The Killing School

Title:                      The Killing School

Author:                  Brandon Webb

Webb, Brandon (2017) with John David Mann. The Killing School: Inside The World’s Deadliest Sniper Program. New York: St. Martin’s Press

LCCN:    2017002452

UD330

Summary

  • “As a SEAL sniper and combat veteran, Webb was tapped to revamp the U.S. Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) Scout/Sniper School, incorporating the latest advances in technology and ballistics software to create an entirely new course that continues to test the skills and even the best warriors. In this revealing new book, Webb takes readers through every aspect of this training, describing how Spec Ops snipers are taught each dimension of their art. Trainees learn to utilize every edge possible to make their shot–from studying crosswinds, barometric pressure, latitude, and even the rotation of the Earth to becoming ballistic experts. But marksmanship is only one aspect of the training. Each SEAL’s endurance, stealth and mental and physical stamina are tested and pushed to the breaking point. Webb also shows how this training plays out in combat, using real-life exploits of the world’s top snipers, including Jason Delgado, who led a Marine platoon in the Battle of Husaybah and made some of the most remarkable kill shots in the Iraq War; Nicholas Irving, the U.S. Army Ranger credited with thirty-three kills in a single three-month tour in Afghanistan; and Rob Furlong, who during Operation Anaconda delivered the then-longest kill shot in history. During Webb’s sniper school tenure, the course graduated some of the deadliest and most skilled snipers of this generation, including Marcus Luttrell (Lone Survivor), Adam Brown (Fearless), and Chris Kyle (American Sniper). From recon and stalk, to complex last minute adjustments, and finally the moment of taking the shot, The Killing School demonstrates how today’s sniper is trained to function as an entire military operation rolled into a single individual–an army of one.”–Provided by publisher.

Contents

  • Prologue: living with death — The mission — Warrior, assassin, spy — Born to shoot — Hell — The craft — Sniper school — The platinum standard — Zen mind, lethal mind — The reality of war — The art and science of the shot — The stalk — Welcome to the jungle — Outside the box — The long nigh.

Subjects

Date Posted:      May 9, 2017

Review by Frank Miniter[1]

Before the book The Killing School even begins, Brandon Webb shoos away the critics and dismisses even the possible reproach from his peers for writing a book. Specials Forces, after all, are supposed to be “quiet professionals,” so how is it that from Richard Marcinko (founder and first commanding officer of SEAL Team 6) to Chris Kyle (American Sniper) to Webb so many retired SEALS have written books?

In Webb’s case, of course, his book was first submitted to and “partially redacted” by the Department of Defense. But still, is it right that he is even speaking out at all? Our Special Forces live by a patriotic code of country before self; personal glory is not supposed to be sought.

Begin reading Webb’s introduction and you’ll find a profound answer why Webb and other SEAL’s write books.

Webb and his coauthor (John David Mann) begin with something so personal, so painful and so necessary that you won’t be able to stop reading. The Killing School begins with death. Not death in the abstract. Not someone’s particular death. But death as a job, as a duty in service of country—a service to you and me and all the fellow citizens we love or loathe.

The Killing School by Brandon Webb is a deeply honest and personal look into what Navy SEAL snipers do for us.

Webb writes: “For me, the face of death is as familiar as the barista at my local coffee shop.” And in context it doesn’t feel like boasting. Snipers, after all, don’t drop bombs or even pound out bursts from .50-caliber machine guns at enemy positions. They hunt, stalk, maybe watch and pattern, and finally kill their adversaries with precise mathematical precision. In the process the might get to personally know an enemy combatant they are hunting.

Webb has a deep background in this topic. As a SEAL sniper, Webb was tasked with helping to revamp the U.S. Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) Scout/Sniper School. It was his job to incorporate the latest advances in technology and ballistics software to create an entirely new course that, to this day, continues to develop the skills of SEAL snipers.

