Category Archives: Book Recommendations

A Book Recommendation-A Circle of Treason

Circle of Treasonby Rick Bretz

Cold War consequences remained high from the end of World War II to long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For some, the price of being captured meant prison time, public trials, or for some, torture and execution by being shot in the back of the head.

The authors of the book,”A Circle of Treason“, Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, started their careers in the CIA in 1967 and 1954 respectively.  The authors give a detailed account of their lives in the CIA.  Each started out as Administrative and Intelligence Assistants and advanced to the level of station and branch chiefs.

The book is exactly what the subtitle states, “A CIA account of the traitor Aldrich Ames and the men he betrayed.”  The authors produced a book that details the inside story of how the agency caught one of its own spies, Aldrich Ames.   What can’t be denied after looking at the evidence  is Ames’ dishonesty, lack of integrity, avarice and betrayal to the people he swore to protect.

Aldrich Ames, according to the authors, caused the deaths of many CIA assets who were vital to the security of the United States at a time when both countries had nuclear weapons and not that much command and control over them. The task force investigated Ames the detailed information on bank accounts and meeting they found led to his arrest in 1994.  So why take this long to write the book.    The authors let the readers know up front that their work was vetted and scrubbed by the CIA’s Publications Review Board so nothing in the book compromises security.  The CIA review process took three years. Between that and the insistence that the book be accurate gave the book a published date of 2013.

The book covers the history of the team, the authors’ careers and how each arrived at the table of five principal investigators with the mission of trying to find out why their CIA assets were being systematically identified, called back to Moscow, tortured for information and executed.  The years long investigation was tedious and frustrating but the Grimes and Vertefeuille continued their dogged pursuit eliminating a group of people to get to the only one they determined could be the mole that gave up their people.

The book makes clear that it is not enough to accuse someone of spying and being a mole for America’s adversaries but an agency has to have proof.  Proof that can hold up in court.  This means having dates, times, documents, video and audio if possible so that when an officer or agent arrest the person that person pleads guilty or there is a conviction.  The book covers that and includes instances where Ames was given his own office so that the agency could hide a camera to get more information for their case.

What is particularly chilling is how Ames sells out his people for money and nothing else.  The authors give their Soviet assets a human form by covering their backgrounds, their families and revealing why they might have chosen to spy for the United States and rather than be loyal to the communist regime.

The internal political issues and personality clashes hindered the process as it moved along.  As an understatement, these problems are systematic of the Washington, DC, area government offices in general.  It is a testament to the group that they stuck with their mission of identifying the traitor.

The book is highly recommended for getting the inside story from two people who actually were there and understood the process and why it took a while to capture on of their own.  In the aftermath, many people didn’t get proper recognition for sticking with the investigation.  This book outlines who the primary heroes in this case and who in the bureaucracy set out to place blame and take credit where credit wasn’t due.

These two highly skilled professionals and authors fall into the heroes category but they are professionals and getting the man who betrayed so many people was enough.  This book opens the building cipher lock doors, walks by the badge checker to the rooms where daily CIA operators work so the reader can find out how they caught their mole.  It doesn’t tell you everything but it is as close as the public will get.

Notable Links:

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/aldrich-hazen-ames

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandra_Grimes

http://www.spymuseum.org/calendar/detail/meet-a-spy–sandy-grimes/2014-05-02/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Vertefeuille

https://www.cia.gov/mobile/pr-statements/2013/message-from-the-acting-director-jeanne-vertefeuille.html

A Book Recommendation-The Wild Blue

B-24_Liberator

By Rick Bretz

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit this book is my first authored by Stephen E. Ambrose. After finishing it in less time than it took veterans travelling from the United States to Italy by boat in 1944, I will read more written by Ambrose, who also wrote “Band of Brothers”, “Undaunted Courage”, “Eisenhower: Soldier and President”, and many others.

