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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.1 (2002) 92-95

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Book Review

The Clandestine Cold War in Asia, 1945-65: Western Intelligence, Propaganda, and Special Operations

Richard J. Aldrich, Gary Rawnsley, and Ming-Yeh T. Rawnsley, eds., The Clandestine Cold War in Asia, 1945-65: Western Intelligence, Propaganda, and Special Operations. London: Frank Cass, 2000. 298 pp. $57.00.

As an intelligence operations officer who began his career with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the height of the Cold War, I have frequently wondered how succeeding generations would view the activities we conducted during that era. In 1999 the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the University of Nottingham organized a conference that revealed how a group of contemporary academics, mostly British, judge the performance of the intelligence services of both the United Kingdom and the United States on missions in Asia during the first twenty years of the Cold War. All but one of the participants were professional scholars rather than participants in these covert operations; hence no issues of self-defense were involved. Their overall scorecard on the objectives and accomplishments of these operations was mixed but generally negative. Although this verdict was in some ways discomforting to the veterans of those days, their conclusions provide useful insights into the limitations inherent in covert activities and the problems that may be encountered when they are implemented.

The book begins with an analysis by Matthew Aid of the failure of U.S. intelligence organizations to predict the North Korean invasion of June 1950, a seminal event in bringing the Cold War to Asia. The outbreak of the Korean War set the context for most of the covert operations described by the other authors. Aid is an American intelligence scholar who has drawn skillfully on U.S. archives to help explain the reason for this failure. His description of the disorganized state of the U.S. intelligence community both in Washington and in the field is detailed and well documented. He properly sets this disorganization and its costly effects in the context of the general state of unpreparedness of the U.S. military and the various intelligence agencies. The national security organizations had been under severe budgetary and political pressures in a country that was anxious to return to peacetime life. Aid's account of the intense but petty rivalry between MacArthur's intelligence chief, Major General Charles Willoughby, and the CIA--a rivalry bred by Willoughby's defense of his turf, with unfortunate consequences for all concerned--is equally accurate and damning.

Aid's analysis covers only the invasion and the events of the following four months. He therefore does not deal with the second unpleasant intelligence jolt of 1950, the entry of the Chinese Communist armed forces into the conflict in late October of that year. The two shocks produced major changes in both the wider distribution of communications intelligence within CIA's Intelligence Directorate and a more formal structure for analyzing and reporting indications of hostile Communist intentions. My first assignment in the CIA, in late 1951, was to the Directorate's Indications Staff. Even though it was a year after Chinese troops had crossed the Yalu River to join the Korean conflict, there was still a fierce debate (which continues even today among the veterans of that bitter experience) over whether the Directorate had missed [End Page 92] signals that could have forecast the Chinese entry. By this time the Staff was producing the weekly Situation Summary (Sitsum), which reported indications based on exhaustive analysis of political, economic, and military items gleaned from all sources, especially communications intelligence. Analysts compared their findings with a checklist of indicators of potential hostile actions by members of the Soviet bloc. By the standards of today's intelligence publications, the Sitsum was primitive. It was a seven- to eight-page document, typed and retyped (no erasures were permitted) by the Staff secretary each Thursday evening and hand carried to President Harry Truman early the following morning. By noon...