Which is why he begins with death, with the thing that makes what SEALs do so intriguing, frightening and important. They are often called “the tip of the spear.” A SEAL team is the razor sharp end that is stealthily stuck into the enemy’s heart. They aren’t on overwhelming or blunt force. They are the knife’s edge that’s so sharp you don’t notice the wound, only the blood afterward.

In the beginning and end it is death that SEALs wield and death that they live with. SEALs kill, but they also die in action all too often. And the community of SEALs is so small they all have personally lost brothers in combat.

This is why you’ll find it is important that retired military professionals write or otherwise speak out. As a free society how can we know them, how can we really support them, if we don’t know what they do? More than that, in a free society, how can we know them well enough, know what they do deeply enough, to know when not to use them if we don’t have such honest accounts of what they are doing for us?

As you turn the pages you’ll find that Webb talks about the training, but he also humanizes the details by telling real-life exploits of the world’s top snipers, including Jason Delgado, who led a Marine platoon in the Battle of Husaybah and made some of the most haunting shots in the Iraq War; Nicholas Irving, the U.S. Army Ranger credited with 33 kills in a single three-month tour in Afghanistan; and Rob Furlong, who during Operation Anaconda delivered the then-longest kill shot in history.

As you read all the real-life accounts in this book you’ll find they feel so honest and read so well it is hard to put the book down. During Webb’s sniper school tenure, the course graduated some of the deadliest and most skilled snipers of this generation, including Adam Brown (Fearless) and Chris Kyle (American Sniper).

The many people who follow this genre of Special Forces books will find much to like in The Killing School. Even those who are very uncomfortable with what we ask SEALs, Green Berets and others to do, will get a real perspective from this book.

Near the end Webb says that “not everyone can do it” when he is talking about killing human beings. Just before this he relates an anecdote from SEAL sniper school where training becomes so real a SEAL might actually confuse what is simulated with what is real. They do this because some, he tells us, simply can’t take a life, not coldly in the crosshairs anyway. These people need to be weeded out, as not taking a life clinically with a sniper rifle might soon mean that the enemy combatant spared might kill U.S. soldiers or, later, even civilians.

That’s life lived at the tip of the spear. We have to understand this so we can morally and ethically know if we should set them loose on an enemy seeking to destroy us. The Killing School is a bright window into the shadowy world of our elite snipers.

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[2]

As a SEAL sniper and combat veteran, Webb was tapped to revamp the US Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) Scout/Sniper School, incorporating the latest advances in technology and ballistics software to create an entirely new course that continues to test the skills and even the best warriors. In this book, Webb describes how Spec Ops snipers are taught their art. Trainees learn to utilize every edge possible to make their shot–from studying crosswinds, barometric pressure, latitude, and even the rotation of the Earth to becoming ballistic experts. But marksmanship is only one aspect of the training. Each SEAL’s endurance, stealth and mental and physical stamina are tested and pushed to the breaking point.

Webb also shows how training plays out in combat, using real-life exploits of the world’s top snipers, including Jason Delgado, who led a Marine platoon in the Battle of Husaybah and made some of the most remarkable kill shots in the Iraq War; Nicholas Irving, the US Army Ranger credited with thirty-three kills in a single three-month tour in Afghanistan; and Rob Furlong, who during Operation Anaconda delivered the then-longest kill shot in history.

During Webb’s sniper school tenure, the course graduated some of the deadliest and most skilled snipers of this generation, including Marcus Luttrell (Lone Survivor), Adam Brown (Fearless), and Chris Kyle (American Sniper). From recon and stalk, to complex last minute adjustments, and finally the moment of taking the shot, The Killing School demonstrates how today’s sniper is trained to function as an entire military operation rolled into a single individual.

[1] Frank Mitner, “The Thing About Navy SEAL Snipers We All Should Know,” Forbes (May 9, 2017). Downloaded May 9, 2017

[2] Reviewed in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 3, Winter 2016-17, pp. 137-138).

