|See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War Against Terrorism
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“Robert Baer was considered perhaps the best on-the-ground field officer in the Middle East.” --Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker
“Robert Baer [was] one of the most talented Middle East case officers of the past twenty years.” —Reuel Marc Gerecht, The Atlantic Monthly
In See No Evil, one of the CIA’s top field officers of the past quarter century recounts his career running agents in the back alleys of the Middle East. In the process, Robert Baer paints a chilling picture of how terrorism works on the inside and provides compelling evidence about how Washington politics sabotaged the CIA’s efforts to root out the world’s deadliest terrorists.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the terrible result of that intelligence failure with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the wake of those attacks, Americans were left wondering how such an obviously long-term, globally coordinated plot could have escaped detection by the CIA and taken the nation by surprise. Robert Baer was not surprised. A twenty-one-year veteran of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations who had left the agency in 1997, Baer observed firsthand how an increasingly bureaucratic CIA lost its way in the post–cold war world and refused to adequately acknowledge and neutralize the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalist terror in the Middle East and elsewhere.
A throwback to the days when CIA operatives got results by getting their hands dirty and running covert operations, Baer spent his career chasing down leads on suspected terrorists in the world’s most volatile hot spots. As he and his agents risked their lives gathering intelligence, he watched as the CIA reduced drastically its operations overseas, failed to put in place people who knew local languages and customs, and rewarded workers who knew how to play the political games of the agency’s suburban Washington headquarters but not how to recruit agents on the ground.
See No Evil is not only a candid memoir of the education and disillusionment of an intelligence operative but also an unprecedented look at the roots of modern terrorism. Baer reveals some of the disturbing details he uncovered in his work, including:
* In 1996, Osama bin Laden established a strategic alliance with Iran to coordinate terrorist attacks against the United States.
* In 1995, the National Security Council intentionally aborted a military coup d’etat against Saddam Hussein, forgoing the last opportunity to get rid of him.
* In 1991, the CIA intentionally shut down its operations in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, and ignored fundamentalists operating there.
When Baer left the agency in 1997 he received the Career Intelligence Medal, with a citation that says, “He repeatedly put himself in personal danger, working the hardest targets, in service to his country.” See No Evil is Baer’s frank assessment of an agency that forgot that “service to country” must transcend politics and is a forceful plea for the CIA to return to its original mission—the preservation of our national sovereignty and the American way of life.
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 co...
- The Devolution of an Agency
I recently finished listening to the CD version of See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism by Rober Baer. This is a very disturbing book as it describes the evisceration of the CIA by career bureaucrats whose only interest appears to be not to rock the boat. The author, a career CIA officer, makes it abundantly clear that had the CIA been operating as it should have been in the late 1980s 1990s that 9/11 would have been detected and deflected long before it occurred. His account of inadvertently discovering the location of a kidnapped CIA station chief in Lebanon and then not having the information acted upon by brain dead superiors makes for riveting reading and listening. (That station chief later died in captivity.) Even more disturbing is the penetration of the CIA by the oil lobbies and former President Clinton turning a blind eye to funds channeled from both Russia and China to the DNC. The refusal of both liberals and conservatives to deal with Ted Kennedy and others' involvement with this scandal indicates a very deep corruption of government by private interests across the board....more info
- Great Spy Fun, But Discouraging If True
The daring, secretive life of a CIA agent, how can you go wrong? The espionage/adventure aspect of the book is strong in parts. One purpose of this book was to generate interest and even possibly recruit for the CIA. I wouldn't be surprised if this book excited and challenged some to service in the CIA or other American intelligence agencies. Though part of the book does well in telling the adventures as a spy, much of it was dry and uninteresting. I found myself lost in a sea of names, unable to follow the gist. In an overall sense, the book wasn't written that well.
