A Look at The Spymasters by Chris Whipple

The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future by Chris Whipple

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Chris Whipple has come up with a fine book giving us a look at CIA Directors, starting in the Kennedy/Johnson era. I read Whipple’s “The Gatekeepers” which was a very insightful book about White House Chief of Staffs. He has used the same techniques here, gathering the thoughts of CIA Directors still alive through interviews which offered some excellent commentary.
Whipple gives us a look at the Directors, and how they interacted with the Presidents they served, starting with the most fascinating of spies, Richard Helms. Helms was a career man at the agency, and was in a position of authority, but not director, during the Bay of Pigs fiasco that caused so much turmoil at the Agency. Whipple shows us Helms, the expert bureaucratic infighter, not being “in the loop” on the Bay of Pigs planning. He was in a position of authority when the CIA, under orders, embarked upon Operation Mongoose, a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro with the help of U.S. organized crime figures. The Helms material is augmented by interviews with his widow Cynthia, and Whipple’s treatment of Helms, in certain instances, may be considered overly generous. Whipple reports Helms statement that when he took over as DDP in 1962 he “shut down” the CIA assassination plot against Castro. Whipple acknowledges that the evidence does not support Helms on that score. Helms took over as Director after appointment by LBJ, and as Director was charged with providing intelligence on North Vietnam. In this, the first Director covered, we see the constant theme of the Whipple effort. Helms provided intelligence on the Vietnam War that was not to LBJ’s liking, with LBJ simply ignoring the analysis that he disagreed with. (The CIA provided a 250 page analysis “The Vietnamese Communists Will to Persist” that was pessimistic about the U.S. ability to achieve its war aims) Helms in this instance did his job but determined that pushing LBJ on that score was not prudent for the agency.

“Helms reached a point where, in the morning briefings and the President’s daily brief, we just slacked off on providing information on Vietnam, said analyst Kerr. We did not do the aggressive pieces that were negative because they were counterproductive.”

The Spymasters Whipple Chris p 37.

Despite the recognition that LBJ was not receptive to this line of analysis Helms CIA took on the so called “domino theory” which argued that a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam would lead to a communist wave of takeovers in Southeast Asia by producing “Implications of an Unfavorable Outcome in Vietnam” which diplomatically called into question the domino theory. Helms may have not pushed LBJ too hard but he kept producing analysis that was honest, and not what the President wanted. He walked a tightrope, including having to deal with demands by LBJ for domestic surveillance of the anti-war movement, a violation of the CIA Charter.

The Helms portion of the book, as mentioned, in some fashion sets the stage for the rest of the Whipple effort. How does the CIA Director maintain relevancy, and access to the President, if the intelligence being provided does not dovetail with what the Presidents desires? We get to examine the George Tenet “slam dunk” to George W. Bush on Iraqi WMD. A great section on the time of George H.W. Bush as CIA Director, considered by most observers to be a successful tenure. (Bush felt, with some justification, that he had been maneuvered into the slot by rival Donald Rumsfeld, who was looking to isolate Bush into what he believed to be a dead end job politically) Ronald Reagan’s Director, William Casey, led him into what became the Iran-Contra scandal, which wounded the Reagan presidency.

The book, from my perspective, gets high marks, giving us an overview of the Agency, and how it operates. Enhanced interrogation techniques? Yes we get a pretty good back and forth on that, and so many of the issues that have dogged the agency over the years. One theme referenced by Whipple is the Washington cliche that “there are only policy successes-and intelligence failures.” With the recognition, articulated by former Director Bob Gates, that “the CIA has one protector, and one customer, and if you can’t get that relationship right then the agency is screwed” the Agency has unfortunately molded intelligence to that reality. Whipple has given us the good, the bad, and the ugly in this book. We even get a quick look at James Jesus Angelton, likely the most impactful non-director to ever work at the Agency. More on Angelton in the fine book “Wilderness of Mirrors.” Pick this one up!




View all my reviews

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seabrook Selectmen Adopt Voluntary Water Restrictions

Due to the abnormally dry conditions, the Town of Seabrook Water Department is asking its customers to observe Voluntary Outside Water Use Restrictions.

The drought of 2020 has continued in the form of Abnormally Dry conditions through the winter and spring, resulting in lower groundwater levels.  These conditions have reduced production capacity.