Posted in Seals | Tagged | Leave a comment

Gatekeeper

Title:                      Gatekeeper

Author:                  John Sullivan

Sullivan, John F. (2007). Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner and Of Spies. Washington, DC: Potomac Books

LCCN:    2006018101

JK468.I6 S85 2007

Contents

  • The art of the polygraph — The path less traveled — In the beginning — The Crawford era — First impressions — A new day — Hard (but exciting) times — Respite — The new breed — The era of good feeling — Coming of age — Bad apples — Hits, misses, and distractions — Aldrich Ames — Twilight — Out to pasture — Intelligence community and 9/11 — Interrogation and torture.

Subjects

Date Posted:      May 9, 2017

Overview from Amazon.com[1]

John F. Sullivan was a polygraph examiner with the CIA for thirty-one years, during which time he conducted more tests than anyone in the history of the CIA’s program. The lie detectors act as the Agency’s gatekeepers, preventing foreign agents, unsuitable applicants, and employees guilty of misconduct from penetrating or harming the Agency. Here Sullivan describes his methods, emphasizing the importance of psychology and the examiners’ skills in a successful polygraph program. Sullivan acknowledges that using the polygraph effectively is an art as much as a science, yet he convincingly argues that it remains a highly reliable screening device, more successful and less costly than the other primary method, background investigation. In the thousands of tests that Sullivan conducted, he discovered double agents, applicants with criminal backgrounds, and employee misconduct, including compromising affairs and the mishandling of classified information. But Gatekeeper is more than Sullivan’s memoirs. It is also a window to the often acrimonious and sometimes alarming internal politics of the CIA: the turf wars over resources, personnel, and mandate; the slow implementation of quality control; the aversion to risk-taking; and the overzealous pursuit of disqualifying information. In an age when the intelligence community’s conduct is rightly being questioned, Sullivan contributes a fascinating personal account of one of the Agency’s many important tasks.

Article posted at the FAS website[2]

A former senior polygrapher for the Central Intelligence Agency filed a lawsuit today [April 5, 2007] in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asserting that the Agency intentionally retaliated against him by abusing the security clearance process. The premise for the retaliation was the exercising of his First Amendment rights by publishing a critical book on the Agency’s polygraph program. John Sullivan, who during a 31 year career (1968-1999) administered more polygraphs than anyone in the history of the Agency, spent nearly three years battling with the CIA’s Publication Review Board to finally clear as unclassified his . . . book Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner.

While he was awaiting the completion of the lengthy review process, Sullivan experienced retaliation by the CIA when it inappropriately and intentionally revoked his security clearance based on exaggerated, distorted and clearly false allegations. During a 2004 security examination Sullivan was undertaking for employment with a defense contractor, he was directly questioned by the CIA polygrapher about the contents of his book. At one interview session a CIA security officer stated “There is something about your book that you’re not telling us, and until you do I can’t help you.” The CIA official then smirked and accused Sullivan of lying.

Sullivan spent months trying to persuade the CIA that their decision to deny him a security clearance was baseless. As a result of the CIA’s actions he lost out on several employment opportunities. Then suddenly, without warning or even having a hearing, the decision was reversed. Given the allegations and the experiences of experts in dealing with the CIA’s security clearance process, this was virtually an unprecedented development. The reversal of an unfavorable CIA security clearance decision is extremely rare (likely less than 10%) and most cases take 2-3 years until resolution.

“The CIA’s treatment of John Sullivan, a former employee who dared speak out, is indicative of a pattern and practice by the CIA of unlawful and disgraceful retaliation through the abuse of the security clearance process,” said Mark S. Zaid, Esq., a Washington, D.C. attorney handling the case and who frequently represents former/current U.S. Intelligence Officers. Zaid added that the timing of the CIA’s security actions against Sullivan, especially in light of the questioning he received concerning his book, is very suspicious.

