The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story

( 43 )

Overview

Robert Baer was known inside the CIA as perhaps the best operative working the Middle East. Over several decades he served everywhere from Iraq to New Delhi and racked up such an impressive list of accomplishments that he was eventually awarded the Career Intelligence Medal.  But if his career was everything a spy might aspire to, his personal life was a brutal illustration of everything a spy is asked to sacrifice. Bob had few enduring non-work friendships, only contacts and acquaintances. His prolonged ...
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The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story

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Overview

Robert Baer was known inside the CIA as perhaps the best operative working the Middle East. Over several decades he served everywhere from Iraq to New Delhi and racked up such an impressive list of accomplishments that he was eventually awarded the Career Intelligence Medal.  But if his career was everything a spy might aspire to, his personal life was a brutal illustration of everything a spy is asked to sacrifice. Bob had few enduring non-work friendships, only contacts and acquaintances. His prolonged absences destroyed his marriage, and he felt intense guilt at spending so little time with his children. Sworn to secrecy and constantly driven by ulterior motives, he was a man apart wherever he went.
 
Dayna Williamson thought of herself as just an ordinary California girl -- admittedly one born into a comfortable lifestyle.  But she was always looking to get closer to the edge.  When she joined the CIA, she was initially tasked with Agency background checks, but the attractive Berkeley graduate quickly distinguished herself as someone who could thrive in the field, and she was eventually assigned to “Protective Operations” training where she learned to handle weapons and explosives and conduct high-speed escape and evasion. Tapped to serve in some of the world's most dangerous places, she discovered an inner strength and resourcefulness she'd never known -- but she also came to see that the spy life exacts a heavy toll.  Her marriage crumbled, her parents grew distant, and she lost touch with friends who'd once meant everything to her.
 
When Bob and Dayna met on a mission in Sarajevo, it wasn't love at first sight. They were both too jaded for that. But there was something there, a spark. And as the danger escalated and their affection for each other grew, they realized it was time to leave “the Company,” to somehow rediscover the people they’d once been.
 
As worldly as both were, the couple didn’t realize at first that turning in their Agency I.D. cards would not be enough to put their covert past behind.  The fact was, their clandestine relationships remained.  Living as “civilians” in conflict-ridden Beirut, they fielded assassination proposals, met with Arab sheiks, wily oil tycoons, terrorists, and assorted outlaws – and came perilously close to dying.  But even then they couldn’t know that their most formidable challenge lay ahead.
 
Simultaneously a trip deep down the intelligence rabbit hole – one that shows how the “game” actually works, including the compromises it asks of those who play by its rules -- and a portrait of two people trying to regain a normal life, The Company We Keep is a masterly depiction of the real world of shadows.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Kanon
…a breezy, often fascinating account of this CIA romance, with tradecraft details and war stories thrown in to make it catnip for any fan of espionage fiction. Here, in fact, is the CIA that inspired such fiction in the first place—not the Langley bureaucrats waiting out their pension time, but the risk-takers out on the edge…The fieldwork here is heady stuff, and The Company We Keep makes the most of it, but the back story is the emotional cost—the estranged families, the friends left behind, the secrecy and months of separation.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Robert and Dayna Baer's initial meeting was slightly unusual—both were on a covert mission in Sarajevo for the CIA. In this intermittently intriguing memoir, they describe their careers in "the Company," their romance, and the difficulty they have in establishing a balanced life outside the world of secret agents. Their travels take them to interesting places in interesting times—from Bosnia and Lebanon during civil wars, to Syria under the Assads, the mansions of sheiks, and the safe houses of terrorist groups. As the Baers drift away from family and see friends die, they learn the costs of covert life. Told in chapters that alternate between each partner's perspective, their story is best when discussing the minutiae of agency work. In understated prose, the couple effectively narrate the long bouts of tedium interspersed with moments of paranoia and fear that make up a CIA agent's life. On most assignments, they never learn if their efforts have any positive result—often, they don't even know their co-workers' real names. When the personal becomes the subject, however, the understatement feels inadequate. The Baers give us so little insight into their mutual attraction that it feels like another state secret. After they leave the agency, they seem adrift, and the book loses focuses as well. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"[A] bloody, suspenseful story of love and deceit.”--Mens Journal

