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By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism — From Al Qa’ida to ISIS by Michael Morell, with Bill Harlow; Twelve (384 pages, $28)

In his book The Great War of Our Time, former CIA deputy Director Michael Morell explains the blunder that led to Saddam Hussein being deposed and sent him into hiding in a spider hole.

Hussein, Morell writes, had overestimated the U.S. intelligence-gathering capability.

The Iraqi dictator wanted to maintain the bluff that he had weapons of mass destruction to keep “his number one enemy,” Iran, at bay. His mistake was in assuming U.S. intelligence would realize he did not have WMDs and would “eventually lower the (economic) sanctions and, more important, not attack him.”

Among the other nuggets in Morell’s book, subtitled The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism — From Al Qa’ida to ISIS, is this: Once captured, Hussein grew a beard because he thought it would help him flirt with the nurses. Again, a miscalculation.

For three decades, Morell worked at the CIA, rising to acting director before retiring in 2013; he is now a national-security correspondent for CBS News. He briefed Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He was, in CIA lingo, “read into” the top issues of the day, putting him inside “the circle of knowledge.”

The book was vetted by the CIA. Do not expect blockbuster secrets. Or a tough-minded analysis of the agency. Morell’s self-description is that he’s a “Midwestern straight-arrow.”

His analysis of the presidents is standard stuff. Bush was decisive if a bit impetuous. He quotes the commander-in-chief swearing during a briefing: “F*ck diplomacy. We are going to war.”

Obama, Morell said, is thoughtful and cordial but slow to make a decision: “…the president also had a way of making decisions that satisfied competing factions among his national security team.”

Morell is less enamored of former Vice President Dick Cheney, his aide Scooter Libby, former CIA Director Porter Goss and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. But even then, his criticism remains low-key.

Much of the book is designed to set the record straight on how pre-Iraq war intelligence got messed up and what happened the night of the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, when the U.S. ambassador and three U.S. personnel were killed and a U.S. diplomatic facility destroyed.

Point by point, Morell takes on the critics, particularly in regard to the accusation that the CIA and White House tried to spin the story with false “talking points” for political purposes. “No committee of Congress that has studied Benghazi,” he declares, “has come to this conclusion.”

Indeed, Morell insists, only one CIA judgment, made within 24 hours of the incident, has proved wrong: the conclusion that the attack was a protest that went violent, not a planned assault.

“CIA should stay out of the talking-point business,” Morell suggests, “especially on issues that are being seized upon for political purposes.”

Still, it is doubtful The Great War will silence those who question the CIA, Presidents Bush and Obama, and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Within days of the book being published, Morell took to Politico with an essay: “Debunking the Benghazi Myths: It’s Clear Pundits Don’t Understand Intelligence Work.”

On the question of how Osama bin Laden was able to escape from the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, Morell writes that, “The forces that would have been necessary to box him in, to keep him from fleeing over the border into Pakistan, had simply not been there.”

Other accounts give a different version: that there were sufficient forces there, or close by, including Marines from Camp Pendleton who were at Kandahar, but that an order came from higher authority for the U.S. to back off and let the Afghans take over. If Morell knows anything about this, he’s not telling.

Morell joined the CIA out of college and never stopped being impressed by the organization and its people. CIA employees are “the finest public servants” he knows. CIA analysts are a “terrific group.” That CIA employees drove back to work after the 9/11 attacks was “stunningly patriotic.”

Even the Christmas party at CIA headquarters comes in for praise, particularly during the tenure of Leon Panetta: “If you are in the national security business, it is the place to be. People arrive early and stay late.”

His respect for his former employer aside, Morell admits that the agency was wrong to let then-Secretary of State Colin Powell go to the United Nations with assertions about Hussein and WMDs that were at most estimations, not slam-dunks: “…CIA and the broader intelligence community clearly failed him and the American public.”

In passing, Morell mentions tension between the CIA and the National Security Agency and between CIA station chiefs abroad and the analysts back at Langley, Va. More on that would have been welcome.

More insightful books on the CIA have been and will be written. But an insider’s view, even one with such a mild tone, is a good addition, particularly for those of us not in the “circle of knowledge.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.