Sullivan’s book Gatekeeper, as described by the publisher, offers “a window to the often acrimonious and sometimes alarming internal politics of the CIA: the turf wars over resources, personnel, and mandate; the slow implementation of quality control; the aversion to risk-taking; and the overzealous pursuit of disqualifying information.” This was not the first time the CIA’s Polygraph Division was upset with Sullivan. He is also the author of Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam.[3]

The CIA also recently demonstrated the disingenuous of its classification process when it refused to review a voluntary submission of Sullivan’s lawsuit for classified information because his counsel had not executed a non-disclosure/secrecy agreement that would have mandated prior review. Instead, the Agency decided to risk exposure of classified information, although none is in the Complaint, and threaten to discipline Sullivan for violating his secrecy obligation. In a letter sent to the CIA’s Office of General Counsel on April 4, 2007, Mr. Zaid criticized the Agency by noting that this “conduct discredits any professionalism or credibility the Agency otherwise desires to display, whether publicly or privately.”

[1] Amazon.com

[2]Former CIA Polygrapher Who Wrote Critical Book Files Lawsuit Against Agency for Retaliation, CIA used security clearance process in order to stifle First Amendment rights” FAS (April 5, 2007)

[3] Sullivan, John F. (2002). Of Spies And Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas

Posted in CIA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Of Spies And Lies

Title:                      Of Spies And Lies

Author:                John F. Sullivan

Sullivan, John F. (2002). Of Spies And Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas

LCCN:    2001007223

DS559.8.M44 S85 2002

Subjects

Date Posted:      May 9, 2017

Review by Susan Butler (independent scholar)[1]

Sullivan’s aim in Of Spies and Lies is to fill in the dots on the role of the CIA in Vietnam. He states his thesis in the introduction, that he was in a unique position to view how the CIA bungled the job because as a polygraph examiner who spent four years in Vietnam, he worked with more CIA officers than anyone else and with more than 2000 CIA employees, and he tested more Vietnamese than any other CIA examiner. Sullivan was in the catbird seat every day, dealing on the one hand with the top guns of the CIA and on the other with the Vietnamese they brought in. He wrote the book because although there are countless books on the role of the military, there is a dearth of books about the role of the CIA.

Sullivan went to Vietnam in 1971 and stayed until just after the fall of Da Nang in March of 1975. He went into Laos and Cambodia also. It took him three months in Southeast Asia to realize that the CIA was not functioning as it normally did. The reason, he discovered, was that the Saigon station, the largest CIA station in the world, was staffed with incompetent people. As he chronicles here, unfortunately at too great length, the most basic prerequisite was not met: case officers did not speak, understand or read Vietnamese—“they found it impossible to work clandestinely and, in many cases, they had not gone willingly to Vietnam” (p. 2). Therefore they failed “miserably” at their job, which was to infiltrate and get information from the Vietcong. Sullivan gives detailed information about most of the men and women he worked with, and although some of it is highly informational, a great deal of it is not. For example, do readers really need to know who met the author upon his arrival at various assignments, or what he thought of each one of them? Is it helpful to know that the CIA chief of operations in Vietnam, Theodore Shackley, told Sullivan that when he visited General Westmoreland the general was usually dressed in his bathrobe, because he didn’t want to get his uniform wrinkled?

Sullivan’s point of view is basically critical because his job was to test the veracity of the Vietnamese, on whom the CIA agents were relying for their information—essentially to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most of the time he discovered the Vietnamese faked their information; they were in it purely for the money. Sullivan goes into great detail about polygraph testing: its procedure, its reliability, its limitations, etc. He also goes into great detail about how the CIA conducts itself, and what it expects of its staff. It is his information on the latter subject that is so disturbing.

