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

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

4.4 85
by Robert Baer

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

What's happened to the CIA? Shouldn't they have known about 9/11? Why has this once-mighty spy agency been reduced to relative insignificance? Former Middle East field agent Robert Baer paints the less-than-pretty picture of the Agency's decline and fall, showing how far it's fallen in recent years after taking hits from petty politics, bureaucracy, and fatal hesitancy to act. He also details the steps he feels the organization must take if they are to help prevent further terrorist attacks.
From the Publisher
“See No Evil is a compelling account of America’s failed efforts to ‘listen in’ on the rest of the world, especially the parts of it that intend to do us harm.”
–Wall Street Journal

“Robert Baer was considered perhaps the best on-the-ground field officer in the Middle East.”
–Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker

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In late 1994 I found myself living pretty much on airplanes. I would arrive in Amman, Jordan, in the late afternoon, check into a hotel, take a quick shower, and then spend the night talking to one Iraqi dissident or another about what to do with Saddam Hussein. Often I wouldn't crawl into bed until well after midnight, only to get up a few hours later to catch a plane back to Washington and my office at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It made for a long day. I was used to it, though, having spent nearly twenty years working the streets of the Middle East at the same pace.

Occasionally, in this covert version of shuttle diplomacy, I'd get off the plane in London and just walk around the city so I could catch my breath. I didn't follow a particular route, but often without intending it, I'd end up in the Edgeware Road area, a part of central London taken over by Arabs and other Middle Easterners. With the veiled women, and the men walking around in flowing robes, it felt like I'd never left the Middle East, but there was one subtle difference: the Arabic bookstores.

In most parts of the Middle East, bookstores are forbidden from selling radical Islamic tracts that openly advocate violence, but in London's Arabic bookstores there were racks of them. One glance at the bold print and you knew what they were about: a deep, uncompromising hatred for the United States. In the worldview of the people who wrote and published these tracts, a jihad, or holy war, between Islam and America wasn't just a possibility; for them the war was a given, and it was already under way. Having spent so much of my life in the Middle East, I knew that such intense, violent hatred represented an aberration of Islam; but I also knew better than most the human toll that such hatred can take.

Often I would pick up a tract and take a look at the small print. Rarely did the publisher or the editor's name appear on the masthead, and office addresses were never noted. But with few exceptions, they carried a European post-office box, often in Britain or in Germany. It didn't take a sophisticated intelligence organization to figure out that Europe, our traditional ally in the war against the bad guys, had become a hothouse of Islamic fundamentalism.

Curious, I asked my CIA colleagues in London if they knew who was putting this stuff out. They had no idea, but there was really no reason why they should have. Since our London office couldn't claim a single Arabic speaker, it was unlikely that anyone there was going to wander down Edgeware Road. Even if someone had, he wouldn't have been able to read the venomous headlines. What's more, the CIA was prohibited by British authorities from recruiting sources, even Islamic fundamentalists, in their country. What was the point, then, in spending time with the Arabs there?

In general, things were no better on the continent. By the mid-1990s, the CIA was shriveling up everywhere in Europe. Our offices in Bonn, Paris, and Rome were shadows of what they had been during the cold war with the Soviet Union. They lacked the officers to go after Europe's vast Middle Eastern communities, and those they did have too often lacked the inclination, the training, and in some cases the incentive to do so.

Things weren't much better in the Middle East. Often there was only one or two CIA officers assigned to a country. Rather than recruit and run sources-foreign agents-CIA stations in the tinderbox of the world spent most of their time catering to whatever was in fashion in Washington at the time: human rights, economic globalization, the Arab-Israeli conflict. To veterans like me, the CIA seemed to be doing little more than flying the flag.

A lot of us who spent time on the ground in the Middle East worried that something big and bad was in the offing. There was too much hatred out there, and too many means of destruction to keep the bubble of American innocence from bursting. But I don't think anyone saw with any precision the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon coming. Even by the standards of the terrorists involved, the scale of the assault was almost unimaginable. The point, though, is that we didn't even try to find out what was headed our way.

