- A Need to Know: The Clandestine History of a CIA Family
A Need to Know is disappointing both for what it alludes to but does not deliver and for what it shows of the potential sufferings of the families of those who labor in the gardens of secrecy at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other entities of the shadows. Harold Goodall, Jr., a prolific author and professor of communications at Arizona State University, the son of a CIA official, grew up in ignorance of his father's real work. As a little boy he lived in places like Rome, London, Cheyenne (at Whiteman Air Force Base), and Philadelphia, too young to understand much of what was going on around him. Goodall's inheritance after his father's death was a diary (stolen before he could make use of it) that reveals his father's secret line of work, mentioning figures like Allen Dulles, Frank Wisner, William Colby, James J. Angleton, Kim Philby, andWilliam Harvey, among others, a combination of people no one could accidentally meet on the street. Goodall eventually sets out to uncover his dad's real life, and this book is the result.
Not inclined to cooperate, the CIA released no records to Goodall, and he was unable to locate and speak to any of his father's former colleagues. Goodall was finally limited to what he could discover from family and friends—which unfortunately was nothing of substance. All it amounts to is the elder Goodall's tale of a night drinking with Philby, recited years later in a group therapy session, plus the dummy file of personnel records the government compiled to sustain a cover as U.S. consul and an employee of the Veterans Administration. This makes for a story of pure speculation—his father could have done this, he might have been mixed up in that—supplemented by more general observations about the CIA drawing on secondary sources. The only item in the book based on direct observation is Goodall's account of how the U.S. ambassador to Rome, Claire Booth Luce, greeted his mother with a devastating put-down [End Page 152] when the Goodalls arrived in the Italian capital. Goodall also suspects that James Angleton attended his father's burial service—the tall, angular man standing in the rain beside a car on the other side of the road—but he neither met nor spoke to that man. Hence, this, too, is only speculation. The book is really the story of a frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful journey of discovery and would have been better cast that way.
Though unsatisfying as a biography (whether of a family or an individual), A Need to Know is disturbing in another way. The book underscores the pernicious effect of secrecy on the son. In this regard it bears similarity to another recent account by a CIA son, John H. Richardson's My Father the Spy: An Investigative Memoir (New York: Harper Collins, 2005). Richardson, unlike Goodall, knew for sure that his father worked for the agency based on a paper trail, a few colleagues, and many accounts of his father's exploits in South Vietnam or the Philippines—all of which were significant advantages when documenting his father's life. But both books show the void in children's lives caused by a father who lives in the shadows, doing things they must not know, going to places they cannot visit, likely to be called away at any time. A few books have been published by CIA officers' spouses, who seem to have done a better job on balance, perhaps because they were older, understood more, and (in principle) had some say in whether to sign on or not. Up to now, these social costs of the Cold War—and the shadow war that underlay it—have scarcely been explored or taken into account. In such a rendering, works like A Need to Know will find their true value. [End Page 153]