The main point of the book however, is to communicate the failure of the US government in having adequate intelligence. A veteran of the CIA, Baer tells of how the Central Intelligence Agency has diminished in the past few decades, namely because of political reputations and overcautious diplomacy. If his account is true, this is alarming for American citizens and great news for terrorists. The author suggests that better intelligence lies not only in technology (which according to him has been relied upon too heavily) but also in field workers. He hints that a greater number of competent CIA spies in the Middle East could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. The slow and seemingly ineffective war in Iraq today is showing us that brute force and military intimidation may not be the best way to fight terrorism. The fact that the war in Iraq was even started may be a reflection on America's faulty intelligence (weapons of mass destruction?). On a bright note, since the writing of the book there have been several occasions where terrorist attacks have been thwarted, namely the attack on the London airplanes. Perhaps there is much more going on behind the scenes than the public or Robert Baer knows about. In an age where terrorism is a very real threat to innocent civilians of any nationality, this is an interesting book to read and ponder. ...more info
- A real life thriller
Robert Baer takes us from his experience as a new CIA recruit to the end of his career. He tells us how he learned to handle sources, and takes us to the Middle East in a tale that is well-written and engaging. His accounts of the strange alliances produced by the Lebanese civil war are enlightening and always topical. His detective work trying to get to the bottom of the Beruit embassy bombings is admirable. And the way in which he was periodically stifled by our government's prohibition on assassinations in his efforts to gather intelligence and protect American security is quite interesting.
Baer describes how field work declined in importance after the Cold War. He was stationed in Central Asia, and his stories of travelling through impoverished, civil-war-ridden former Soviet republics, and visiting border guards who had been stationed there since the Cold War and who hadn't realized that the Soviet Union had dissolved, is fascinating. He also had fantastic opportunities to develop contacts who might have given policy-makers a better view of the political situation inside Russia, who might have provided warning of a possible coup. Alas, Russia was a friendly country, off-limits to Baer's spying.
Baer also provides a great picture of Kurdistan after the Gulf War. You will likely walk away from the book with a greatly hightened respect for current Iraqi president Talabani, and some of your beliefs about other Iraqi leaders may be challenged.
Baer is careful to avoid pointing to any specific decision by the policy-makers who guided the CIA through the '80s and '90s as the moment to prevent the 9/11 attacks. However, he is able to describe several promising opportunities that were passed up for various reasons. He also points to a missed opportunity to topple Saddam Hussein without the American invasion. It's sobering.
Baer returned to Washington to a desk job after an allegation surfaced that he was involved in a plot to assassinate Saddam. Pulled from the field, he had no idea how to survive in a bureaucracy. He got out with his good name, but just barely, and after observing some disturbing things about how our political system works. ...more info
- An excellent book detailing the CIA's Past and Possible Future
See No Evil is by most accounts an excellent read. For anyone interested in the real world of intelligence and espionage it tells a riveting tale complete with close calls and the dangers of intelligence collection without glamorizing it to the point of a Flemming-esq satire. Of course the book's real value comes from the insight provided by Robert Baer and his twenty plus years working for the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence as an Operations Officer. His detailing of the CIA's gradual movement away from its origins with the OSS and towards a very politically correct intelligence agency in a dangerous world in important for anyone evaluating the current world climate. It also provides weighty insights into the lapses in the US intelligence community that lead to the eventual rise of international terrorism and the development of multinational terror networks, mostly from the perspective of a foot soldier evaluating the continually changing cultural and socio-political landscape of the Near East. In my mind though the greatest knowledge the book offered up were the subtle insights into the international intelligence community and the lesions able to be garnered from past short comings which may allow us to prevent history from repeating itself once more. It should be noted though that the book only details events prior to 9/11 and doesn't detail any number of changes which were said to occur in the US Intelligence community in the following seven years. If you're looking for a more high level review of that you may want to check out The CIA at War by Ronald Kessler. Defiantly a recommended read though for anyone who is curious what life is like for a spy in modern society. ...more info
- as usual, Goverment promates those who don't dare to make waves.
I work for the Federal government and I can feel Robert Baer's frustration with management. Management does not listen to the little guy who is out in the feld actually doing the leg work and who has an actual feel for what is really going on. Most managers sit in their Ivory tower and relish in thier "Superior Self",I know everything and can kiss off. ...more info
A well written book that helps explain why the CIA is in the shape its in today....more info
I was motivated to write this review (my first) because the last chapter was so bad. It didn't flow well itself or with the rest of the book. I thought I may have slept through parts of the book, so I started to re-read it. No, I hadn't slept. I couldn't finish re-reading because, like the first time, I got tired of the rambling and griping. In the final chapter, the author missed the obvious. He was the problem and would have been forced to leave regardless of national and organizational leadership. ...more info
- Saving the best part for last
One could probably say there is something here for everybody. I have some experience and knowledge regarding some topics in this book, which is what I will address rather than rehash other reviews.