The Company We Keep is a breezy, often fascinating account of this CIA romance, with tradecraft details and war stories thrown in to make it catnip for any fan of espionage fiction...That the Baers coaxed a happy ending out of all this is not the least remarkable part of their appealing story, and hats off to them."--The Washington Post

“Engrossing…filled with juicy, personal on-the-job details…[an] exhilarating tale of geopolitical love and peril...”--More

"The Company We Keep is the best true-life spy story I've ever read…You'll find yourself rooting for these two vagabond spies, and you won't want their exciting and moving story to end."--David Ignatius, New York Times bestselling author of Body of Lies

"Funny, frightening, ironic, and deeply moving, this is an utterly engrossing thrill ride through the hall of mirrors that is modern espionage…A wonderful book."--Richard North Patterson, New York Times bestselling author of Degree of Guilt and In the Name of Honor

"Provides a spot-on and compelling portrait of real life inside the CIA; the periods of boredom and frustration loudly punctuated by fast-moving and sometimes frightening, sometimes amusing intelligence operations.  Bob and Dayna Baer are the real deal and they beautifully capture the murky world they lived and worked in for years."--Valerie Plame Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Fair Game

“Propulsive momentum…the authors give a good sense of the improvisational nature of the CIA…Both Baers write affectingly of their experiences.”--Kirkus Reviews

"A revelation…[shows] how spies operate in the field, the personal costs they pay for the exceptional lives they live, and the way fate can deliver up redemption…I loved this book."--Barry Eisler, New York Times bestselling author of Rain Fall and Fault Line

"An emotionally candid memoir of a life few could imagine, juggling terrorists and dictators with all too real family dramas…describes how two accomplished spies trained in shooting for the heart, improbably found their own."--Jane Mayer, National Book Award Finalist for The Dark Side

"After 20 years as the CIA's best and most adventurous spy, Bob Baer has established himself as America's go-to writer on espionage and the Middle East in the age of 9/11. Now he and his wife Dayna have added a heart-stopping new chapter, revealing how a couple caught up in the dark world of CIA intrigue try to balance romance and gunplay while building a relationship on the jagged edge of undercover work…The Company We Keepwill make you ask, who needs Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie?"--James Risen, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of State of War

"A cross between John Le Carre and Erich Segal…Told with flair, intelligence and emotion – and often diary-like detail."--Leslie Stahl, CBS News

"Extraordinary…shows the Baers’ ultimate triumph over the isolation inherent in their professions and the banality of bureaucracy worldwide."--Lindsay Moran, author of Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy

"Will illuminate the dark world of intelligence gathering that very few people ever see. It's filled with ground truth, tradecraft and operational details...You will not be disappointed."--Fred Burton, VP Intelligence, STRATFOR, and author of Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent

"A cross between voyeurism and adventure, this book takes us through the emotional, poignant, and often dangerous lives of two CIA operatives: the fear, the violence, the requisite suspicion, and the tenuous friendships…It’s especially intriguing to follow a woman into dark corners, thrilling missions, and psychologically difficult moments."--Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad

"Vivid and revealing…a look inside the real CIA."--David Wise, author of Spy

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
Longtime CIA operative Baer has several best sellers to his name, including See No Evil, the basis of Syriana; wife Dayna Baer was his CIA "shooter." Together, they found quitting "the Company" a big challenge. Yes, this is being pitched as the story of a real-life Mr. and Mrs. Smith and will likely have wide appeal.
Kirkus Reviews

Two CIA spooks form a romantic bond while globe-hopping between trouble spots.