The Wild Blue, with the subtitle, “The Men and Boys Who Flew The B-24s Over Germany”, is well researched and an entertaining read. It is not a thorough examination of air power used in World War II. It, however, depicts the stages several individuals passed through to get ready, travel to a foreign country, and fly combat missions and hopefully arrive safely back home. The book zeroes in on one particular B-24 unit, the pilots and crews of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, and one crew in particular that flew missions from Italy into Central Europe at the end of the war.

As Ambrose’s story unfolds chapter after chapter, the reader understands the commitment and courage bomber crews exhibited during the last days of World War II. Ambrose died in 2002 and with this book, published in 2001, he left us with the story about another significant American, 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate and Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern, who died in 2012, and the his fellow servicemen.

Before George McGovern worked as an author, history professor, US Representative, Senator from South Dakota and Presidential Candidate, he was a trained pilot. By all accounts from the book, he was an excellent, composed pilot, respected and admired by his crew. Ambrose’s description of McGovern’s training and the dangers involved just to make it through the training is riveting.   His account of how his fellow crew members came to sign up for the Army Air Forces and how they worked their way through training to graduation is enlightening. Some potential pilots washed out while some didn’t make it back. The book takes you through McGovern’s and his crew’s missions during World War II while describing his leadership style. The account of how he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross is particularly captivating.

The book is thorough but short enough to satisfy the reader who wants to know about the B-24 Liberator bombers and the story of George McGovern’s experience during the war.

I’m giving away my age here, but I was 12 years old when the 1972 Presidential Election was decided by the voting majority. I didn’t know much about either candidate back then.  Today, I know more about former President Richard Nixon. I understand that McGovern was against the Vietnam War as early as 1962. As a World War II bomber pilot, McGovern understood the cost of war and in reading this you develop more insight into his thinking during those turbulent days in the 1960s.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Wild-Blue-Germany-1944-45/dp/0743223098

http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/stephenambrose.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_McGovern

http://acepilots.com/planes/b24.html

http://www.aafha.org/aaf_or_aircorps.html

 

 

 

 

Book Recommendation-Command and Control

by Rick Bretz

Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you or, after a second look at atomic and hydrogen weapons, can obliterate you. Command and Control

This is what you learn after reading the book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser. The subtitle gives away the theme, “Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.”

The book moves through the early stages of the Cold War landscape where the country’s leaders addressed many thorny issues such as fixing weapons program technical malfunctions and, even tougher, how to eliminate human errors.

In the Cold War business doing things right 99 percent of the time only gets you criticized for the other one percent when things go wrong. The men and women who keep the country safe and secure while working inside missile control centers and bombers remain examples of intelligent and reliable military professionals. The military forged new territory after World War II when they had to invent procedures and checklists for managing and controlling intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads designed to wipe cities and countries off the map.

Despite the best planning and “What If” matrices by government and defense professionals in the military, accidents will happen and did happen. Through sheer good fortune the nuclear weapons program didn’t accidentally kill innocent civilians like the 1961 “Broken Arrow” incident near Goldsboro, NC., when bombs went through all but one of the fail safe steps that prevented a detonation after a B-52 bomber crash. Prior to that, the government even authorized military studies such as the Army’s Office of Special Weapons Development report in 1955 titled, “Acceptable Military Risks from Accidental Detonation of Atomic Weapons.”  These chapters make you sit up and read with a little more attention so you won’t miss any other revealing “that was a close one” information.

This book scrutinizes and outlines the thought processes and policy battles within the civilian and military government leadership for control of the country’s use and design of the nuclear defense program. He portrays key figures at the early stages of weapons technology like Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had to deal with the weapons command and control issues in the beginning. A concern raised by leaders at the start was the communication time-lapse from a Soviet Union launch to the moment the President receives word  that missiles were on the way. This time period was vital for having enough time to make the correct decision to launch weapons or realize it was a false indicator.  If recognition and communications were slow, the President may not have had enough time to give the OK to send missiles down range in retaliation, especially if the target was the nation’s capital.