Like the rest of Washington, the CIA had fallen in love with technology. The theory was that satellites, the Internet, electronic intercepts, even academic publications would tell us all we needed to know about what went on beyond our borders. As for Islamic fundamentalists in particular, the official view had become that our allies in Europe and the Middle East could fill in the missing pieces. Running our own agents-our own foreign human sources-had become too messy. Agents sometimes misbehaved; they caused ugly diplomatic incidents. Worse, they didn't fit America's moral view of the way the world should run.

Not only did the CIA systematically shed many of its agents, it also began to ease out many of their onetime handlers: seasoned officers who had spent their careers overseas in the hellholes of the world. In 1995 the agency handed the title of director of operations-the man officially in charge of spying-to an analyst who had never served overseas. He was followed by a retiree, and the retiree by an officer who had risen through the ranks largely thanks to his political skills. In practical terms, the CIA had taken itself out of the business of spying. No wonder we didn't have a source in Hamburg's mosques to tell us Muhammad Atta, the presumed leader of the hijacking teams on September 11, was recruiting suicide bombers for the biggest attack ever on American soil.

This book is a memoir of one foot soldier's career in the other cold war, the one against terrorist networks that have no intention of collapsing under their own weight as the Soviet Union did. 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. It is drawn from memory, investigative notes, and diaries. As the reader will soon figure out, there is too much detail, almost none of which has ever appeared outside of government files, for any one person to remember. All my life I've been a consummate note taker. At the same time, not surprisingly, some of the details simply can't be told. Every CIA employee is required to sign an agreement that allows the agency to review and censor anything written for publication. I've left the censor's blackouts in the text so readers can see how it works. But more than enough detail remains to give the reader an idea just how complicated the problem of terrorism is, and what this life has been like: the highs and lows, the dangerous moments in the field, and the sometimes more dangerous moments around the conference tables of official Washington, often as nasty a snake pit as Lebanon's Biqa' Valley.

I haven't edited out the many mistakes I made in the field. The reader should see how painful the learning curve can be in the spy business. Nor have I hidden that I set out to understand how Washington works, with all of its special interests. I allowed myself to get sucked into the fringes of the Clinton campaign-funding scandal. I have nothing to apologize for-other than maybe my own stupidity-but if my name rings a bell, it's likely to be from that time.

I also intend my story to be a metaphor for what has happened to the CIA that I served for nearly a quarter of a century, and for what needs to be done now. September 11 wasn't the result of a single mistake but of a series of them. The Germans failed us, as did the British, French, and Saudis. But most of all, we failed ourselves. We didn't have the intelligence we needed or the means for gathering it. Correcting those mistakes and regaining the upper hand in the long war against terrorism isn't going to be easy, but it can be done. The way to start is by putting CIA officers back on the street, by letting them recruit and run sources in the mosques, the casbahs, or anywhere else we can learn what the bad guys' intentions are before they break into horrible headlines and unbearable film footage.

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 country should be angry and alarmed, too. In letting the CIA fall into decay, we lost a vital shield protecting our national sovereignty.

Americans need to know that what happened to the CIA didn't happen just by chance. The CIA was systematically destroyed by political correctness, by petty Beltway wars, by careerism, and much more. At a time when terrorist threats were compounding globally, the agency that should have been monitoring them was being scrubbed clean instead. Americans were making too much money to bother. Life was good. The oceans on either side of us were all the protection we needed. Afloat on this sea of self-absorption, the White House and the National Security Council became cathedrals of commerce where the interests of big business outweighed the interests of protecting American citizens at home and abroad. Defanged and dispirited, the CIA went along for the ride. And then on September 11, 2001, the reckoning for such vast carelessness was presented for all the world to see.

Even if no one could have foreseen those attacks, it's still inconceivable that so many people had to die in order to wake us up to the fact that we have sacrificed a national resource for greed and convenience and small-minded politics. I'm incensed, and I think we should all be incensed, that the courageous passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 were the White House's first and only line of defense on September 11-not the CIA or the FBI or the Immigration and Naturalization Service or any other office or agency that we pay our taxes to support.

The other day a reporter friend told me that one of the highest-ranking CIA officials had said to him, off the record, that when the dust finally clears, Americans will see that September 11 was a triumph for the intelligence community, not a failure. If that's going to be the official line of thinking at the agency charged with manning the front lines in the war against the Osama bin Ladens of this world, then I am more than angry: I'm scared to death of what lies ahead.

