Former Deputy Director of the CIA Richard Kerr has found a way to demystify the CIA and make it seem interesting and human. Unclassified is his memoir of the many years he spent at the Central Intelligence Agency, beginning at the young age of 25 as an analyst. It was 1960, in the era of President Eisenhower, just after the U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down, and shortly before the Bay of Pigs incident, to put things into historical perspective. The amount of history he lived through as part of this agency is astounding, yet he makes the book friendly and easy to read. At times, I had to stop and realize that the words I was reading came from this once powerful and influential man who is still highly respected.
The stories he relays are not classified information (thus, the book’s title) but they are very much an inside look at some of our country’s most pivotal moments. He served under presidents from Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush, meaning he was very much present during the time of the Vietnam War, the Iranian oil crisis and the taking of hostages, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the troubles in Northern Ireland, to name but a few. And even after his 1992 retirement, he was involved in other projects, including assessing the pros and cons of a war with Iraq in 2001.
Mr. Kerr shares a humorous story about J. Edgar Hoover, insight on how each president preferred their briefings, and even a couple of slightly less favorable opinions about Admiral “Red” Raborn, Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Trump, though it’s all done in a tasteful way. A very telling chapter titled Colleagues gives great insight into what some of his colleagues thought about Kerr, and it’s clear he was very much admired in the CIA and beyond.
What’s charming is that, in spite of the positions he held, culminating as Deputy Director of the CIA, he was still humble and down-to-Earth. He talks of feeling like he was living in the film “Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington”, and never ceased to be amazed when he went to the West Wing and had the chance to look at the pictures there. What’s refreshing, and should be, in this reviewer’s opinion, the motto of those in Washington, D.C. to this day, is the fact that he says whenever he was told by White House officials that he was not being supportive enough of “the President’s policy”, he responded that the best support he could give the President was by giving an “unvarnished presentation of facts.” He says that even today, when asked if he worked for the government, he says, “No, I worked for the CIA.”
The book is an easy read and a refreshing look at history by the man who says that in his opinion, the best job in Washington, D.C. is being the Deputy Director of the CIA. Thank you for your service, Mr. Kerr, and for this book that readers of all types would enjoy.