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See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
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See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  4,755 ratings  ·  318 reviews
In his explosive New York Times bestseller, top CIA operative Robert Baer paints a chilling picture of how terrorism works on the inside and provides startling evidence of how Washington politics sabotaged the CIA’s efforts to root out the world’s deadliest terrorists, allowing for the rise of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and the continued entrenchment of Saddam Hussein in ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 7th 2003 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2002)
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J.M. Hushour I wouldn't use the word "loosely" so much as "hardly at all". Baer's book focuses on his long and lively career in the CIA with a focus on his work in…moreI wouldn't use the word "loosely" so much as "hardly at all". Baer's book focuses on his long and lively career in the CIA with a focus on his work in Beirut during the early 1980s and Central Asia and Iraq in the 90s. You won't find much familiar here from the movie. There are a few concluding chapters where Baer begins to dip into shady American oil politics (including some tasty bits where a Middle East oilman casually mentions shunting millions of Russian dollars into Clinton's election campaign). This was changed into a different scenario in the movie, as you can tell.
What in the movie is true? That's a difficult question to answer. Stephen Gaghan, the director of the movie met Baer and traveled to a lot of the places thinly disguised in the film, and was obviously influenced by a lot of what he learned and saw and people he met. Circling back to your original question, I don't see much of that in Baer's book. My copy says "The True Story that Suggested the major motion picture..." so maybe that's an easy way of saying it.(less)
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Tom LA
Jun 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting bits of CIA spy reality, some great descriptions of exciting moments in the field, and some (outdated) insight into the real work of an American spy. I enjoyed the book and found it inspiring at times, but oh my, this book is a mess!

It's a mess from the point of view of the structure, that seems to follow the author's career chronologically, but it really doesn't (initially it does, but then later it becomes a description of his thoughts and investigations). Also, I found some parts
Mar 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Baer cheated death several times during his work around the globe gathering information for the U. S. Government. Even he is surprised to have made it to a stage in life where he is one of the few experts on terrorism that CNN can rely on for first hand knowledge of events occurring in the hot spots of the world like Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Russia. An insider's look at the CIA, how it operates, how it deteriorated at the end of the 20th century and its changing profile since 9/11, is my t ...more
Will Byrnes
Baer was a bona fide spook, a case officer placed in many of the hottest spots in the world. He is outraged at the failure of intelligence that allowed a 9/11 to happen, and goes into why it was possible for that to have occurred. Baer theorizes that there is indeed a strong relationship between Arafat, AL-Qaeda, Iranian fundamentalists and the other terrorist entities of the region. He talks about the massive decline in human intelligence (humint) as the US seemed to have mostly gotten out of t ...more
J.M. Hushour
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading for Americans bothered to care about such things and who think they know what they're talking about. It would be hard to argue with Baer's conclusions since, well, he was intimately involved in them. This is as much a critique of current American intelligence policy as it is a series of pastiches highlighting Baer's own work in the CIA, mostly in Beirut and Central Asia. Baer details for us the slow collapse and malingering catastrophe of an increasingly politiciz ...more
Sean Sullivan
Aug 18, 2007 rated it liked it
For those of you who have seen Syriana, Clooney's character is allegedly based on Baer. But what I got out of this book was not the story of a good solider who believed in democracy and was thwarted by dark forces in Washington. Instead, I got the story of a C.I.A. cowboy who most likely did more harm than good in the region and was thwarted in his attempts at further meddling in the Middle East by the incompetence of the suits at Langley.

This books isn't Syriana. Its a memoir of one operatives
Jun 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
One of the best sources I've read regarding how CIA/NCS HUMINT operations actually work(ed in the 80s-90s). The book can get fairly inside baseball with the exacting attention to detail when it comes to familial and social connections of various terrorists, Mideast politicians/generals/sheikhs/imams/etc. and CIA-run agents in the theaters in which Baer operated, but the intertwining lines that Baer draws between all these figures (in order to illustrate his investigations into the 1983 Beirut em ...more
Mar 26, 2008 rated it liked it
The source book for George Clooney's Syriana. Baer's account is remarkable for revealing all that's wrong with the arrogant mind-set of a country that believes it has the right to interfere with the internal affairs of its neighbors. ...more
David Baer
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
The second of two audio books I got for a 16-hr drive. Out of all the possibilities in the library, I picked this one because the author's last name jumped out at me (me), and also because I've seen him quite a bit on CNN.