Meet the Author

ROBERT BAER was a case officer in the Directorate of Operations for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1976 to 1997. He served in places such as Iraq, Dushanbe, Rabat, Beirut, Khartoum, and New Delhi, and received the Career Intelligence Medal in 1997. He now divides his time between Washington, D.C., and France.

From the Hardcover edition.

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See No Evil 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
FocoProject More than 1 year ago
Embarrassingly, perhaps, I knew very little about terrorism when the attacks of 9/11 happened. Maybe I was in line with most Americans in that, terrorism was not exactly the top thing on their minds. But suddenly the news were filled with names and titles that had my head spinning. And along with that came all sorts of allegations and commentary regarding the failures of the CIA in the events that led up to this catastrophe.

After watching the movie Syriana, which is essentially a film about the oil industry and the politics involved, I grew interested in this book, simply because it clearly dealt with problems regarding the agency.

Not by any means meant to be an unbiased account, See No Evil is a former agent¿s account about the events that made, in his opinion a mockery of the agency he once loved to work for. Doing his best to present the facts, the author does so without every trying to hide the fact that all of this is coming from his own point of view and his own experiences in the field. What he relates is an interesting account of numerous events that clearly show the disintegration of the CIA into the troubled organization it now is.

Broken up roughly into four parts, Mr. Baer tells his story in specific categories. The first is mostly autobiographical, an explanation of his background, his childhood and his training. The second part of the book relates his stories as a field agent, brand new to the job. The third focuses on the terrorism side while the fourth focuses on the oil companies, two concepts that seemingly often go hand in hand. All of this is tied together with bookend narrations of his own problems within the Agency.

