“Everything is backwards,” said W. George Jameson, a lawyer who spent 33 years at the CIA. “You’ve got an intelligence agency fighting a war and a military organization trying to gather on-the-ground intelligence.”
This quote comes from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Mark Mazzetti’s gripping new nonfiction book, The Way of the Knife. This book, released earlier this year, examines in depth the transformation of both the U.S. military and Central Intelligence Agency after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Way of the Knife illuminates the transformation of the CIA and America’s special operations forces into what Mazzetti calls man-hunting and killing machines in the “world’s darkest places.”
Surprisingly, these changes in American warfare over the past decade have taken place away from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, they have occurred in the corners of the world where the large, bulky armies of the past can’t go, producing a shadow war in places that America has never actually declared war on.
Mazzetti begins The Way of the Knife with the story of Raymond Davis, who was sent into Pakistan by the CIA, and after shooting two people in a street in Lahore, Pakistan, was arrested by the Pakistani police. Davis’s story is more thoroughly examined throughout the book and serves as an example of this new style of waging war that Mazzetti is talking about.
Davis was a private contractor working for the CIA, but when he was caught the government was reluctant to admit that. Everyone in America, including President Obama, at first denied to the Pakistani government that Davis was anything other than a diplomat, even though he had killed men and had photos on his phone of Pakistani military installations, taken surreptitiously.
Finally, the CIA was forced to admit that Davis was working for them, if they ever wanted to get him out of jail. After paying $2.34 million in “blood money” to Davis’s victims to release Davis from jail, the CIA snuck him out of Pakistan and back to America.
Mazzetti uses the Raymond Davis story to clearly show the change of the CIA from a purely intelligence gathering organization to a killing machine, one that does not hesitate to outsource some of its tasks to private contractors. Not only individual contractors like Davis but also large corporations like Blackwater are used in the CIA’s quest for blood.
The CIA, which was once banned, and technically still is, from assassination now carries out frequent drone strikes, approved of by the president, both George W. Bush and in more recent years Obama, for America’s shadow wars. Obama has actually ramped up the number of drone strikes in the past few years because he views using drones, in Mazzetti’s words, as a “lower risk, lower cost alternative to the messy wars of occupation.”
The Way of the Knife describes in detail the CIA’s drone wars, including information about its headquarters at secretive Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada.
This place that not many Americans know of is where, soon after 9/11, early Predator test pilots began to experiment with a new way of warfare that would become the basis of America’s killing operations overseas.
Now some pilots still do training missions at Creech with the Predators and Raptors, increasing their skill levels by tracking civilian cars and trucks driving along the desolate roads.
But the majority of the pilots at Creech are busy fighting a war thousands of miles away. They are fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and North Africa. They are flying their drones under direct kill orders from the White House.
At the edge of this Nevada base is a sign that sums up the activities within, “CREECH AFB: HOME OF THE HUNTERS”.
The Way of the Knife examines everything in this past decade of shadow wars. It looks at the CIA, which was originally created as a Cold War espionage service, but is now more like a paramilitary agency that is used to kill off America’s enemies around the globe.
It also examines the military that has taken up some of the CIA’s old tasks.
For example, special operation troops like the one that killed Osama bin Laden. This new way of fighting is viewed, and championed, in Washington as a more “clean and surgical way of conflict”.
The book shows the reader a Pentagon that has been exponentially growing its spy missions everywhere in the past few years.
There are ups and downs to these new definitions of these powerful organizations. Sometimes, like the raid on Osama bin Laden, they were perfectly coordinated and incredibly useful. But sometimes, in cases that Mazzetti covers with much more depth and detail, they have failed miserably.
Throughout the book Mazzetti tracks an incredible cast of characters, from a former CIA officer working in the tribal areas, to a Pentagon official running an “off-the-books” spy organization and butting heads with the CIA, to a Virginia socialite that the Pentagon hired to gather information about militants in Somalia.
It’s obvious to the reader the amount of effort and time that Mazzetti took to find all of the evidence and data and stories contained in the book.
The Way of the Knife is simply a good read due to Mazzetti’s skillful storytelling, but on a more important note it is also incredibly well researched and enlightening, a must read for every American.