For the baby boomer generation, this book is a trip down mutual destruction memory lane. The author liberally uses the acronyms some of us have come to know and love like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition), ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and even some new ones like PAL (Permissive Action Link), a term used to describe a coded device installed within a nuclear warhead or bomb, like a lock to prevent unauthorized use of the weapon that might accidentally facilitate MAD.

Several of the acronyms are downright ingenious like MANIAC (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer), an early electronic, digital computer used at Los Alamos to design the first hydrogen bombs.

The author Schlosser, who also wrote “Fast Food Nation”, begins with an event that occurred on September 18, 1980, in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas. It describes the command and control center and how, through a series of mistakes, a missile came close to contaminating a large part of the state. It’s a story thread that is woven throughout the book. The author walks you through the launch complex while giving the reader a vivid picture of what a missile looks like and the difficult job “Missileers” had keeping our country safe from communist aggression. The job was much more dangerous than conventional thinking would have you believe.

The Air Force officers and airmen mentioned in the book, working at missile silos and control centers across the United States and overseas, trained diligently for a task they were given during a tense time on the Cold War timeline. They were putting into action the Cold War Theory of deterrence.  In between the face-offs and stare downs, misinformation and disinformation flowed as part of campaigns to unsettle each other’s government leadership. All the while, agency and department chiefs fought for control, budgets increased, military services developed their own weapons initiatives, and strategies shifted from deterrence and MAD to the strategy of conflict escalation during the arms race.

For some people this book will get tedious in the middle when the author outlines policy arguments and protocols. The read gets interesting when he describes the many personalities that have worked in the program. Some parts take on a solemn tone at times when he writes about young people who have given their lives while flying missions or trying to prevent a missile silo from contaminating an area.

I recommend this book if you want to read about the history of America’s arms race with the Soviet Union and how the two countries played a high stakes game of poker with millions of lives on the table.  At times, America bluffed and other times the Soviet Union had the bad hand but played as if they had a straight flush.

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Command-Control-Damascus-Accident-Illusion/dp/1594202273

http://www.thegoldsborobrokenarrow.com/

http://www.afmissileers.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missile_combat_crew

 

 

 

 

 

The Presidents Club-A Book Recommendation

The Presidents Club

by Rick Bretz

Sometimes, a book appears in stores or online that catches my eye. I know just by reading the book title that it will be a page turner or for some people a “finger swiper” on our digital readers.

I have been reading the “The Presidents Club, Inside The World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity” for a few weeks now. With a length of more than 650 pages, I have been taking my time reading it. The book is well researched and written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy and published by Simon and Schuster. Nancy Gibbs is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Oxford. She is Managing Editor of Time Magazine. Michael Duffy is a graduate of Oberlin College. He is Washington Bureau Chief and Executive Editor for Time Magazine.

Right from the first Chapter, they caught my attention and kept it all the way through. I actually read some chapters twice just to retain some of the information they revealed in the book. They discuss the history leading to the formation of the President’s Club but it begins to get interesting when they write about President Harry Truman asking for help from former President Herbert Hoover. The top Democrat asking for help from a Republican most democrats didn’t want to be associated with in any way. But President Truman was different. He knew how to use resources and Herbert Hoover was just the right guy to prevent starvation in Europe after World War II. There are many stories like this throughout the book.

It travels through history covering all of the Presidents to the current sitting President Barack Obama and how they viewed the “Club” and, more importantly, how they used the members of the exclusive fraternity.

I would recommend this book to any history scholar or presidential historian looking for a different perspective on the use of power. It might change your view on several Presidents and how they operated. After reading this book, I changed my opinion on a few Presidents. One President I gained even more respect for during the my reading, Harry Truman. One President the authors elevated his stature in my mind, Herbert Hoover. I knew that former President Richard Nixon was a diplomatic and foreign policy guru and the authors prove it in the book. The book also reveals how certain former Presidents can be difficult at the least.

After reading the book, you can entertain your own conclusions.