This book reads well, with plenty of details and decent narrative, but it assumes that you have some background knowledge of the themes it deals with. In general, I would say that anybody that listens to the news will not be entirely lost here, but there are a number of times where a little wikipedia did not hurt. Unfortunately, the book was not entirely as in-depth as I would have wanted it to be and while it works as a good entry into the genre, it certainly does not stand alone and needs to be balanced with either some counter arguments or a more thorough tome that will shed greater light on the subject.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Robert Baer shares stories of his life as a CIA field agent in the Middle East. Great insight into the function/dysfunction of players in the region and the difficulty he had gathering intelligence while being stonewalled by political decision makers. His anger and frustration with an agency that he believes lost its way and failed America can't be mistaken. An interesting lesson in the dynamics of terrorism, broken promises, the Middle East and how politicians decimated the capabilities of the CIA.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Author Robert Baer made a career in CIA operations from 1976 to 1997. His memoirs, SEE NO EVIL, went into print weeks after the 9/11/2001 terror attacks by air against Manhattan's Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Baer blames their success largely on the deterioration in American government intelligence gathering which he had observed and protested. *** SEE NO EVIL highlights Robert Baer at work in CIA headquarters in Virginia, training and learning languages (especially Arabic) and spying abroad in India, Lebanon, Cyprus, Tajikistan and Iraq. The book's cover says that SEE NO EVIL is 'the true story that suggested the major motion picture 'Syriana.' *** Like Syriana the film, SEE NO EVIL draws attention to the power of American petroleum multinationals. Baer asserts that more than one oil giant, such as AMOCO and EXXON, have their own advocates at work in sensitive positions within the U.S. Government. It is not just Congress that has a revolving door of people leaving for well paid jobs in the private sector. So does the CIA, asserts Baer. He gives the example of Ed Pechous, who made a meteoric career in the Agency then the next day joined petroleum barracuda Roger Tamraz as an employee, having just had official responsibility for liaison with Tamraz while heading the CIA office in Manhattan. *** The book is a good review of the successful end of the cold war and the repeated American ball dropping that occurred in the early phases of international Islamo- terrorism. Familiar names pop up: Ahmad Chalabi, now in the government of Iraq, national security advisors Tony Lake and Sandy Berger and others. Baer's book adds a colorful tessera to the evolving mosaic of what went wrong with American intelligence gathering of terrorist plans and capacities. -OOO-
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone interested in getting an insiders look at terrorism and how our systems work, needs to read this. Forget political party lines, this is one man's view of his time he put in and it's quite an interesting read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Baer's career is frightening and captivating. He goes through painstaking detail with you as the reader as if you were taking over from him. I learned more about terror networks, politics, spying, and the like than in any civics class. Baer's accounts make you wonder if we elected the right people in DC and calls us to action to be active citizens in the fight on terror. Thank you for this book and your story Mr. Baer
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book with all the details Mr.Baer included. Its hard to believe that anyone would have risked his life for the small salary and lack of support that was given. As I continued reading I became more an more frightened. I wish the media would investigate the many facts in this book. I fear that they to are to afraid to shake the tree. They just want to write about gossip.I look forward to more books from Mr. Baer and I thank him for his contribution to the American people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Mr. Baer's second title (Sleeping With The Devil: How Washington Sold Our Souls For Saudi Crude) before reading See No Evil, so I thought I would be braced for what he had to say in See No Evil, but I must admit that I'm even more intrigued and disturbed by the events as told by Mr. Baer in this book. I've ALWAYS said that we, as nation, lost sight our founding fathers credo of 'a government by the people and for the people' Today, the powers in modern government have transformed our system into one that's by the rich and special interest groups and for the rich and special interest groups. Maybe it's time that Americans wake-up and take-back America from the despots that are running it or should I say ruining it! Read this book and pass it on to a friend. Thanks Mr. Baer for all you've done or tried to do for our country!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is truly one of the best no nonsense book that I've read in a while. It certainly gives a refreshing view of the world that most of us only fantasize about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gave me insight on the politics of oil & US-middle east relationship. Make me wonder about the true intentions of those we vote into office.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great look into the mind and lifestyle of a CIA operator
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I thought the author being a former CIA agent would have a fresh and real perspective other than the barrage of political spin and pundit's hypothesis based on personal ideology. Since 9/11 I have wanted to learn more about the middle eastern conflicts, its basis and where we really stand as a country from it. This book is very eye opening and I believe he is fair - he blasts the Democrat and Republican administrations alike for the decline of the CIA and its subsequent failures to protect the United States. Its very well written, is sharp and articulate but the recounts of it make you feel like he is sitting next to you telling a story to a friend. It was an easy read, very much a page turner, like many reviewers here it is very scary and chilling once you realize how imbedded politics is in the CIA (and FBI) to the point of choosing oil over Americans lives and choosing to overlook damning intelligence of terrorist activities in favor of not offending the Saudi royal family. This book is not about fear-mongering either - in a very plain-spoken tone the author conveys his alarm and disappointment at the state of an agency that is supposed to use intelligence to protect Americans from attack, and instead cherry-picks for political purposes. And like many reviewers here, you will want to recommend this book to everyone you know.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Must read for everyone. I know the topic of terrorism is hot now, every college, and school is offering it, but i am not sure that people who teach really understand what the terrorism is all about. this book is 'must read' book. Will show you all the aspects of politics. Will show how US slept and did nothing, while US citizens were murdered. Accounts of Russia are true, I was born there and lived, and saw it first hand, nothing was made up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book tells all. It confirmed how 9/11 was possible. Please read this book.
Louiser2 More than 1 year ago
If you think this administration (or any other in the past) knows what's going on in the world because it gets daily intel briefings from rafts of highly effective and disciplined informants and agents strategically placed worldwide, well think again. This book makes it clear that the schism between Washington DC and its intel community is worse today than it was even when this book was written 20 years ago. Our CIA personnel risk their own lives and the lives of countless others around the world, while Washington looks on and either does nothing with the info, or does absolutely the wrong thing, because it has no idea what it's doing. Period. Statecraft and spying: GAMES played with real LIVES that are lost on a daily basis. I am disappointed and discouraged to have to come to the conclusion that politicians and other government key players are really clueless and operating blindly in most cases, while making life and death decisions that affect thousands, if not millions, of people around the world, daily. Furthermore, the people responsible for these decisions suffer no consequences themselves. I don't think it even keeps them up at night. It's disgraceful and shameful and makes one wonder why we (the average people) keep tolerating the fecklessness of those we task with the job of "keeping us safe". Trust me, they are not up to it, and in many cases, seem barely interested. This book makes that abundantly clear.
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