In This Review

For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush
For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush
By Christopher M. Andrew
Harpercollins, 1995, 600 pp.

A prolific British historian (the joint author of a well-regarded history of the KGB) provides a richly detailed account of the uses to which American presidents have put U.S. intelligence agencies. Most of the work deals with the Cold War period (although George Washington emerges as a minor hero for his adept use of spies in the Revolutionary War). Andrew tends to be harder on Cold War presidents than he is on the intelligence community; although the latter had its share of failures, presidents tended to deprecate its product because of exaggerated expectations, simultaneously underestimating the value of intelligence (for instance, in stabilizing the Cold War competition in armaments) while overestimating "the secret power that covert action put at their command." The brisk narration, unfortunately, is seldom leavened by much analysis, lending to the work a certain sprawling character and creating a (symbolically interesting) gap between the immensity of the data presented and what it all means.