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


by Robert Baer

Crown Publishing, 2002. 288. . 25.95. ISBN:0609609874

See No Evil, by Rober Baer, is a memoir of life in the CIA at a time when actually spying on the nation's enemies was the farthest thing from the CIA's mind, and when being an effective spy could land a CIA officer in all kinds of trouble. Robert Baer joined the Agency in 1976, became fluent in Arabic, and served much of his career as a case officer in the Middle East. He worked some very dangerous territories, including Beirut at a time when it was open season on Americans in general and CIA officers in particular. Working under embassy cover offered a case officer the worst of both worlds. It meant the opposition had his name and where he worked much of the time, but his diplomatic immunity gave him no protection, since the opposition had no respect for it. Baer was stationed in Beirut after the US embassy had been destroyed by a truck bomb. The building the US used after that was a virtual fortress. People sent there arrived by helicopter, since using the Beirut air! port was an open invitation to being kidnapped. In fact, flights to the embassy consisted of two helicopters, so that one could instantly pick up the survivors if the other was shot down, and a chopper landing at the embassy would only remain on the ground for twenty seconds.

So Baer was up at the sharp end of the business. As a result of the scandals of the 1970's the CIA was becoming ever more risk averse. This grated on Baer, who was a risk taker. He openly admits that not all the risks he took during his career were intelligent ones. While stationed in New Delhi early in his career, he took chances to get hold of some T-72 tank manuals that might have gotten a local CIA agent caught. While investigating the bombing of the US Embassy, he took a trip to Balabakk in Lebanon, which was controlled by the Hizballah, that he concedes was foolhardy. He got within sight of the building where it later turned out captured CIA station chief William Buckley and other Western hostages were being held. But he could not at that time confirm their presence, or do anything to get them out, and he might well have ended up a prisoner himself. Baer admits to some mistakes, which is not a common practice in CIA memoirs and adds a measure of credi! bility to his story.

What makes this book especially interesting is that Baer was involved in counterterrorism. The book is subtitled "The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism". Baer spent a lot of time trying to gather information about Islamic terrorists, especially those who blew up the American embassy in Beirut. This book has some deletions in it, the work of CIA censors, and Baer does not compromise sources or methods. But he does reveal some interesting details about how the CIA gathers information on terrorists. One source that proved useful was Lebanese civil registration documents, which could give biographical information about terrorist suspects. These records had to be accessed by local agents - Americans could not move around freely in Beirut. Information about marriages, place and date of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, and names of the relatives of suspeted terrorists were actually very helpful. Agents reporting on terrorist groups or susp! ects could be quizzed about these sorts of details, and their truthfulness, or lack of it, could be established.

Baer claims that the CIA had more success against terrorism in Lebanon than it could acknowledge publicly at the time. Unfortunately, even when good information could be developed, it often could not be exploited. For example, Baer claims that the CIA learned in advance of terroist plans to kidnap an ABC news reporter in Lebanon, but that it had no way to contact him time to warn him. (In fact, ABC news is listed in the phone book. Did the CIA let this man go into the bag to protect its source?) Baer also claims that the Agency was able to pinpoint the location of Imad Mughniyah, a key figure in the bombing of the

Reviewer: Burke G Sheppard   

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