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I was once subjected to a lecture by a Dublin taxi driver ‘on the extensive inequities of the Central Intelligence Agency’. Its every atrocity, in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, was relayed to me. It was an object lesson in the popular contempt in which the CIA has been held since its founding in the 1940s.

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Of the many damning revelations contained in this book, the fact that Allan Dulles, the CIA’s longest serving director (1953–61), would assess the merits of intelligence briefings by their weight is among the most startling. Coming in at 700 pages, Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA is sufficiently hefty to have commanded Dulles’s attention. Were he alive today to read this searing indictment of the institution he did so much to construct, however, it is doubtful that Dulles would find much cause for cheer.

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