According to Sullivan, a great deal of the blame for the CIA’s failures can be attributed to recruitment policies that attracted the wrong people. There is the unexplained fact that language proficiency was not required. Essentially, according to Sullivan, the CIA was so desperate to recruit people for Vietnam that the agency resorted to bribing prospects with visions of easy living and easy money. Those who signed on for the money, naturally, never left Saigon if they could help it and, while there, some of them made more money than they ever had in their lives. A mail clerk and his wife rated a five-bedroom house completely furnished down to the glassware, plus a car, two maids and a cook.

He makes the point that “Vietnam was a cash cow for CIA employees … a last chance for poor performers hoping to resurrect failing careers, the ultimate watering hole for those with a penchant for imbibing, a sexual playground for those so inclined, and a dumping ground to which CIA headquarters in Langley, exiled problem employees” (p. 4).

Reading the book, one realizes that much of America’s dismal failure in Vietnam can be blamed on the CIA’s East Asia Division Office of Personnel. It comes across as a bureaucratic nightmare, encouraging bad people while discouraging good ones. The author and his wife both suffered at its hands. Sullivan’s wife, Lee, who also worked for the CIA, was forced to resign from the Agency and work on a contract basis as a condition of her accompanying her husband to Vietnam. Worse: “In addition, she had to take a pay cut and could not be guaranteed a job when we returned from Vietnam” (p. 29). When Sullivan himself was hired in 1968, the Office of Security Personnel told him he would be a GS-9 at a salary of $8054. When he got his official papers, however, he found out to his chagrin that he was a GS-7 with a salary of $6734. Apparently, the higher grade and salary were meant to lure Sullivan. When he queried Kirk, the Interrogation Research Division training officer who actually gave him his notice of employment, about the discrepancy, the latter laughed and said, “You goddamn fool, we would have given you anything you asked for” (p. 12).

The big question, of course, is why the CIA allowed such a state of affairs to continue. Why was there no language training or sensitivity training for CIA staff in Saigon, as was the norm elsewhere? If the army could run a six-week immersion course as well as a twelve-month course in Vietnamese for its men at their language school, why couldn’t the CIA?

Sullivan dealt with most of the major American players, as he calls them, who were in Vietnam. He accuses them all of having their heads in the sand, of being blindly optimistic, of refusing to see the handwriting on the wall. Ted Shackley, who ran the CIA in Vietnam, was typical of this mentality. According to the author, Shackley was apparently intelligent, but as he writes, “I do not understand how a man of his intellect and capability could expect our people in Vietnam to run successful, clandestine operations against the VC” (p. 43). Major Charles Timmes, retired U.S. Army and the liaison between the CIA and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, also refused to see the writing on the wall and believed everything the South Vietnamese officers told him. Sullivan heard a case officer ask Timmes how the South Vietnamese were going to win the war when they had not been able do it when there were 500,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. “Have you ever seen how the Vietnamese maneuver in traffic? They are very devious. They can do it,” was Timmes’s laughable response (p. 47). Of Thomas Polgar, the last CIA head, the author is more respectful, mainly because Polgar restored staff status to the CIA wives (including his own) who had had to take a pay cut in order to accompany their husbands to Vietnam. When it came to assessing the situation in Vietnam Polgar maintained the same incurable optimism as his predecessor. He remained convinced to the end that there would be a negotiated settlement between North and South, which leads the author to comment, “I often wished I knew the source of such information” (p. 50).

The Special Branch of the South Vietnamese National Police supplied about 90 percent of the leads upon which the CIA based their operations, but the CIA liaison officers who oversaw them were almost a joke, as Sullivan soon learned. “This was a case of the blind leading the unwilling” (p. 83). Sullivan asserts that almost every case officer he met agreed that the Special Branch “was the most impotent and corrupt entity with which the CIA worked” (p.83).

