Picks and Pans Review: Veil: the Secret Wars of the Cia 1981-1987

updated 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Bob Woodward

By now we all know the story of how ace reporter Bob Woodward sneaked into the hospital bedroom of dying CIA Director William Casey and extracted Casey's oblique admission that he knew about the contra funds diversion. Or do we? And we know that Casey set up the contract-assassination attempt on the terrorist Hizballah leader Sheik Fadlallah, who had been linked to the bombings of our embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut. We do know these things, don't we? The truth is, we don't know squat. Not for smoking-gun certainty. We hear bedroom whispers that Libya's Muammar Gaddafi liked to wear women's clothes. We have Woodward's word that Casey thought Ronald Reagan slothful and dull witted. But, despite its ring of truth, this book glistens with something like a fictional polish, which, as former Deputy CIA Chief Bobby Inman has said, makes "everything just a couple of degrees more colorful than it really was." Woodward glides through the Casey years with a sure voice, a telling anecdote. A reader can never be certain whether any given passage is the result of Woodward's legwork or Casey's muddying hand—maybe his backhand in some cases. Disinformation and confusion were, after all, Casey's true legacy. Were there more than four dozen meetings between muckraker and rakee, as Woodward claims, or were there just chance meetings on the cocktail-party circuit? "We went back down to the den and set up two chairs in front of the television set," writes Woodward of a dinner at Casey's home on Oct. 27, 1983, two days after Grenada, four days after the Marine barracks bombing, as they await President Reagan's television address. " 'What about Afghanistan, how was the war going?' ...Casey frowned. The Soviets will overpower and wear down the rebels,' he said." It is impossible now to determine what is skillful investigative reporting, what is journalistic embellishment. It is, nonetheless, hard not to want to pull up that third chair and listen in, no matter who is disinforming whom. (Simon and Schuster, $21.95)

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