I really liked his narration of his early years and inculcation to the CIA. This bit was an undemanding and fast-paced personal story. When we got past his India stint and into the Middle-East years, things got heavier.

This is a serious book by a serious dude. One thing that he
Apr 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Anyone who saw the movie "Syriana" has some idea of the book. Bob Baer is a solid voice of reason in our chaotic war on terror. And he has told it how he saw it on the ground. The deemphasis of solid, human-to-human intelligence has left the U.S. at it's weakest and September 11th only proved it. Bob Baer's excellent critique in this very brief memoir has layed open what the community was when he joined, and then how it devolved into what it is now.

I usually do not get off on political ax-grind
Tom Schulte
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have seen and enjoyed Baer as a talking head on cable news. That got my interest and I came to see him as really not in the stereotypical spy mold when I read The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story. Here he really has a screed against the CIA and a leadership and gov't (NSC, especially) cowed by big business putting profit above national security. Incompetence is a real prominent thread: "...a headquarters staffed with officers [who] so badly misidentified the Chinese emba ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book was the basis for the film “Syriana”. If you think that must mean it is just as good as the movie was - you’re wrong.
Of course Baer’s prime qualification is not being a good writer, but being an ex-CIA officer who is a writer. That doesn’t make this book any more readable though. It does at times smell a little conspiratorial, and it is definitely not especially self-reflected. A not uninteresting read, but unless you really want to get into the nitty gritty of international politics
Marius van Blerck
May 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
An excellent real-life narrative of life as a CIA operative in the decades leading to 9/11. You can't miss Bob Baer's message, since he repeats it so often, on the importance of on-the-ground operatives for intelligence, rather than relying on high-tech means alone. He also has interesting insights into the political correctness that paralysed the CIA after the Iran contra affair. I experienced this tale as an audiobook, superbly narrated by Sean Barrett. Man, is this Barrett guy good or what! ...more
Mar 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
I got this because I thought it would shed more light on the movie, Syriana. It did not at all. I'm still not sure how that movie was based on this book. But I still love both the movie and the book. The book is a real account of working with the CIA. Fascinating stuff. You have to read it fairly quickly because there are so many names to keep straight. ...more
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
An excellent book written by a former CIA agent who has been there. The thing I liked about his writing and his story is that he doesn't take himself too seriously, has a sense of humor, and does (did) his job very well. ...more
Oct 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Interesting view of a CIA operative and his work. Shows a different view of the mid-east than I expected. Not hard to read.
Leroy G
May 30, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars - 5/10

This book is about the true story of a ground soldier in the CIA's war on terrorism, go figure. While the book had some interesting parts, it just wasn't really for me. Me being a European that has no real interest in the technical nitty-gritty practices of the CIA, found this book to be pretty boring. Not that what was happening wasn't interesting, it's just filled with abbreviations that I didn't know the meaning of, and while the meaning was at the end of the book which I foun
Joseph Stieb
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A mostly riveting story of sleuthing, spying, and adventure by a true wild man of the CIA. Baer is a fascinating and outrageous personality who does not hold back on blasting the institution in which he spent his career. He clearly chafed against the post-Church committee CIA, with its more cautious and red-tape bound approach. His accounts of training in the CIA and working in Lebanon, Iraq, India, and elsewhere are fascinating. They offer great insights into the inner working of terrorist grou ...more
Jim Crocker
Mar 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
SEE NO EVIL—Robert Baer
I didn’t like this story at all, but I loved the book. Baer was “there.” Spent his life “there”—that being the place where none of us (most of us) would ever want to go. It’s the shadow world that resides behind the veil, where it all goes down, for real.

You see, it is my view that there is a movie that continually runs in our heads. It’s a narrative about how the world works, the way the stars align, how progress happens, how one gets from Point A to Point B and connects
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Great insight into the political correctness and corruption that has spilled into the US Intel community. If the CIA was willing to take risks in the 80s and 90s, instead of refusing to upset the apple cart, the tragedy of 9/11 could have been prevented.
Henry C.
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Robert Baer has lived the real life of a CIA operative: sorties in former Soviet sattelites, covert operations in Lebanon, a restive and unsatisfying post in Paris. And, fortunately for readers, he has taken copious notes along the way.