Restrictions are voluntary at this time, and the focus of our messaging is to eliminate excessive water use . This can be done by repairing any leaks inside or outsides of homes or businesses, reducing the frequency of washing cars and refraining from washing driveways and sidewalks.  Also the Town would like residents and businesses to limit irrigation to 30 minutes every other day.  Hopefully, this will reduce the need for mandatory water use restrictions later this summer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seabrook Police Officer Dave Hersey Recognized

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen were joined by Senator Tom Sherman in offering citations to Officer Dave Hersey of the Seabrook Police Department, who risked his life by charging in to a house fire and pulling a resident to safety. Officer Hersey was first on the scene, and his courageous, and quick action, saved a life. Congratulations Officer Dave Hersey.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seabrook Implements Hybrid Meetings

With the return to in person meetings in Seabrook for the Board of Selectmen and all boards and commissions the question has come as to whether there are some aspects to “remote meetings” that can be utilized in the future. The likely end to the emergency regulations in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts has led to debate about whether some aspects of the emergency regulations that allowed public bodies to meet remotely should be retained.

Our experience, in Seabrook, has been that remote meetings have brought a significant increase in public participation. There are likely several reasons for this that are not that hard to figure out. Once the public became comfortable with the technology (Zoom in our case) the convenience of remote participation drove greater public input and participation in local municipal meetings. With screen capture and the ability to make full presentations readily available through the available technology Planning and Zoning Boards have been able to seamlessly continue to work through remote meetings.

As we do return to pre-pandemic law governing public meetings both states are looking at legislation to allow for some continuation of the ability to conduct “remote meetings.” In Seabrook we have managed to return to in person meetings while still allowing the public to interact with our Boards and Commissions via Zoom. This hybrid model allows the Zoom participant to interact with, both visually and through audio, the municipal board in session. We have managed to utilize the technology without any problems for the past month, and will continue to do so.

In Massachusetts the Massachusetts Municipal Association has advocated for retention of some aspects of remote meetings. A trio of Massachusetts Town Managers offered compelling testimony in favor of retention of some of the pandemic rules before the State Legislature. With new technology getting better and making public participation easier reverting to pre-pandemic rules is not the best way forward.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Seabrook Memorial Day Service 2021

Seabrook held its Memorial Day Service yesterday, and although the weather was not the best there was a great ceremony, as well as the Parade. A few raindrops did not stop Seabrook from honoring the memory of those that made the ultimate sacrifice. A big thank you to Katie Duffey of Seabrook Recreation for all of her work, as well as Seabrook DPW, Seabrook Police, and Seabrook Fire for all of their work on the event as well. As always a big thank you to American Legion Post 70 for all of the work they put in to this event. The Seabrook Board of Selectmen were on hand, and have always been huge supporters of this event in Seabrook. Thank you to Senator Tom Sherman, as well as Reps. Tim Baxter, Max Abramson, Tina Harley and Aboul Khan for their participation as well. The video of the service is below.

Gathering with the Board of Selectmen, Representatives, and Senator, before the ceremony.
Select Board Chair Ella Brown delivers remarks.
Select Board Vice Chair, and State Representative, Aboul Khan delivers remarks.
Selectwoman Theresa Kyle delivers remarks.
Senator Tom Sherman delivers remarks.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seabrook Emergency Management Recognized

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen recognized Kelly McDonald and the Emergency Management Department for their outstanding work in seeking, and receiving, over $400,000 in reimbursements from the federal CARES Act as well as FEMA. Kelly has been the lead on this, with support from department head Joseph Titone and Fire Chief William Edwards. This has been vital for the Town, amounting to about 1.5% of the total Town budget. Thank you to Kelly for this great work.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Seabrook Board of Selectmen Sign Two Collective Bargaining Agreements

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen this week signed two collective bargaining contracts, with the Seabrook Employees Association and the Seabrook Police Association. Both units are represented by Teamsters Local 633. These contracts were approved by the Board of Selectmen and passed by the voters in March. It places all four collective bargaining units in Seabrook under contract. The Board expressed their appreciation for all of the good work done for Seabrook residents by members of both units.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Look at “On the House: A Washington Memoir” by John Boehner

On the House: A Washington Memoir by John Boehner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


How could I resist a book by former Speaker John Boehner after seeing all of the great blurbs about Ted Cruz? Well, I could not. Boehner gives us a breezy, easy to read book that has some interesting observations, about himself, the Republican Conference he led, and some of the interesting people he interacted with in a long legislative career. What Boehner has said, in his publicity for the book, is that if you are looking for a book on public policy this is not the book for you. He was and is correct on that score.

