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Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  942 ratings  ·  137 reviews
In this hard-hitting memoir, Fred Burton, a key figure in international counterterrorism and domestic spycraft, emerges from the shadows to reveal who he is, what he has accomplished, and the threats that lurk unseen except by an experienced, worldly-wise few. Plunging readers into the murky world of violent religious extremism that spans the streets of Middle Eastern citi ...more
hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 3rd 2008 by Random House (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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Feb 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Ghost had some interesting contents. For people who have read espionage 'nonfiction' there will be things everyone's read several times -- discussions of dead drops, brush passes, surveillance and evasion. There's a couple of intriguing passages that I haven't read anywhere else -- especially speculation about the death/assassination of Zia in Pakistan. And the book brings back a lot of memories about how we viewed terrorism in the 80s.

However, the book is short, and quite short on details, whi
Where to begin with this book?

Fascinating content, candid description of how a the US counter-terrorism portion of the diplomatic service originally had 3 overworked agent, 2 of them fresh out of training. Interesting anecdotes about the writer's career.

However, two huge flaws:
(1) Cluttered writing
The author repeats himself ad nauseum - the type of warm jacket he wears, the car he drives, the fact that he sees the world as black and white and the nature of his work is shades of gray.

(2) No narra
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Author Fred Burton reveals the sinister realities of the global counterterrorism game in a very serious, readable, unpretentious way. The book is devoid of the ego-tripping and grandstanding that a lot of these memoirs suffer from (i.e. books like "Jawbreaker" etc.).

I wasn't expecting tales of hair-raising takedowns of terrorists in some Beirut slum or gun battles with Iranian agents in some Middle Eastern embassy, so if you're some ignorant film junkie who thinks that's what counterterrorism is
Jan 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Written by one of the founding agents of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service’s (DSS) Counter-terrorism Division, this memoir reveals the shadowy contours of global terrorism and its shift from state sponsored attacks to the more decentralized activities of the Al-Qaeda network. Fred Burton provides a window into the working life of a professional field agent attempting to navigate these turbulent waters from their success taking down the first World Trade Centre bomber, or th ...more
Zach Vaughn
Fred Burton was a counterterrorism agent for the Diplomatic Security Service and was involved in investigating some of the worst acts of terrorism in U.S. history from 1986 to 1995.

In Ghost, he recounts three specific investigations: the Lebanon hostage crisis (later revealed as part of the Iran-Contra scandal), the bombing of PAK-1 which lead to the death of Pakistani President Zia, the Lockerbie bombing, and the hunt for Ramzi Yousef - mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and othe
Christian Barraza
Aug 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
At first the premise for the book seemed appealing. Hearing about the life of a counterterrorism agent directly from the source seemed appealing. Like all books written by intelligence officers, it is understood that certain things just cannot be said or talked about for fear of it affecting current operations. This is a real story after all. Still, I jumped at the chance to read it not really sure what to expect. What I got was a bit dissapointing. It's intriguing to see what the author goes th ...more
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent insight into a murky field

You may not be familiar with the state department DSS AND that’s exactly the way that they want it. This was an excellent book that is well written and that offers a lot of insights into the world prior to September 11, 2001. I highly recommend it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Brian Eshleman
Feb 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book as a reminder that trouble with terrorism did not start on 9/11 and that self-sacrificing heroes, known and unknown, are used for the security we can so easily take for granted. Looking at this world through the author's eyes, I think this book is somewhat impacted by his stiff personality and at least slight trend toward self-aggrandizement. At least the occasional Kennedyesque self-deprecation that he took his job seriously and not himself would have gone a long way.

The sec
Jul 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
I read it all the way through because I'm really curious about the human equation in the world of the spook. I learned little of any depth, so don't expect an exposé. No depth of feeling or learning by the author.
Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Snippets of activities covering Fred Burtons career as a counter terrorism agent. Many of the stories are familiar, some are not. None are covered extensively, so to me it was more of an overview of the areas his agency dealt with.
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fred Burton, former spy & agent is very informative, touching, frightening & comforting. Reader, Tom Weiner, is clear, a rarity for deep voices. Recommended. ©2008 ...more
Mar 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
Cool story, too bad it was embellished to make him look cool. Poser.
Interesting but hated the way it was written.. How many different ways can you say the same damn thing?!
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: terrorism, spies
The reality of the book is perhaps a little less no-holds-barred than the hyperbole above would suggest. Non the less interesting, bordering on the fascinating, but not quite as 'explosive' as I'm sure his publishers wanted it to appear. If that was because he left stuff out, that's certainly quite possible, or that's because I'm just a modern cynic, I'm not really sure. Though, quite what I would expect to be told, to make me feel it was 'no-holds-barred' I can't define either.