In this unusual memoir, a husband and wife alternate chapters in describing their careers and connection. Robert Baer (The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, 2009, etc.) is well-known to espionage fans as the basis for George Clooney's character inSyriana (2005). Dayna had a more secretive career. Initially, she performed background checks, but then, to her surprise, she was selected for the "shooter" course, which prepares the CIA's little-known cohort of Protective Agents. Despite this potentially thrilling detour, Dayna emphasizes that "what I end up doing has nothing to do with banging down doors and firefights...The moment a gun comes out, the mission is compromised." Meanwhile, Robert was posted to places like Tajikistan and Iraq, where he was "caught up in a plot by a handful of Iraqi generals to oust Saddam Hussein," which led to his near-prosecution by the FBI. Yet he was admittedly addicted to the political intrigues of the Middle East, even as his first marriage was disintegrating. The early chapters have propulsive momentum, and the authors give a good sense of the improvisational nature of the CIA in the 1990s, as clandestine veterans like Robert tried to tie up the messy loose ends of the Cold War. Both Baers write affectingly of their experiences in Sarajevo, "a city radiant with sorrow," where they met during a covert operation. Dayna's initial impressions of Robert were decidedly negative, and their romance took some time to blossom. Unfortunately, once they wind up together, the narrative pace slackens (the love affair is only vaguely depicted). Eventually, they decided to leave the agency (Robert permanently, Dayna on a leave of absence) in order to build a family and pursue an international adoption in Pakistan, where the CIA is not highly regarded. Despite some chilling moments involving a Taliban-aligned judge, the book meanders toward a conclusion of domestic contentment.

An intermittently engaging but not entirely satisfying tale of love and espionage.

The Barnes & Noble Review

CIA operatives Bob and Dayna Baer first met in Sarajevo while both were conducting surveillance on Iranian-backed, anti-American group Hizballah. The Baers offer readers the story of their romance, but more importantly supply an invaluable insider account of how spycraft works in the real world. The Baers bring us inside their covert operations, from Iraq to Kazakhstan, showing us exactly how they maintained their covers, recruited informants, tailed terrorists, protected secret documents, and more.

It's dangerous work, of course. During the Sarajevo surveillance of Hezbollah, a CIA colleague gets shot in a drive-by. Yet risk fuels romance, and, while blending into hostile surroundings, Bob and Dayna fall in love. Because of Bob, Dayna develops a more spontaneous approach to both espionage and life, leaving her husband just as Bob decides to leave his wife. The love story, however, is secondary: it's the fascinating insights into the clandestine service that make this accessible book so revelatory.

Bob, who was portrayed by George Clooney in the film "Syriana," is uniquely gifted at recruiting intelligent sources. By book's end, however, the veteran Baer admits that "[n]othing I did . . .added or subtracted from the mess out there." In the most Sisyphean case, Baer works tirelessly to "turn" a Russian intelligence agent by offering him settlement in the U.S. and college admission for his daughters. Just as the ex-KGB agent agrees to supply information to the CIA, a mole inside the CIA (Aldrich Ames) thwarts Baer's plans by revealing them to Russian intelligence. Such twists, worthy of the most carefully wrought fiction, make this account of spycraft's actual challenges, as engrossing as a novel by Littel or le Carré.

--Chuck Leddy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307588159
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 520,727
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Baer is the author of three New York Times bestsellers involving the CIA: See No Evil (which was the basis for the acclaimed film Syriana), Sleeping with the Devil, and The Devil We Know. He has become one of the most authoritative voices on American intelligence and frequently appears as a media commentator.

Dayna Baer, before leaving the Agency to settle down with Bob, was also an accomplished CIA operative.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 43 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(10)

4 Star

(14)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting insight into the CIA

    For decades, Robert Baer was a top CIA operative in the Middle East. Dayna Williamson worked her way up through the ranks in the CIA, serving in strife torn sections of the world. Both were married when their paths crossed in Sarajevo, but their covert lifestyles and long absences from home had destroyed their marriages as well as strained Dayna's relationship with her elderly parents.