On page 86 Bob talks about the application process. I had a MA regarding counterinsurgency in Vietnam and was a Level 3 Arabic speaker, having also lived in the West Bank. Bob does not talk much about the written exam, but I only missed one question. This got me nothing but heartache, as every interview started with "I never saw a score as high as yours." I did not make any friends by stating "it was an easy test," which it was. I was also sent to DO for an interview. They rent a room for one day and you drive all over the place. The man who interviewed me was really rude, sucking on a pipe and never looking at me. They also ALWAYS take your picture with a polaroid and other childish games like that. Obviously, Bob's answers were better than mine. The interviewer, for instance, asked me how I would get information and recruit. I said you train me. He said take a shot at it. I said you need to know the language and, in the Middle East, get good background information from coffee shops and taxi drivers. The man scoffed. I said, "well, you didn't even know who Khomeini was and all you had to do was ask the man on the street." He also made the remark about "how do you feel about dealing with traitors." I answered "maybe he isn't a traitor and wants to overthrow a dictatorship for a better democracy." Boy, was I stupid. Bob said they only had three Arabic speakers at that time. And you wonder why?
I wish they had asked me about Pearl Harbor. My grandmother's sister was living in Japan with her weapons' producing husband and son. He spoke fluent Japanese. A couple of days before Dec. 7 they were in a restaurant and the Japanese admirals, hearing them speak English, remarked how surprised the Americans will be when they attack. The son told his parents but they did nothing. The son and mother were sent packing on the last boat out and the father was held in Japan for the duration. See what I mean about coffee shops and taxi drivers?
Page 87-88 is not true about the Sudanese, who I also know. He is not a Muslim Brother.
Bob also has a real prejudice against Arabs. On page 128-31 he goes on about Arafat, etc., being terrorists and tied to extremists. Ever since Begin every PM has needed settler support--or you wind up like Rabin. Mossad also started Hamas as a fundamentalist counterweight to the PLO (about the same time we back bin Laden). Like al-Qaeda, Hamas became independent and is now a real problem. Sure Arafat was hooked into the Nazi thing (all Arab nationalists, like Sadat and Nasser were), but so was the Stern Gang, of which Begin belonged to. The Israeli extremists tried to get Nazi support to fight the common enemy, England. Begin was a former terrorist who blew up the King David and Shamir took part in the murder of Count Bernadotte. I think Bob Baer really missed the point.
Bob writes another gaffe on page 178. He states some Arabs believed Saddam was on the CIA payroll. Hello!! Yes he was, in the 1950s, while plotting in Egypt. It's how he got his start. This is absolutely no secret and in any number of biographies on Saddam.
Bob's remark about money corrupting everything in Washington and hence America is sadly very true. I think Bob Baer is a patriot, not mistake about it, and he paid a price. Many people are naive enough to think the press really cares, like his experience when he tried to blow the whistle on corrupt congressmen.
What is best about this book is the last part. We should all take a look on the history of Chalabi and Talabani and others he writes about prior to the 2003 invasion. ...more info
- Bourne 2 B CIA
I thought the best line out of this book was when he was trying to get something done in Afghanistan or someplace similar. But he knew that his western way of thinking wouldn't do, so "I thought better to be pissing out of the tent than pissing in". This of course replaced if you can beat them join them. And in this book Rober Baer always had to be flexible; from the time he was challenged as a ski instructor in Colorado by the ski patrol for to the end of season ultimate jump, as well as when he arrived in India and had to lose tails like mosquitos.
I obviously love this book, and hope you read it. Robert Baer reminds me of the author of Warrior Soul (a Navy Seal book). Both authors were born for the government service, but it took 20 years to find that out. Baer as a child rode in a sports car all over Europe with his Mom. He learned to pick up languages like Shirley Temple picked up dance routines.
Unlike his boss Milt Bearden, Baer was out of the DC bees nest. And maybe thats why his career ended so quickly.
See for yourself and you may want to read Bearden's "The Main Enemy" first.
