Last month, the author, a Times reporter, broke, with his colleague Eric Lichtblau, the story of President Bush’s authorization of warrantless domestic wiretapping by the N.S.A., in apparent defiance of Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This account doesn’t go much beyond what has been in the Times—indeed, follow-ups have overtaken it—but Risen offers a useful perspective on what the C.I.A. has been doing since September 11th, and some devastating summary judgments. In the Bush years, Risen writes, “no other institution failed in its mission as completely.” George Tenet, the director, pandered to Bush and to Donald Rumsfeld; the agency passed on weapons intelligence that many knew was bad; the abuse of prisoners became accepted. But the main leadership failure Risen sees is that of the President, who, he writes, got from the C.I.A. no more than what he asked for.
This explosive little book opens with a scene that is at once amazing and yet not surprising: President Bush angrily hanging up the phone on his father, who "was disturbed that his son was allowing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and a cadre of neoconservative ideologues to exert broad influence over foreign policy." The colorful anecdote is symptomatic of State of War. It is riveting, anonymously sourced and feels slightly overdramatized, but it has the odious smell of truth.
The New York Times Book Review
While Mr. Risen's revelations about the N.S.A. take up only a chapter in State of War, they are the dramatic high point in an illuminating and disturbing book focusing on the Bush administration's use - and perhaps misuse - of power over the past four years. It is a record, Mr. Risen says, that has even caused protests by Mr. Bush's father, former President George H. W. Bush. Mr. Risen writes of a conversation between the two in 2003 in which the current president "angrily hung up the telephone." … obtaining details on an eavesdropping program as secret as the one discussed in State of War is a monumental job of reporting - especially when it is later confirmed by the president himself.
The New York Times
Risen has written a short and at times disjointed book packed with startling stories, a number of which appear to be true. It reflects the view that the intelligence community's mission was undermined by Bill Clinton's indifference, a readiness to sacrifice deep research to superficial reportage, a failure to acquire reliable agents in key countries, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet's desire to stay too close to the Bush administration, and, finally, the collapse of standards and safeguards in the readiness to facilitate torture and domestic spying. Risen provides new examples of the shoddiness of the analytic work on Iraq and its interaction with the administration's erroneous rationale and botched occupation. There is also some intriguing material on Iran and Saudi Arabia, the veracity of which is hard to determine. This is the sort of book that focuses on the "secret history" without bothering to explain the known history that would provide context, and Risen is so enamored with anonymous sources from the intelligence community that he does not acknowledge those who have already written well on these topics or consider how their evidence fits with his.
"Domestic spying, demands for political loyalty in the name of national security, investigating a newspaper's sources: With State of War, the Nixonian déjà vu can give a reader whiplash."
The Dallas Morning News
"Risen's book is really about the secret of many things that have gone wrong in the administration of George W. Bush. The quantity, and apparent quality, of the secrets revealed in State of War distinguishes Risen's book from its competitors. What it represents is a profound hemorrhaging of information from within the corridors of secret power in Washington.... Risen becomes the mouthpiece for a U.S. intelligence community anxious to unburden itself of the mistakes and misdeeds of the recent past. He has not one, but many 'Deep Throats.'"
Toronto Globe and Mail
"Illuminating and disturbing...a monumental job of reporting."
The New York Times
"Explosive.... James Risen may have become the new Woodward and Bernstein.... Fast paced, quite mesmerizing, colorful, and fascinating."
The New York Times Book Review
"Damning and dismaying...As a national security reporter for the New York Times, Risen has produced some of this era's best journalism on the Central Intelligence Agency and the dysfunctional relationship between the White House and the U.S. spy community.... As one of the Washington press corps' best reporters on national security issues, Risen has a record of being right.... State of War is a welcome reminder that American journalism has a higher purpose than shallow pandering to the lowest pop-cultural denominator. Somewhere, beyond celebrity, there are issues and ideas that matter. James Risen's book is an urgent contribution to the country's common good by a skillful and courageous reporter."
Los Angeles Times