Of Spies and Lies is an interesting addition to the history of the CIA in Vietnam. It takes its place next to Frank Snepp’s Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam[2] and Slow Burn[3] by Orrin DeForest, another CIA Vietnam veteran. Reading Of Spies and Lies gives one the sense of despair, disorder and corruption that existed in Vietnam; unfortunately one has to wade through a great deal of irrelevant information along the way. That is of course the weakness of a personal reminiscence. Sullivan is obsessively interested in presenting himself and his craft in a good light. He is continually vindicating his own judgments of Vietnamese assets, going through the step-by-step process by which he discovered who was telling the truth and who was fabricating. This adds to his credibility, but it also detracts from the focus of the book, because with each case, he includes the reactions of the Americans he worked with, what he thought of them, and what they thought of him, all of which the reader must wade through.

It must also be noted that Sullivan’s perspective is unusual: he is low man on the totem pole, and things look decidedly different from down there. What to him looks like stupidity on the part of Shackley and Polgar, both of whom continued to believe (or appeared to) that they were making progress in the face of adverse conditions, and that they could meet the goals set out for them, makes a great deal of sense if they had no other hand to play.

In the end, one must consider this book a footnote to history, or, to use Philip Graham’s phrase, the first rough draft. Students of the Vietnam War should read it, but they should judge it in that light.

[1] Susan Butler, Review of Sullivan, John F., Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. June, 2002. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=6366. Copyright © 2002 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu. If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-diplo.

[2] Snepp, Frank (1978). Decent Interval : An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told By The CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst In Vietnam. New York: Vintage Books

[3] DeForest, Orrin (1990) and David Chanoff. Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam. New York: Simon and Schuster

Posted in Vietnam | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Before Intelligence Failed

Title:                      Before Intelligence Failed

Author:                Mark Wilkinson

Wilkinson, Mark (2014). Before Intelligence Failed : British Secret Intelligence on Chemical And Biological Weapons in The Soviet Union, South Africa And Libya. London: C. Hurst and Co.

OCLC:    925478985

JN329 (estimated)

Date Posted:      May 8, 2017

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[1]

In the wake of the 2003 Iraq War, the term “intelligence failure” became synonymous with the Blair Government and how it had used intelligence to construct a case for war. This book examines British secret intelligence over the thirty years preceding its very public failings. From the Soviet Union to South Africa and Libya, Mark Wilkinson provides a detailed analysis and vivid account of the development and functioning of Britain’s intelligence agencies in the struggle against the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. Based on archival research and interviews with key players in the intelligence establishment, he shows how a handful of chemical and biological weapons experts battled to make their voices heard. They had evidence that illegal weapons development was taking place but were continually rebuffed by adversaries in Whitehall. Fascinating, surprising and sometimes shocking, Before Intelligence Failed is a compelling account of what was known about chemical and biological weapons proliferation before the Iraq War.

[1] Reviewed in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 3, Winter 2016-17, p. 137).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Secret Well Kept

Title:                      A Secret Well Kept

Author:                Constance Kell

Kell, Constance (2017). A Secret Well Kept: The Untold Story of Sir Vernon Kell, Founder of MI5. London: Conway

OCLC:                    951227161

UB271.G7 K45 2017

Subjects

Date Posted:      May 5, 2017

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[1]

MI5 was founded in 1909 by Sir Vernon Kell KBE. Kell (“K” within the agency) not only founded MI5 but was also its Director for 31 years, the longest tenure of any head of a British government department during the twentieth century. Kell was also fluent in six foreign languages, making him arguably the most gifted linguist ever to head a Western intelligence agency. This work, written by Kell’s wife, Lady Constance Kell, in the late 1940s, provides insight into the personal life of this important man, from the one person with whom he was most intimate.

Half of the book is devoted to Kell’s life before MI5, the other half to Kell’s his personal life outside MI5 from 1909-1940. We also learn about the key characters and events during Kell’s career with MI5—particularly the key people he worked with and the big spy cases from 1909-18.

[1] Reviewed in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 3, Winter 2016-17, p. 137).

