The Ghosts of Langley

Into the CIA's Heart of Darkness

From the writer Kai Bird calls a “wonderfully accessible historian,” the first major history of the CIA in a decade, published to tie in with the seventieth anniversary of the agency’s founding

“Anyone who writes on the history of the CIA without taking into account Prados will be missing his cue.”
—Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. on Prados’s Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA

During his first visit to Langley, the CIA’s Virginia headquarters, President Donald Trump told those gathered, “I am so behind you . . . there’s nobody I respect more, ” hinting that he was going to put more CIA operations officers into the field so the CIA could smite its enemies ever more forcefully. But while Trump was making these promises, behind the scenes the CIA was still reeling from blowback from the very tactics that Trump touted—including secret overseas prisons and torture—that it had resorted to a decade earlier during President George W. Bush’s war on terror. Under the latest regime it seemed that the CIA was doomed to repeat its past failures rather than put its house in order.

The Ghosts of Langley is a provocative and panoramic new history of the Central Intelligence Agency that relates the agency’s current predicament to its founding and earlier years, telling the story of the agency through the eyes of key figures in CIA history, including some of its most troubling covert actions around the world. It reveals how the agency, over seven decades, has resisted government accountability, going rogue in a series of highly questionable ventures that reach their apotheosis with the secret overseas prisons and torture programs of the war on terror.

Drawing on mountains of newly declassified documents, the celebrated historian of national intelligence John Prados throws fresh light on classic agency operations from Poland to Hungary, from Indonesia to Iran-Contra, and from the Bay of Pigs to Guantánamo Bay. The halls of Langley, Prados persuasively argues, echo with the footsteps of past spymasters, to the extent that it resembles a haunted house. Indeed, every day that the militarization of the CIA increases, the agency drifts further away from classic arts of espionage and intelligence analysis—and its original mission, while pushing dangerously beyond accountability.

The Ghosts of Langley will be essential reading for anyone who cares about the next phase of American history—and the CIA’s evolution—as its past informs its future and a president of impulsive character prods the agency toward new scandals and failures.



“John Prados, who knows more than anyone else about the CIA, has written a book that summarizes four decades of his research and relates a tale that is always gripping, often dismaying, frequently infuriating, and suddenly more timely than ever.”
“John Prados is a one-man truth commission who wants to know three things—what the United States really wanted, really feared and really did in the world since the birth of the CIA in 1947. His latest book, The Ghosts of Langley, offers a deep look into that history. His purpose is not to attack or to defend but to confront what we know—and what we know, in Prados’s telling, is plenty.”
—Thomas Powers, author of The Man Who Kept Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA and The Killing of Crazy Horse
“A riveting highlight reel of the CIA’s greatest hits—and misses—over seven decades. Prados proves again that he is among America’s greatest chroniclers of secret intelligence.”
—Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA and Enemies: A History of the FBI
“‘Know thy enemy’ is a mantra in the world of intelligence—which is why every CIA officer should read John Prados. The Ghosts of Langley is a relentless portrait of the Agency, crafted with vivid stories about its zealots, its ignored heroes and celebrated schemers. Prados has been writing about intelligence for three decades and now synthesizes his knowledge into a history not to be ignored.”
—Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer and executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City
“Writing with characteristic verve and passion and exploiting his unsurpassed expertise, John Prados has produced an account of the CIA’s origin, evolution, and behavior certain to engage and inform scholars, practitioners, and general readers. By focusing on individuals—the ‘great, the good, and the misguided,’ he brings the agency’s checkered history to life and ties it inextricably to the present.”

Books by John Prados

The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War

John Prados

The White House Tapes
Eavesdropping on the President

John Prados

Goodreads Reviews