His writing style
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
I enjoyed this memoir. Perhaps it is because I am about the same age as Burton so it was interesting to read about a peer’s life that was so vastly different than my own.

I remember all of the terror events that Burton described but he added background to give them meaning and depth. It was worthwhile reading about the beginnings of the anti terrorism movement in the US and the learning curve they went through to develop into the massive anti terrorism machine that exists today across multiple go
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
I am grateful for the author's service and his details in reporting his life as a "spook". I just found the narrative to be a bit heavy-handed and braggadocious. It was interesting and entertaining nonetheless - and it covered areas of time in my childhood where I failed to realize the gravity of the political scene (think Reagan and Bush 1 eras) - and how the world was (and still is, unfortunately), a hot-bed of potential and devastating disasters, kidnappings, bombings, and destruction. Gratef ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
It is so much fun to read a book that you can’t put down. Unfortunately, Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent by Fred Burton is NOT one of these books. This book reads like it was written by a 5th grader for 5th graders. Burton’s exposé is as deep as a mud puddle. I thought it would be interesting to explore the life of a counterterrorism agent. And I think it would be interesting if the writer knew how to write. There is plenty of embellishment in this book. A dime store detective nov ...more
Oct 04, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're interested in the counter-terrorism world, then this book is enjoyable. Listened to the audiobook for this one and it's good. Feels like listening to an experienced older guy telling stories of his life. One thing that kinda annoys me though is the over-use (in my opinion) of the words, "the dark world". But it's good to know about the workings behind the scenes in the US government when there are major crises happening.
Emily Mcauliffe
Sep 08, 2019 rated it liked it
So I’m currently obsessed with “The Americans” on Prime Video, which has me obsessed with learning more about real-world spycraft. This one - focused on counterterrorism efforts in the 80s and 90s - is accessible and conversational, and a fast, quick read. Enlightening and terrifying to learn how much global terrorism is thwarted behind the scenes, and how little truth likely gets out.
Todd Gade
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting look into the Counterterrorism efforts of the 80's and 90's. I was hoping for a little more information on actual historical events rather than a biography of an agent. However, that being said it was good nonetheless and shows development of Counterterrorism efforts pre-9/11.
Joshua Lawson
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book offers an interesting look into the world of counter-terrorism via the early days of the DSS, but it was redundant and not very well-written. I appreciate Fred Burton's perspective, but it wasn't quite what I was hoping for.
Michael Delaware
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly eye opening book into the events of history that most people have never heard of. A fascinating journey into the dark world of counterterrorism and espionage. A must read.
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book was interesting. It starts off strong, but somewhat tails off during the middle.
Craig Mccracken
Feb 19, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a good book but considering the time frame that it spans, it could have spoken to some of the failures in counterterrorism that led to 9/11.
Xavier Shay
Obvious written by a non-writer, if you can get past that it's an interesting enough look into early counter-terrorism efforts.
Robert Cook
Nov 03, 2019 rated it liked it
recommended by Dolly (from Glenn) interesting book about counterterrorism but very boring, too much fluff. I quit about 50 pages from the end.
Andrew Luce
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great read about real world historical diplomatic investigations.
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Found this book as really interesting story about counter-terrorism before 09/11. It helps people of new generation to understand that the world has been already struggling with terrorism for long long time. It has also very decent espionage atmosphere for nonfiction literature you can feel very well climate of 80's.
I recommend this position also as audiobook read by Tom Weiner.
Mark Young
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11 when we came under attack. That moment in history will never be forgotten. Everything changed for America—and the world—on that day. The devastation hurled upon us by nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists was an act of war. Tragically, counterterrorism experts around the world knew terrorists would try to strike like this. Agents also knew they might not be able stop it. They were right.

Most of us will never know how many times potential tragedies like the World
Feb 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
If you want to read an exaggerated work of fiction derived from the author's wet dreams, feel free to pick this up.

Counterterrorism agent? What does that mean? Oh wait, nothing. Because it's a nonexistent role the author made up for himself.

This guy was an Agency wannabe who suffered from some sort of professional identity crisis. He was not an intelligence officer or a spook - but he clearly pretended (pretends?) to be one.

A huge steaming pile of crap written by a total weirdo.
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