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The Company We Keep

Title:                      The Company We Keep

Author:                 Robert Baer

Baer, Robert (2011) and Dayna Baer. The Company We Keep: A Husband-And-Wife True-Life Spy Story. New York: Crown Publishers

LCCN:    2010019829

JK468.I6 B33 2011

Subjects

Date Posted:      May 5, 2017

Reviewed by David Rohde[1]

In The Company We Keep, Robert and Dayna Baer tell the story of two failed marriages and one triumphant one.

The former C.I.A. officers describe why they chose to become spies, how they fell in love while working undercover and what drove them to leave “the life.” Along the way, they recount the adrenaline and tedium, the danger and deception, that mark a career in espionage.

Dayna, a Southern California native, recalls meeting Bob (as he is known throughout) on a covert assignment to track Hezbollah operatives in Bosnia during the 1990s. Smoking a cigar and boldly declaring of their targets, “We’ll pin ’em down like butterflies,” her future husband strikes her as “a little nutty.”

Bob, who is best known for his 2002 memoir, See No Evil[2], on which the movie “Syriana” was loosely based, is impressed by his future wife’s toughness and beauty. He tells a male colleague he could imagine her in “the turret of a Land Rover” manning a “30-cal” machine gun.

In alternating chapters, the two explain how they came to be seduced by spying—and ultimately disillusioned with it. While living in Corona del Mar, her hometown, and attending graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dayna picked up a C.I.A. application at a job fair. She’d been working in an internship counseling gang members, but she’d also never lived outside the Golden State. Life felt “a little too scripted, too predictable,” she writes. C.I.A. work would be “intriguing, maybe even vital.” In her first job for the agency, though, she finds herself bored to death and stuck in Los Angeles traffic for hours each day. Instead of tracking foreign spies, she conducts background checks on C.I.A. applicants. “The real gold mines are ex-spouses and ex-lovers,” she writes dryly. “They’re more than happy to talk about their exes’ dirty secrets.”

Then one morning, Dayna learns she’s been invited to train as a “shooter”: “six months of grueling day-and-night drilling in pistols, shotguns, automatic weapons, hand-to-hand combat, high-speed driving, killing someone by shoving a pencil up through their hard palate.” Eager to leave Los Angeles even though it will mean essentially deserting her husband, a municipal court judge, Dayna heads east to train. Eventually, she joins a “deep cover” team, traveling the world and trying “never to leave a fingerprint behind.” When she is able to call home, she can’t use her real name or give her location. Her marriage disintegrates.

Bob’s story begins in Morocco in the early 1990s, when he’s a 15-year agency veteran. Early on, we learn that his own marriage is decaying, that he and his wife are going through a “dead spot,” although they “believe that with time and distance things will work out.” He’s an absent father to his three children, who live with their mother in France, as Bob is sent to remote corners of the globe.

“Somewhere along the way,” he became “addicted to political upheaval—civil wars, revolutions, coups d’état, armies on the move,” he writes. “There’s nothing more fascinating than seeing a house come down, and the fight to rebuild it.”

The comment is indicative of his bravado. While in Tajikistan, he uses a visit by his mother to charm a Russian spy, Yuri, whom he’s trying to turn into a double agent: “There’s nothing like a mother to close the distance between you and your quarry.” Over time Bob starts to feel genuine affection for Yuri, and he reunites with him in the United States. But when he arranges a meeting between the Russian and another C.I.A. official—the double agent Aldrich Ames—Ames betrays Yuri to his own K.G.B. handlers. Yuri, to Bob’s chagrin, is fired by the K.G.B., and his prospective friend becomes “just a throwaway in the deal.” The reader senses Bob’s view of himself and his work shift: “I’d used my own mother to try to recruit someone who might have been a friend—if I knew for certain what that means.”

Dayna’s description of jetting around the world on C.I.A. missions is also bleak. She rarely knows the result of her efforts. She doesn’t know the real names of her colleagues. She engages in deceit every day, lying to her parents about her work. “I wonder how grounded any of us really is,” she writes. “Aren’t we all some sort of phantom, not a whole lot different from the guy I’m eavesdropping on?”