- See No Evil
See No Evil is a fascinating true view of 20 years of life in the CIA....including the frustration of how "political correctness" has changed the role of the CIA and how America is so vulnerable today. A really eye-opening and thought provoking book....I am so glad I read it!...more info
- This book is well written and the facts are scary
This book changed the way I think about our Govt. It is quite scary how they failed us. I implore you to read this book and educate your self on why 9-11 and other terrorist attacks before it happened. I would have given it 5 stars but nothing can be perfect....more info
- Everyone should read this book
I could not put this book down. Robert Baer's life story in the CIA is compelling and fascinating. Its very eye opening in to the politics of the war on terror and how the politics and the bureaucracy is crippling the CIA and in turn, leaving America so incredibly vunerable to another terrorist attack. He is a straight shooter and a true patriot, and talks candidly about the current state of America's war on terror - and I gotta say, I don't feel safe. The government is clearly failing to protect America on every level and the incompetence of the government agencies charged with protecting America is staggering. However, Baer goes after both democrat and republican administrations equally, which is refreshing. I think it adds to his credibility.
After reading this book I wanted to tell everyone to read it....more info
- let down
I'm surprised at the large number of favorable reviews. I was very excited to read this book from the description but ended up disappointed. It started out great - describing what it was like to join the CIA and the training etc. Then it begins to get dense with names and details and the bigger picture gets obscured.
There is a whole lot of complaining in the book and when I read a book like this I must always remember that hindsight is 20/20. It is very easy to criticize decisions in the past when the outcomes have already been determined. Nonetheless, the author does present some valid overarching criticisms of the CIA and I'm sure the CIA would do well to heed them.
The author does not give a lot of historical context to his situations and I think that hurts the quality of this work.
Unless you are a die-hard CIA enthusiast, you may want to pass on this one. There are other better books that expose the CIA....more info
- Behind the mask
As the author relates his work in the CIA from the early seventies when the American people started challenging our government's role in world politics, to today's even more chaotic world, he's revealed an agency frought with ineptitude and inefficiency. As one of the grunts on the ground, working clandestinely, he's watched in alarm as the effectiveness of the agency has gone from a stellar one gathering behind the scenes information to being a hand-tied-behind-their-backs (dis)organization. It's a fascinating read through the eyes and ears of one who's worked some of the most dangerous parts of the world....more info
- An important book!
"See No Evil" is not just a worthwhile read, but an important one for anyone interested in getting what I think is an objective look at what America has on its hands in confronting Islamic terrorism. The author, ex-CIA field agent, Bob Baer, has been in so many of the key geographical locations which are central to it, and displays a passion to understand it, carefully distinguishing actual facts from his subjective attempts to piece things together, but his thoughts indeed seem reasonable....more info
- Jason Bourne meets D.C. burearcracy
Robert Baer delivers a full throttle textual punch with See No Evil. He weaves the story of his 21 years in the CIA, drawing from years of journals and files he has kept. His storytelling is supurb, and the fact that these stories relly happened (unlike the Bourne movies referenced in my review title) make the book all the more gripping. I found his stories very detailed and well written, and I was particularly fascinated with what he had to say about Iraq in the mid-1990s.
From India and Lebanon during the Cold War to Tajikistan and Iraq in the 1990s, Robert Baer truly was one of the CIA's main operatives in the Middle East. Some here have commented that Baer speaks with a sort of "been there, done that" attitude, especially towards the end of the book. In one respect they are right, but in a way, I think he, and those with the field experience like him, have earned the right to say what should have been done.
When Baer was reassigned to Washington, D.C. in 1995, he got a quick course in how D.C. politics worked. He found himself under investigation by the FBI for allegedly trying to kill Saddam Hussein, (assassinations being against the rules at the CIA, despite what Hollywood tells us). Once beating that wrap, he quickly became embroiled in a shady campaign fundraising scandal involving a shifty Lebanese businessman, former KGB officials, Caspian Sea oil money, and President Clinton's national security team and re-election campaign. It was all a dizzying experience for him, and he decided to get out before he was implicated in anything that would end in a jail sentence. The irony of the books is that Washington politics proved to be too much for a man who made a living discovering the secrets behind the worlds most evil and powerful terrorist organizations.
