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

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

3.4 43
by Robert Baer, Dayna Baer

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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… See more details below


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.

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Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.58(w) x 9.78(h) x 1.07(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 BEAR, before leaving the agency to settle down with Bob, was herself an accomplished CIA operative.

From the Hardcover edition.

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