Journalists, businesspeople and aid workers based abroad regularly interact with the local population. But spies fear that too much contact could blow their cover. Each day, they survey the populace for people willing to betray their nation for money. The result is a dark, isolated and cynical existence. “We suck the lifeblood out of our sources, pillage our contacts,” Bob writes. “Every arrangement has a twist; every favor comes with an I.O.U.”

One of Bob’s most chilling passages is not about buying an informant. It is a description of his final phone conversation with his estranged father. On his deathbed in a California hospital, Bob’s father asks to speak to his son by phone. Holding the receiver, the usually confident operative is at a loss for words. “‘I love you,’ I say. Although I barely know the man, that’s all I can think to say,” Bob writes. “It must be five minutes before the nurse comes back on the phone. ‘Your father’s been taken away.’ ”

The book brightens as the authors describe their blossoming relationship. After they retire from the C.I.A., Dayna attends law school, and Bob becomes a consultant and a writer. They also come to recognize their own faults.

After years of separation, Dayna’s father is closer to a woman he calls his “other daughter.” “I lied to myself for a long time that I didn’t have to be nearby to keep family bonds,” Dayna writes.

As for Bob, life on the road has made him a distant figure to his children. Even when he finally settles down, they choose to stay with their mother. “Nothing I did in my years in the C.I.A. added or subtracted from the mess out there,” he writes. “But . . . while I was trying to make sense of that mess, there was a mess brewing at home.”

And so over all, this is a cautionary tale. Those ambitious journalists, business­people and aid workers, as well as prospective spies, should take heed. “The Company We Keep” shows that the lure of adventure and intrigue—in any profession—can wreak irrevocable havoc on the relationships that truly matter.

[1] David Rhode, “The Spies Who Loved Each Other,” New York Times (March 18, 2011). David Rohde is an investigative reporter at The Times and a co-author, with Kristen Mulvihill, of A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping From Two Sides. A version of this review appears in print on March 20, 2011, on Page BR22 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: “The Spies Who Loved Each Other”.

[2] Baer, Robert (2002). See No Evil: The True Story of A Ground Soldier in The CIA’s War on Terrorism. New York: Three Rivers Press

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Beyond Snowden

Title:                      Beyond Snowden

Author:                 Timothy H. Edgar

Edgar, Timothy H. (2017). Beyond Snowden: Privacy, Mass Surveillance, and the Struggle to Reform the NSA. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press

ISBN:     978-0815730637

JF1525 (estimated)

Date Posted:      May 4, 2017

America’s mass surveillance programs, once secret, can no longer be ignored. While Edward Snowden began the process in 2013 with his leaks of top secret documents, the Obama administration’s own reforms have also helped bring NSA and its programs of signals intelligence collection out of the shadows. The real question is: What should we do about mass surveillance?

Edgar, a long-time civil liberties activist who worked inside the Intelligence Community for six years during the Bush and Obama administrations, believes that the NSA’s programs are a profound threat to the privacy of everyone in the world. At the same time, he argues that mass surveillance programs can be made consistent with democratic values, if we make the hard choices needed to bring transparency, accountability, privacy, and human rights protections into complex programs of intelligence collection. Although the NSA and other agencies already comply with rules intended to prevent them from spying on Americans, Edgar argues that the rules—most of which date from the 1970s—are inadequate for this century. Reforms adopted during the Obama administration are a good first step but, in his view, do not go nearly far enough.

Edgar argues that our communications today—and the national security threats we face—are both global and digital. In the twenty-first century, the only way to protect our privacy as Americans is to do a better job of protecting everyone’s privacy. Edgar explains both why and how we can do this, without sacrificing the vital intelligence capabilities we need to keep ourselves and our allies safe. If we do, we set a positive example for other nations that must confront challenges like terrorism while preserving human rights. The United States already leads the world in mass surveillance. It can lead the world in mass surveillance reform.

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