9. See No Evil, Robert Baer

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9. See No Evil, Robert Baer

Post  jrpstonecarver on Tue Feb 15, 2011 6:42 pm

See No Evil is the true story of author Robert Baer's time in the CIA, with a particular emphasis on the middle east. It was published after 9/11 but it appears to have been written before then, which makes much of what it has to say even more relevant. I found it a very good read and profoundly disturbing on two different levels.

First, and mostly to Baer's point, is the disintegration of the CIA that he describes. Though the CIA started out as an entity responsible for obtaining information about foreign governments, it should have been our best defense against the attacks of 9/11. Instead, by the time those attacks happened it had little ability to get hard information from actual people. The typically American love of technology, bureaucracy, and general ass covering had taken over. We had lovely satellite pictures, but no one on the ground who could actually tell us what was going on.

Baer's complaints aren't unique. After 9/11 we heard about the CIA's lack of agents and information over and over again, from many sources. Baer manages to give that disintegration a personal spin, though. He loved his job but hated what his employer had become, which is something many of us can probably relate to, even if we do it in much less serious circumstances.

On the other hand, Baer's description of the actual job - running agents and the risks entailed - makes me wonder why anyone would do it at all. The things Baer can actually describe in detail - the book was censored by the CIA, as required by Baer's employment agreement, and the black bars of redacted passages are left intact - are enough to make me rethink the entire business. How much risk is too much? Where do we draw the line on what is and isn't allowed? Who can make those decisions when time is extremely limited and the people involved are under enormous pressure?

There are no easy answers here, as in much of life. Baer doesn't sugar coat his disdain for the CIA's unwillingness to take risks as his career progresses, but at times I really wondered where the right answers were.

I recommend this book, and suggest we all think about these things. Since 9/11 we all know the US's intelligence infrastructure has grown and changed, but what has it really become? There's no good way to know, short of becoming part of it in some way. I wish we didn't need it at all, but that isn't the real world.
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