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 Iraq.
A veteran case officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations in the Middle East, Baer witnessed the rise of terrorism first hand and the CIA’s inadequate response to it, leading to the attacks of September 11, 2001. This riveting book is both an indictment of an agency that lost its way and an unprecedented look at the roots of modern terrorism, and includes a new afterword in which Baer speaks out about the American war on terrorism and its profound implications throughout the Middle East.
“Robert Baer was considered perhaps the best on-the-ground field officer in the Middle East.” –Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker
From The Preface This book is a memoir of one foot soldier’s career in the other cold war, the one against terrorist networks. It’s a story about places most Americans will never travel to, about people many Americans would prefer to think we don’t need to do business with.
This memoir, I hope, will show the reader how spying is supposed to work, where the CIA lost its way, and how we can bring it back again. But I hope this book will accomplish one more purpose as well: I hope it will show why I am angry about what happened to the CIA. And I want to show why every American and everyone who cares about the preservation of this country should be angry and alarmed, too.
The CIA was systematically destroyed by political correctness, by petty Beltway wars, by careerism, and much more. At a time when terrorist threats were compounding globally, the agency that should have been monitoring them was being scrubbed clean instead. Americans were making too much money to bother. Life was good. The White House and the National Security Council became cathedrals of commerce where the interests of big business outweighed the interests of protecting American citizens at home and abroad. Defanged and dispirited, the CIA went along for the ride. And then on September 11, 2001, the reckoning for such vast carelessness was presented for all the world to see.
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 all major news outlets. Baer writes regularly for Time.com and has contributed to Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. He is the current national security affairs analyst for CNN.
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 to be too detailed, while some other parts are too vague and missing some crucial links.
And it is a mess also from the point of view of the content, that goes from being linear and straight forward at times, to being an absolute cluster of information that don't seem to follow any logic at other times.
Now, the cover of the book says the movie "Syriana" was based on this book. Funny thing is, virtually nothing of this book is represented in Syriana. The movie's director talked with Baer and put together the script based on some "chats" that he had with Baer. But the really bad part is where the director said he purposely wanted to make his movie "confusing", because that is how the work of gathering intelligence is. WTH?
God, I hate these artsy-fartsy logics (I'm talking about the director of Syriana here). So now - for example - because a movie is about whale hunting, we need to be pierced through our chest with harpoons? Why? The whole principle is just logically wrong. The artful confusion is not going to help me better understand the world of intelligence at all.
Anyway, I don't know if Baer followed a similar principle while writing his book, but I really don't think so: I think he just wrote a factual book that happens to be a bit unorganized.
The first part of the book is probably the most interesting, where Baer describes his first years in the CIA. Nice to hear how he learned to work with agents in foreign countries, but unfortunately, given that it was a world without the internet, it's all extremely outdated: this book was written in 2001 - 2002, and so many things have changed since.
Towards the end, Baer unveils his “beef”, his open bitterness towards the CIA. His point is pretty much that, while he and a few others were out there risking their lives trying to do proper intelligence work and properly fighting terrorism, people at HQ were more interested in politics and careers. Basically, he was the real deal, while his superiors were ill-advised clowns.
There must be some truth there, and you can certainly feel Baer's honesty and passion in some chapters. After a while though his argument grows a bit dull, because ... isn't any large organization anywhere plagued with politics and careerism at the highest levels of HQ? Plus, again, he is talking about the CIA of the 90's. I have no idea how things are today, but my guess is, the CIA is doing better today - despite having to deal with delusional 'superheroes' like Edward Snowden.
So, overall, I would recommend reading this for some of its historic content, but certainly not as a text to help you understand what the CIA is today and how it operates.
Yes, human beings still need to be in the field, listening, understanding, speaking with locals, but by now the whole world has gone cyber, and it's safe to assume that a massive chunk of the intelligence work has, too.
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 third book by Robert Baer. His recollection of events pre 9/11 tell of his foreboding of just such an event happening and how the clues were ignored. A frightening book for sure. The Arab religious clans and their leaders for the past several decades are referenced as are the statesmen who head secular governments. This was a difficult book to read, not only because the subject is extremely complex but also because of the depressing news that as bad as things are currently, it points to a grim future. It appears that at the core of every fight in the Middle East is the quest for oil. I did learn a new term, the accusatory process which is a tactic in interrogation.