    Robert and Dayna tag-teamed the chapters in THE COMPANY WE KEEP as we follow them on their real-life missions in very dangerous locales. Both were trained in explosives and weapons. After resigning from the CIA, they decided to live in Beirut, but their background and training makes regular civilian life nearly impossible and they eventually settle in California.

    The Baers have provided us with very in-depth insight into their work for the CIA, including naming names of world leaders you'll recognize. However, the reader learns very little about their growing personal relationship, cloaked as it is in their adventures. As their lives continue after resigning from the CIA, the book seems to flounder. Lynn Kimmerle

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Shallow

    Dayna's training is the only interesting part. The rest is about two people too shallow to divorce their current spouses before getting involved with new interests. Spying and personal sacrifice are not the focus of this book; the book is all about narcissism. If this is what the CIA is like, no wonder it's the butt of so many bad stereotypes. Start to finish, Bob and Dayna are selfish people who blame spy games for the bad choices they make. If that's not what they meant to say, they did a terrible job writing this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 11, 2012

    This is an engaging, easy read about two Americans in the CIA. E

    This is an engaging, easy read about two Americans in the CIA. Each author has a voice, writing alternate chapters. Bob Baer is an experienced CIA operative, working in war torn arenas around the world. Dayna Baer (not yet married to Bob) works in Los Angeles as part of the CIA team that investigates new recruits backgrounds. Bobs’ adventures include finding dental care for himself in a country that doesn’t have any dentist and living with Russians, once an American enemy. Dayna is selected to train at Langley, Virginia, so that she too will be able to be an operative in foreign countries. As both of their career responsibilities increase, they realize the sacrifice they must make in their personal lives. These include divorce and further deteriorating family relationships.

    Their descriptions of their assignments are vivid. Sometimes boredom is the biggest obstacle to overcome. After Bob and Dayna marry, they realize if they stay in the CIA it would lead to separate assignments and possible divorce. The last several chapters have a wonderful twist to the saga of these two former CIA agents.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 26, 2012

    Interesting look into an opaque world

    This a interesting look behind the scenes of field officers in difficult circumstances. The writing is sparse, which is telling in itself - so many secrets to still keep.

    In a different scene, this personal story of two people coming together could have been told in a very romantic way. Due to the nature of their work, and maybe even personal traits, there is a lot left unsaid about the Baer's story. Which makes the reader just want to hear more about their former work and their love affair.

    An intriguing book. I look forward to reading Mr. Baer's earlier work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    Awesome

    Well written. Enticing story. Couldnt put it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2011

    An excellent read--a "must" read for anyone interested in the real story in the middle east!

    Was very sorry to come to the end of this book--all of Bob's books have been very worth reading--am certain he has many more stories he can share with his readers.

    Appreciate both Dayna and Bob's candor in telling their experiences in the middle east--information in this book not available from any other source--as it is their personal experience in places most of us only hear about--vaguely, in the media--a very limited source of information, so if the middle east culture is of interest to one, then this is the book to read!

    Will be happy to see another book from both Bob and/or Dayna if they so chose to continue writing. Thanks much for a great read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 20, 2011

    Subtly interesting

    Can be exciting at times, kept me entertained on my flight-- am I going to read it again? No.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2011

    Entertaining and enlighting.

    Fascinating to look behind the scenes at the real thing...not what the movies show you. Glad it included a female agent's experiences, too. Good reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Insider View of Foreign Intelligence Operations

    Starting from the CIA "Academy" in Virginia, through offices in Los Angeles, through initial overseas deployments -- the lives of two CIA agents are explored as they face danger, fall in love, and establish a relationship in a most unlikely setting. Soon to be a movie, this is a great story. He's a veteran "salty dog" and she's a dissatisfied CIA office clerk who wants to be an agent. If this were a novel, it would work. Because this is a true story, it is riveting. I totally appreciated this read.

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