I relate his story to that of General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian General in charge of the UN force in Rwanda in the days leading up to the Rwandan genocide of April 1994. Dallaire knew what was about to go down, and frequently told his superiors at the UN that his troops were under manned and under supplied, but his voice was drowned out through the deafening roar of government bureaucracy and political correctness. The events of April 1994 spoke for themselves, and General Dallaire, now a successful author and public speaker, lived to talk about that incident as well as what he feels should be done in regards to other threats to world security. When I recently saw Dallaire at a speaking engagement, he began, towards the end of his speech, to blast the UN for not acting properly to stop the genocide from ever happening. At first I didn't agree with his accusations. But in retrospect, he was the one left holding down the fort while the rest of the world watched it go up in flames, so if anyone earned the right to speak out, it was Dallaire.
Baer is much the same way. He witnessed first hand the situations in Iraq and Lebanon go to hell, so although his readers may not entirely agree with his opinions, he, more than anyone else, should be considered an authority on the subject. Should his stories be taken with a grain of salt? Perhaps. You don't need to agree with everything he has to say at the end of the book. It is obvious that he is a great storyteller and a supurb and detailed notetaker. But no one can deny that what he did working for the CIA was heroic, and it has earned him the right to speak with authority about the situations in the Middle East. See No Evil is a must read for anyone interested in the Middle East, the CIA, the Cold War, or anyone who just wants a lesson in how mindless bureaucrats can fumble important situations, often at the most important times....more info
- The full title of the book says it all
This book could be said to be a rougher edged, true John LeCarre novel, and it is equally hard to put down. The author served in many of the areas in the news today from the mid 70's to the mid 90's. Baer was an on the ground operative speaking Arabic and running Arab agents. He finally quit when he saw the C IA turning into the see-no evil,, hear-no evil, do-no evil spy agency that has proved so ineffective in the new century. Agents now are mostly yuppies who cannot speak local languages and are discouraged from taking any risks. The result is no reliable intelligence.
"See No Evil" is a paean and an obituary for a spy agency that has no spies. It is also a history of the CIA when it did have spies and the background for events in the Middle East today. Entertaining, and educational -- pretty good....more info
- This is a boring book
If you liked the movie Syriana, you won't like the book or the poorly written autobiography by Robert Baer. It's a rehash of 9/11 failures ...there is nothing new here, not even a good description of CIA tradecraft. The close is typical: "Are we not hitting the target we can rather than the target we should"...more info
- Still current and relevant
Robert Baer was a sort of accidental CIA operative. His mom was a rich hippie who dragged him all over creation as a child, and he was a ski-bum. He applied to the CIA as a joke while taking Mandarin at U.C. Berkeley. One of the amusing things he left out about his background (or which he never explicitly stated) was the fact that he went to Georgetown University as an undergrad. Georgetown seems to be one of those "gimme" schools for CIA recruits; if you go to school there, you're pretty much a legacy.
In fact, many have criticized this aspect to CIA recruitment: as a result of this, the CIA is made up of graduates of a fairly narrow range of academic institutions, and as such have a narrower view of the world than a more catholic group would. Then again, considering the titanic idiocies and anti-american monstrosities taught by former vietnam-war protestors in the schools these days, perhaps there is a reason for it.
In any case, Baer is a sort of class clown type guy who managed to get into the CIA. He used to ride his Harley around the Georgetown Library, to give you an idea of what type of guy he is. Since he had extensive language skills and experience living abroad, he became an "on the ground" operative. Much of his work with the CIA was involving terrorist cells in places like Lebanon in the 80s, Tajekistan, and among the Kurds in Northern Iraq in the mid 90s.
He gives what appears to be a fair account of the ways in which politically correct bureaucracy have gotten in the way of the business of spying. He claims (with some supporting evidence from the Kurdish community) that a coup against Saddam was quite possible in 95, but the National Security Council at the time more or less told the plotters to call it off. His accounts of the thought processes of the whackjob islamicists and of middle east residents in general pretty much match my observations from work: that part of the world sees everything as a giant conspiracy theory. People still don't seem to have absorbed this important fact about international politics.
I was particularly entertained at his account of his adventures in Washington. Since he had more experience with dealing with terrorists and KGB agents overseas, he applied the same lines of thinking to figure out washington, with amusingly mixed results....more info
- The Real World
If you are looking for a spy novel or 007 thriller, this book is not for you! If you you interested in the truth about the world around you and the business as usual in our government, then read it!
The insider tells all is exactly what this is. Fascinating reading with colorful descirptions of the way "business" is done....more info