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 the business of spying. Iran, he says, has been responsible for many terrorist operations, hidden under the responsibility of nom de plume IJO. Although he does talk about declines in intelligence capability and interest during Republican administrations, he seems to reserve intense ire for Democrats, neglecting to mention that the GOP was more than happy to strip away funding from intelligence when it suited them.
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 politicized CIA. Admonished, it feels, at every turn, Baer's work in the Middle East especially was at loggerheads with pencil pushers back home who knew far less than he did, and reading his accounts is often frustrating and will cause some head-scratching. His details of the morass of oil money and American politics (including the tantalizing tidbit where an oil man casually mentions Russian government funding going into Clinton's re-election campaign chest) will seem familiar. That's because, despite the best efforts of folks like Baer, shit hasn't changed. In fact, it's gotten worse, as far as intelligence gathering.
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 time in the Middler East, it's more about bragging and settling scores than anything else.* However, I still think it's worth reading. Baer's recollections of Lebanon during he civil war (and especially of he bombing of the U.S. embassy are obvious biased, but still totally fascinating) and his story of getting knifed at the end of his career in Washington is probably a pretty accurate story of how forces in Washington move against each other. This is a quick read, and worth it I think if you're interested in the region or the C.I.A.
*and it is a little beyond me why Sy Hersh wrote the introduction, but whatever.
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 embassy and barracks bombings and Iran's role in the Lebanon hostage crisis) illustrate the dire need for HUMINT operators even moreso than Baer's editorializing on the subject does. I.e., this stuff is messy and confusing and no one reader, analyst or investigator could be expected to untangle it on his or her own.
Essentially, this is a convincing exposé of the shortcomings of the CIA in the wake of the Cold War and in the years leading to 9/11, when the previously dangerously-ballsy CIA eschewed its til then five decade reliance on human intelligence in favor of "hard" evidence, journalistic sources and SIGINT/GEOINT and the growing surveillance complex -- which Baer convincingly demonstrates are all poor tools given the nature of modern asymmetric warfare, decentralized non-state actors, and surveillance-savvy terrorists.
Anyway. I could write an essay on this, but it probably wouldn't be very good. This book is.
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 his life in the shadows. People rarely understand that the people in the CIA are NOT spies. They are often described as such, but they are actually case officers who work to turn people against their countries and become spies. This work is an inside look on how this happens. It illustrates the importance of human intelligence in this digital-satellite age. One incident in particular describes how intelligence may be obtained from assets and the work case officers due to protect the flow of information.
See No Evil became one of my favorite books and one that I will read again and again. It is well written and interesting. It inspired me to read more on the subject and seek out his other works.
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.
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 held me back from really committing to sticking with the book was the fact that it was written so long ago. I mean, I have shirts that are older than this book, but so much has happened since 2002 that I question the topicality of the perspectives and cautionary statements that Baer makes.
I will say that the Middle-East stuff sent my thinking on a tangent, which was about the notion of political correctness. To be perfectly transparent, whenever I hear someone identifying "political correctness" as a major problem in America, my bias is to pigeon-hole that person as an ignorant jerk, probably a bigot, probably anti-woman and anti-gay. I imagine someone who thinks that oppression of white males is a thing. This someone also revels in the First-Amendment right to express views I find irredeemably stupid but can't live with the idea that people will criticize the holder of those views.
Bob Baer, on the other hand, talked about political correctness from the perspective of a CIA "ground soldier". In this context, he experienced the outright refusal of his chain of command to authorize intelligence-gathering on known terrorists, due to political considerations. So it's kind of a classical definition of political correctness. And from this perspective I totally share the rage against the stupidity of worrying about political niceties in the face of bad guys who are intent on waging war on American civilians.
After about six hours, and having daydreamed my way through said tangent, I found the relentless barrage of names, dates, and terrorist network connections to be beyond my ability to follow. So that was it. I want to see what else he's written more recently.
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-grinding tell alls. They are not trustworthy in their history of an era, but I looked at this book as something different. I decided to come into it as a "what the community once was and could be again" indictment. I have read enough about the attack on Sept 11th, as well as those at Khobar Towers, USS Cole, and the first WTC bombing to know that the War on Terror was already being waged long before the U.S. decided to join it.
It was a great page turner and will definitely leave you thinking. There were some moments in it where the reader is trying to keep up with his developing and revealing his intelligence gathering "matrices" that leaves the reader glossy eyed sometimes, but overall it is a great read. I really need to watch "Syriana" again now (this book was served as a loose basis for the screenplay)
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 embassy in Belgrade that we sent a missile into it."
Baer's behind the scenes story on a failed Kurdish coup in Iraq and lack of CIA interest in Bin Laden linkages to Iran paint an intriguing back story to the Beirut embassy bombing that one of the first salvos in the war with Islamic jihad. Along with Clinton admin influence peddling, this edition is updated with post-9/11 observations by the veteran spy.
Among the most interesting things to me here, though is all the fits and starts and details to the beginning of his career - what it's like to be a spy noob - and similarly learning to recruit agents and then have to pass them on as a veteran to another new-hire.
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 found out halfway, it still didn't really help because it constantly took me out of it on every page.
What interested me most was that the CIA is really a husk of its former self. It went from a good and proper spying operation to... not much really, in comparison. The book talks about how the CIA and Washington had a lot of opportunities to take out certain terrorists, but they never did, which lead to a lot more death than needed. You could feel the anger and annoyance that Baer felt.
All in all, would I recommend it? If you're interested in some of the history of the CIA, absolutely. If you're like me and you don't like reading about topics that don't really interest you and you only want to read it because it's on your bookshelf and you want to finish it just for that reason? Then... I'd say give it the good ol' skip.
A memoir by a former CIA operative, who had been working in India, the Middle East and the former south-eastern USSR republics from the late 70s till the mid 90s. It's full of his frustration with the bureaucracy and the politics. The movie 'Syriana' with George Clooney was inspired by it, but it's not really an adaptation, so don't expect much resemblance.
I didn't enjoy 'See No Evil'. It felt way too much like a report and it just wasn't always engaging enough for me. Especially as it's not meant for someone with just a casual interest in the topic, so I often found myself insufficiently educated and confused with all the dates, events and way too many names (many of which, obviously, are from those regions, so they were pretty hard to remember). Despite me usually enjoying listening to the books being read by their authors, actually reading this one would help you to better follow the story.
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 of the 90s, I’d recommend watching “Syriana” instead, to get the feel of what this book is trying to convey, without having to sort through the unedited details of it all.
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!
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.
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.
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 groups and how they are unraveled.
Not every part of the book is gripping. The last 50 pages or so are about an oil-related campaign finance scandal in the Stans that Baer doesn't provide enough context for. Overall I'd recommend this for students of intelligence work or those who like cloak and dagger/spying memoirs. Baer is an engaging if blunt writer who is mostly fun to read.
I saw an impressive interview with Robert B Baer 20 years ago that I remember to this day. He came across so well, expressed himself so clearly and openly. By comparison, his book is a disappointment: page after page of dialogue interspersed with dense text with multiple names and abbreviations. Admittedly, there is a glossary at the back but I tend to lose patience, end up wondering who the intelligence books are for. They all - not only this particular book - seem to follow the logic that you, the reader, are in the know and therefore explanations are unnecessary. However, Baer spent several years in the Middle East and I would have loved to read about his surprises or difficulties with the Arabic personal names for one. Even the photograph captions are disappointing. The reader who has not seen the tv interview, will not learn what the author looks like although there are several photos of him in the book. It is sort of guesswork as I believe most intelligence gathering is.
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 the dots along the way. Just as this movie runs in my head and your head, it runs in our collective head. It’s the mirror within which you see yourself and assess whether or not you measure up. It’s how we’re wired.
As we have ideas and experiences and come across various words of wisdom, we collect these meaningful vignettes—the stuff that manages to stick within our memory—and we plug this stuff into our movie, out of which the brain constructs scenes and characters and scenarios emerge. Somehow all this stuff takes on a life of its own. The brain stores it in some kind of narrative format. You ask a question, and the brain plays back the answer—the movie.
As we go through life, we constantly test what we experience and observe against the movie in our head. When things happen to not jibe, there’s a problem, a discrepancy. So what do we do? Well, sometimes the observed data out there causes us to “change our mind.” Hmmm. We edit the movie to correspond with the facts as we perceive them. Other times denial pervades and we go with our movie version. Sometimes we can get away with that, and other times we don’t. I’ve often heard it expressed in the context of, “Sometimes the bear eats you.” And that’s not good. You chose denial and lost. Now you gotta pay the price.
But that’s just me talking, not Baer. Let’s get on to Robert Baer’s book.
What we get in See No Evil is not Baer’s movie. Rather, it’s Baer’s account—remember, he was actually “there”—of what actually happened along the way from the 1980s to the present—while the rest of us were watching the movie in our head. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan (according to the movie in their head) and got severely bitten on the ass by the bad bear of denial, after which they paid the price when their country fell apart ten years later. On our side, we've got the Charlie Wilson’s War perspective, where we aided various Afghan tribes and militias in their struggle against the big Red Bear. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1988, our side had cake, blew horns, did high-fives and went home. Game Over according to the movie in our head. And then in 1991 we did the party, hats and horns thing yet again when the USSR faded away. All this fading away according to the movie in our head.
Following Iran-Contra and a bunch of other nefarious schemes, and after we consulted with the movie in our head, we determined that the CIA was not our friend any more. Anyway, the big, bad Red Bear was supposedly dead. So “we” dismantled the CIA. [“We” really fits here, because all political parties got a chance to wade in on the CIA witch hunt. In essence, we blinded ourselves, pulled down the shades and turned “intelligence” gathering over to the bean counters. And while we were eating our collective popcorn at our collective movie and dreaming our collective dream, the walls crashed down upon us.
Afghanistan crapped out. Al-Qaeda blossomed. The Taliban became the stars in somebody’s crazy movie. And what did we do? We took out no-payment loans and invaded Iraq. Talk about “intelligence” now. All of the easy fixes failed us while we were at the movies—and “they” took care of everything.
I believe everything Baer said in his book. I thought the facts lined up. Everything he said made perfect sense to me. I’ve not finished the book. I’ve been busy shoveling snow. Anyway, we all know how it ends. [SPOILER ALERT] ========>> We’re living it and we’re still paying the price in so many hideous ways.
One last thing: Baer had to submit his book to the CIA so they could black out various “sensitive” and secret passages. Baer left all the blacked-out passages in the book—sometimes entire paragraphs—looking like some weird fill-in-the-blank test. Most of this book is chilling and disgusting—especially the blacked-out stuff you are not supposed to know about. Oh, please!
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.
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 days through his career in the CIA, which he applied to more or less on a whim.
We go from the fabled CIA Farm in Virginia's Tidewater area to the badlands of Lebanon, Tajikistan, northern Iraq and beyond. Baer is a wry, if jaded, observer. This is the life of a real intelligence operative and he is candid about the trade-offs, schemes and, at times, utter incompetence he encounters. This is an entertaining, if bracing, journey. We'll meet ex Soviet generals, Hezbollah hardmen, assassins, government bureaucrats, snaky oil men. They're all rendered in full.
A fairly bleak narrative unfolds. Baer believes that the intelligence industry is compromised, beholden to politics and capitalism as never before. The author left the CIA a few years before the 2001 terror attacks that fundamentally changed so many things. But so much of this can be read as his own guided map of how we arrived at that point.
Baer has plenty of theories -- he lays out a convincing case that the deadly bombing of the U.S. embassy in Lebanon in 1983 can be tied back to Iran. And he speculates, less convincingly but no less ardently, that the Sept. 11 terror attacks must have involved more than just Al Qaeda's planners. Again, Baer points the finger toward Iran but with considerably less information to back up the claim. Whatever its merits, the idea that someone with Baer's considerable background in terrorism and intelligence believes it lends it some credence.
Where the book loses some momentum is when Baer gets caught up in his own kvetches. He feels hard done by certain aspects of CIA life, and was twice, by his own telling, the victim of NSC staffers run amok. At key points, in Baer's narrative, he is undermined by some desk-jockeys who would not dream of the in-the-field operations he carried out for 20 plus years in the CIA.
This may be so. And Baer is forceful and convincing, but there's no real way to adjudicate the case. Beter is to ignore that background noise and focus on what "Evil" is: a worthwhile, fast-paced read that gives both much more insight into the CIA and the mindset of its ground troops than has previously been available. Baer is an entertaining, lucid writer and this "Evil" is well worth the time.
It was good, but if you had read his second book first then this one almost becomes obsolete ~ almost. This reader finished,'See No Evil' after he had already read Baer's first book ('Sleeping with the Enemy') and to be quite honest, he wasn't much the wiser. That is to NOT say that this reader didn't enjoy it because he did. Baer's descriptions into central Asia were just mind-boggling as were his stories about Beirut, Lebanon. His ability to live away from his wife and family for long periods of time were just amazing and not only should Mr. Baer be commended for that, but also hats off to his wife too. (She deserves a medal for putting up with a husband that was never home). What really disturbed this reader, however, was the picture he painted of the CIA in Washington pandering to whims and wishes of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. It was the central theme to his book (after all that's the books title) and he gave a third of the book that focus.
This reader thought, however, that if you really interested in this aspect then, you could almost skip the book entirely and read his second one instead. 'Sleeping with the Enemy', spends its' entirety on how the US and the CIA "climb into bed' with Riyadh all for the sale of oil. Also, perhaps, Mr. Baer could have clarified the moral dilemma he faced as a CIA agent about killing another human based on information gathered about that person. It was almost as if he had the right to assume the mantle of God: I deem death to that person who is a known 'terrorist'. Well, that so called terrorist still has basic human rights which includes the right to fair and just day in court. Further, he gave the example where an entire building with people inside it (such as real families, women and children) were all killed because it was the "easiest way" to terminate the target. This person saw an incredible moral dilemma that unfolded which the author didn't really address.. How could all these innocent people be killed (could I say murdered) just to murder a murderer (or a known terrorist, a single individual). The ends does not justify the means when so many innocent people are in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were better ways to apprehend the known criminal by waiting for the person to leave the building and then handcuffing him. Lastly, this person also thought that the US had a social and moral obligation to build relations with countries in peril through investment, infrastructure, finance, schools and employment and NOT just to terminate 'targets' in those countries. Even so, believe it or not, this reader still actually enjoyed the book. 3 stars.
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 world, while Washington looks on and either does nothing with the info, or does absolutely the wrong thing, because it has no idea what it's doing. Period. Statecraft and spying: GAMES played with real LIVES that are lost on a daily basis. I am disappointed and discouraged to have to come to the conclusion that politicians and other government key players are really clueless and operating blindly in most cases, while making life and death decisions that affect thousands, if not millions, of people around the world, daily. Furthermore, the people responsible for these decisions suffer no consequences themselves. I don't think it even keeps them up at night. It's disgraceful and shameful and makes one wonder why we (the average people) keep tolerating the fecklessness of those we task with the job of "keeping us safe". Trust me, they are not up to it, and in many cases, seem barely interested.
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 (in one CIA bureau he’s the only person who speaks the local language). In 1976, while going to grad school in Berkeley and working as a night teller at a B of A in San Francisco, he applied to the CIA. He took the test in the Federal Building and eventually got hired. Within six months he was parachuting into enemy territory.
Much of his work dealt with radical fundamental Moslems. The author shows that this global war on terror has been going on for a lot longer than many of us knew. But it’s a complicated war with strange alliances and political aspects in every decision. The author is critical of how the CIA evolved under Reagan, especially, but policies under Poppa Bush and Clinton are criticized as well. If you want a spy’s eye view of counter-terrorism, this book’s for you.
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 intelligence gathering and turned into a cover-your-ass bureaucracy. The lost opportunities to have circumvented some of our worst foreign policy disasters, including 9/11 and the disastrous Iraq war lie at the feet of all those politicians, and lickspittle bureaucratic climbers who seemed to believe that if we ignored this terrible problem, it would go away. No, Islamic terror is not a "law enforcement" problem, as the naive would have it. It is clearly a war we are in. But without the correct intelligence, we cannot make intelligent decisions on how to fight.
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.
Having recently started the Frontline documentary, United States of Secrets, I think this book fleshes out another interesting aspect of the story of US intelligence and defense. It seems like those in Washington are interested in protecting their power in the US government while making money at the same time.
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, intergovernmental cooperation, and your standard communication failures and it's no wonder there were less than desirable intelligence outcomes.
Leaders and politicians cannot ever have the same situational awareness as the person on the ground. Some military strategy has changed to reflect this but it's still small steps.
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 destroys the impression that the world has of the CIA and explains why extraordinary rendition became part of the modus operandi.
I'll be reading his other books about his intelligence career!
I didn't know that this was the basis for Syriana, which was a pleasant surprise.