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John Rizzo
Company Man: Thirty Years of Crisis and Controversy in the CIA
Scribner / Simon & Schuster
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-451-67393-7
Publication Date: 01-07-2014
336 Pages ; $28.00
Date Reviewed: 01-27-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Non-Fiction

John Rizzo wastes no words and no time in 'Company Man: Thirty Years of Crisis and Controversy in the CIA.' The introduction to the book is "The Tale of the "Torture" Tapes." It's 2010 and readers are given perfect hindsight as Rizzo recounts how the tapes came to be both created and destroyed. We see this all through his lawyerly eyes, and no matter how heinous the acts described, or how egregious and terrifying the decisions made are to us as readers, we experience a curious sense of duality.

Reading lets the reader be two people at once; themselves, reading the book, and, especially in the case of non-fiction, the storyteller. We walk a mile or more in their shoes. In 'Company Man,' John Rizzo puts us persuasively in his perspective, with the result that we come to sympathize with the decisions he made in his 30 years as a lawyer for the CIA. 'Company Man' is a fascinating history of the CIA, a collection of toe-tapping spy stories and a terrorizing descent down a slippery slope.

Of course, there are a raft full of right-now reasons to read this book. While Rizzo was at the heart of much of the unfortunate skullduggery that unfolded at the CIA's behest over the last thirty years, the fact that the so-called "torture memos" were addressed to him, and written at his request, makes the revelations found here newsworthy. Suffice it to say that the dirt is dug up and if you're looking for the Unhappy Truth, you'll find it here in spades, sans handwringing or apologies. Black sites, waterboarding, deprivation, all the horrors are here, vetted, of course, by the CIA.

But it's easy, and best, to my mind, to read this book as it is mostly told and written; a history of the CIA over the past thirty years told by a lawyer who enters at the bottom and exits at the top, not in the best of circumstances. John Rizzo has a lot of stories to tell, and does so with verve. Once we get past the scarifying entrée, Rizzo ratchets back to his beginnings at the CIA and sets the scene and an important tone.

The notion of duality enters early into the narrative and never really leaves. Rizzo as a young man found himself in a job that involved some of the most exciting stories and experiences one could imagine; meetings with crufty Russian spies and the crafting of the paperwork system to document presidential permission and knowledge of covert activities. This is all heady stuff, the back-office world of James Bond, and while Rizzo is living it, it's something he can't talk about, often even to the people in the CIA. When he walked into the church-like world of the CIA, Rizzo in effect became two people, and stayed that way.

There's a lot of humor to be found in this book, if you can get past the outrage you may feel. The way Rizzo tells the story, the CIA goes through a constant churn of shooting itself in the foot and then having to own up publicly to the consequences — until it's needed again. Anyone who reads spy novels or political thrillers will find the real-life version of both in this book, and feel well-served by the author. Rizzo's voice is fascinating, and he does not spare himself. For example, he was in a sort of CIA sabbatical while William Casey and Oliver North were cooking up what we'd eventually Iran-Contra. Rizzo, who had been nowhere near the action, ended up as the point man for the CIA in the Congressional hearings to follow. But he admits that had he been in the mix, he probably would have helped things along.

'Company Man' concludes with the sordid tales of our post-terror world, and Rizzo's story become increasingly complex as his career stalls but his responsibility does not. Being inside the mind of the man who found himself faced with unimaginably terrible choices is a fascinating, if uncomfortable reading experience. The morality of it all is at best murky. But Rizzo's writing also feel authentic. You may not like the events described here, and many of the decision makers, even Rizzo, don't fare well. But this is a big, important story, covering many years of our country's secret history. It's told well; it's gripping and intense and feels like the truth. Rizzo has a knack for turning events into story, for bypassing hysteria and discovering history.

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