I came across "See No Evil" _ part memoir, part lament _ after recently re-watching a movie it inspired, "Syriana." It is an entertaining, mole's eye view of the intelligence community. Baer takes you from his itinerant childhood in Europe and restless college da
Apr 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you think this administration (or any other in the past) knows what's going on in the world because it gets daily intel briefings from rafts of highly effective and disciplined informants and agents strategically placed worldwide, well think again. This book makes it clear that the schism between Washington DC and its intel community is worse today than it was even when this book was written 20 years ago. Our CIA personnel risk their own lives and the lives of countless others around the worl ...more
Randall Smith
Apr 16, 2015 rated it liked it
The author of this book was the model for George Clooney’s character in Syriana. It was written in 2002 and details the author’s career in the CIA from 1976 to 1997. The author seems, at first glance, an unlikely person to become a spy. He barely graduated from Georgetown, and while there rode his motorcycle through the library during finals, rappelled down the Kennedy Center, and often flew to Aspen for extended weekends. He was a ski bum who had traveled a lot and had a facility for languages ...more
Jun 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book for Tools of Statecraft, a course on the CIA. I couldn't put it down. Given his material, there are a lot of redactions. They subtract nothing. I encourage everyone to read this book. It's not just a memoir; it reads like a brilliantly crafted novel.

Side note: It is the real life inspiration for the movie Syriana. I know several people who did not follow the movie well until after they read this book.

Baer wrote on his real life investigation on the Beirut barracks bombing and h
Ellis Amdur
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Baer clearly shows that we - America - has been involved in a secret war with the radical edge of the Islamic world for many years.  This radical edge, is not a mere fringe, however.  It cuts deep, including the governments of many nations we do far too much business with.  This both ties our hands and corrupts many members of our own government - in both major political parties.  Baer writes an absolutely infuriating account of how under Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton, the CIA was gutted of human ...more
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Baer does a good job keeping the reader on the edge of their seat as he recounts his decades long employment in the CIA. It's a very interesting read, especially in light of the NSA news coming out. When Baer first entered the CIA, they focused on human intelligence--contacts with people who had personal connections and knowledge of the goings-ons in the world. Baer says that this strategy changed over the years until US intelligence relied almost entirely on technology-gathered information.

Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great read - even if it's hard to miss that Robert has an axe to grind. He describes lost opportunities, poor follow through by networks and a lack of understanding in the potential of strategic intelligence.

Robert has personality and experience in his subject matter. His arguments are passionate and well reasoned. His belief is that if you under resource any objective it is destined to fail. Combine that with a management structure that doesn't really understand what is needed, intergovernmen
Dec 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: research
What a great look behind the curtain of what the CIA has become. For years, the CIA was respected as an intelligence organization, but the transformation that Robert Baer presents of how it was emasculated by politicos and career analysts gives me a deeper understanding on why the CIA has not been able to operate as effectively as it did in the past. From Lebanon to Tajikistan, his account of an intelligence organization more interested in photographs rather than on ground human intelligence des ...more
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent and raw, Mr. Baer takes the reader through the world of espionage and some of the darkest years of middle eastern history. The Lebanese conflict amply highlights failure of CIA and US administration in understanding the changing dynamics of new age warfare. It is no wonder that the political correctness and attempt to shove everything into ethical frames resulted in weakening of national security. Baer shows that the world beyond niceties need practical approach to secure the nations a ...more
Jul 15, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the book the movie 'Syriana' is based on, a true story told by a CIA-agent. Having read the book, I found the movie a little bit disapping to be honest, because only a very small portion is used. The book is quite easy to read and gives an interesting view of the life of a foreign spy or agent. It read like a spy-thriller and at the same time shows the way the US is aggressively interventing in national politics everywhere around the world.

Recommended to anyone who likes thrillers or is
Sep 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who watch the news but think it's all a tad hooey.
Shelves: cia, history, biography
Scary, frank, honest and intelligent. And quite likely right. Essential reading, with Imperial Hubris - two former CIA agents who are desperately trying to warn us of how direly we're screwing up, proving that the truest patriots are the people who question their government in times when it is most difficult to do so.

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Langley suckers: See No Evil: A Book Review 1 7 Apr 28, 2013 06:26PM  

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ROBERT B. BAER is one of the most accomplished agents in CIA history, and a winner of the Career Intelligence Medal. He is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including See No Evil—the basis for the acclaimed film Syriana, which earned George Clooney an Oscar for his portrayal of Baer. He is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Middle East and frequently appears on ...more

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