest enough to admit that?

Woody Allen said it well - "80% of success is showing up". If you are very tall and loyal, that works even better.

Bottom note 1: I was happy to discover (and entirely agree with) an article by Devine on Edward Snowden. Yes, Snowden, the noble hero of today's ignorant civilians: please read it here.

Bottom note 2: this documentary on Charlie Wilson will probably blow your mind. Devine is briefly featured in an interview in the second part.

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