Think of him as the spymaster who came in from the cold. Well, it wasn’t actually so cold out there. After all, Robert Gates was on innumerable corporate boards and the President of Texas A & M University (which, not coincidentally, houses the library, presidential papers, and museum of George H. W. Bush under whom he served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency). But after two dozen years in the CIA and on the National Security Council, after a career which touched (or more than touched) on just about every great foreign policy event in Washington’s world from the final days of the Vietnam War and the great Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union to the Central American wars of Ronald Reagan, the Iran-Contra Affair, the Afghan anti-Soviet war, and so much else, he was out of Washington and in hibernation until James Baker’s Iraq Study Group called him back. Then, of course, he was picked by George W. Bush as the replacement for the disastrous reign of error of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Gates has, it seems, returned to Washington with a quiet vengeance and evidently with all those skills acquired in his rough-and-tumble years in the intelligence bureaucracy still intact. In practically no time at all, he purged the Defense Department of its leftover neocon civilians, and at every crisis has inserted his own choices in positions of influence — as secretary of the army, as Centcom commander, and most recently, in place of Rumsfeld’s man, Marine General Peter Pace, as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (His emphasis has been on Navy men to replace the discredited Army leadership of the Rumsfeld years.) It’s quite a record so far for a man who represented — until the neocons boarded the ship of state — more than three decades of the imperial Washington Consensus.

Now, at a moment that couldn’t be more crucial, Gates and his "inheritance" get their due, thanks to Roger Morris, a member of the National Security Council Senior Staff under Presidents Johnson and Nixon (he resigned in protest over the invasion of Cambodia) and bestselling author of biographies of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and the Clintons. Over the next week, the website will offer not just a portrait of the real Robert Gates, but a full-scale, yet miraculously concise, always surprising, history of American "intelligence" (for which read: global covert action and covert intervention). Morris, who previously offered a striking two-part portrait of Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department at this site (The Undertaker’s Tally, parts 1 and 2), now offers the Gates legacy, which is really the legacy of mainstream Washington, the globe’s imperial capital for this last half-century-plus.

The Gates Inheritance will be posted in three parts this week and, long as it is, it’s actually a marvel of compression, packing into a relatively modest space an epic history of mayhem none of us should avoid — a grim history that led to September 11th, 2001 and now leads us into an unknown, increasingly perilous future. Think of it as a necessary reckoning with disaster.