Speaker Boehner starts the book with a nod to Speaker Pelosi, giving us a view of her political skills by highlighting her political unraveling of Democratic Congressman, and Dean of the House, John Dingell. Boehner wants to show us how power is exercised in Washington, and in so doing expresses a grudging respect for Speaker Pelosi. Boehner moves through the book without a lot of attention to sequencing, but makes the points he is looking to get across.

Boehner was actually a comeback kid, having achieved leadership with the ascent of Newt Gingrich, but he was deposed from his spot as Chair of the Republican Conference by JC Watts. He gave us the story about his work in exposing some of the check-kiting shenanigans involved in the House Bank scandal, and speculates that his loss to Watts was partially attributable to his work in exposing some key Republican power brokers involved in that scandal. (There were more than a few Democrats involved as well.)

Boehner gives us a pretty straight forward view of the GOP conference that he came to lead as Speaker, and it is not a pretty sight. John Boehner became Speaker at a time when the political ground was shifting, and old assumptions about the motivations of members were no longer safe to make. He brings us to the 2013 political fight over raising the national debt ceiling, which turned into a debacle for Boehner and the GOP. This political fight, in Boehner’s view, was a foreseeable disaster. The House GOP conference, in the majority, took the position that they would not vote to raise the debt ceiling or fund the government unless President Obama agreed to the elimination of Obama Care. It really was quite clear to any thinking person that this gambit would not only fail but leave the GOP with the political blame for the government shutdown. I think this shutdown and the political fall out for the GOP crystalized Boehner’s complaint with the “crazy caucus” that he was the leader of. Even though he was a Senator Ted Cruz played a large role in influencing the so-called crazies of the GOP House Conference, and Boehner gets his licks in here.

“There is nothing more dangerous than a reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. Ladies and gentlemen meet Senator Ted Cruz.” On the House, Boehner, John pg. 168

Boehner did advise against this foolhardy move, but when the will of the caucus was expressed he led the fight, as he felt it was his obligation to do. There was never any chance of getting President Obama to agree to that bargain, and sure enough, after a government shutdown of 17 days the GOP Conference, and Speaker Boehner, were forced to capitulate without defunding Obama Care.

Speaker Boehner gives us several examples of poor political judgement by the “crazy caucus” but they are all similar to the 2013 shutdown. He came to recognize the new power of Fox News, and he counted that outlet as contributing to the power of the “crazy caucus.” The crazier the actions, the more time you got on Fox, according to Boehner. He came to recognize that this newly empowered “infrastructure” was not only a source of power but provided a way to raise barrels of money for many folks in his caucus. The Speaker of the House simply did not have the type of power that Speakers had in the past. There was a new center of gravity for conservatives.

Speaker Boehner gives us a view of his family life, and how he worked in the family business, a tavern that served a working-class constituency in Ohio. Some nice stories on President Gerald Ford and former Notre Dame football coach Gerry Faust, who Boehner played for in high school. Boehner gives us some great tidbits on John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Mark Meadows, and Fox news head honcho Roger Ailes. As mentioned, the book is breezy, and I think entertaining. (The feelings expressed on Cruz are shared by many in the GOP) Boehner gives us his views without getting into the weeds, which was never his style anyway. He definitely pulled no punches and evened a couple of scores, but in these times it is to be expected. I enjoyed it, and do believe it would make for a pretty good summer read.






View all my reviews

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Senator Maggie Hassan Visits Seabrook

The Seabrook Board of Selectmen, Senator Tom Sherman, and the Yankee Fishing Cooperative welcomed Senator Maggie Hassan to Seabrook last week. Senator Hassan heard some of the issues facing the Cooperative first hand, and pledged to work with Senator Sherman and the State of New Hampshire to help. She also took the time to tour the Town project right next door at the Pier, where we hope to be replacing the sheet pilings supporting the structure, with a U.S. Commerce Department EDA grant of $695,000 helping to finance that project. Thanks to Senator Hassan, and Senator Sherman, for all of their time and support.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seabrook Police Swear in New Officer

The Seabrook Police, along with the Board of Selectmen, swore in new Seabrook Patrol Officer Alison Couch at a ceremony at Town Hall. Congratulations to Officer Couch and best wishes for a safe and long career with the Seabrook Police Department.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment