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See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism by Robert Baer

 

Rating: (Recommended)

 

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Fester in Place

If you’re looking for a James Bond tells all book about the glamour of a spy’s life, reading Robert Baer’s new book, See No Evil, will not satisfy you. If you’re looking for a realistic description about what a CIA field agent actually does, you’ll love reading this book. While the perspective may be one-sided, it’s clear that Baer is dissatisfied with the current and recent leadership of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the ways in which the value of “assets on the ground” has been ignored for too long. On one level, See No Evil is a disgruntled employee’s thumbing of a nose at an organization that let that employee down. Once you’ve yielded to the concerns of that point of view, you’re prepared as a reader to listen to the tales of how Baer worked at the CIA, and the long-term impact of decisions made and not made by the CIA and the White House over several administrations.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that Baer chose to call the reader’s attention to the CIA censor’s work on this book. Every ten or so pages, there appears a black line that removes a name, a sentence, or something else that seems brief. In many ways, the censor’s touch was light; in others, what was censored tells part of the story about the bureaucracy that drove Baer nuts. Here’s an excerpt that shows what the CIA considered too dangerous to disclose:

“There followed two long nights drinking vodka with a couple of Tajiks. My second day on the ground, I caught a bad cold. The only thing that could have awakened me at ^;09 on the morning of the third day did – the throaty growl of a ZSU-23 antiaircraft gun firing outside my window. At first I couldn’t remember where I was, but when you think you’re taking incoming fire, it doesn’t really matter. My inclination was to take cover in the bathtub, except there wasn’t one. Someone seemed to have stolen it, maybe while I slept. Only then did I fully remember where I was – Tajikistan: the remotest, poorest, most isolated republic in the former Soviet Union. The edge of the crumbling periphery.
Lying in bed as I listened to the gunfire, I wondered what exactly I’d gotten myself into tis time. After Paris, I had been assigned to Rabat, Morocco, for a three-year tour. With its big houses and mild climate, clay tennis courts, and emerald-green golf courses, Rabat was a plum post. There was even skiing in the Atlas Mountains outside of Marrakech. I’d had a good job, too –deputy chief of                          , the management track. Three years in Rabat, and I could take full command of a midsize                       the next time around.
The fact is, though, that I was bored, The war in the western Sahara was over. Worse, everything important in Morocco went on inside the royal family, and the only figure of any significance inside that closed circle was King Hassan II, a man who kept his own counsel. When Hassan II wanted access in Washington, he went through a K Street lobbyist, not the CIA. Essentially, we didn’t know what was going on in Morocco until we read it in the newspapers.”

Bear communicates his opinions clearly, including his assessment that the CIA’s failure to support Arabic speaking agents in the Middle East added to the vulnerability we experienced on 9/11. Despite some editing glitches, Baer writes well and takes readers inside a world that’s unfamiliar to most of us.

Steve Hopkins, May 15, 2002

 

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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the June 2002 issue of Executive Times

 

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