Book Review: Ropes of Sand, and, See No Evil

My new tattoo says, "through wisdom, strength." Only through questioning, wondering, researching with open minds can society overcome those elements that seek to undermine our lives. We have to release our egos, biases, judgments, and notions, let them go. As we distance ourselves from these hobgoblins, we can then see them for what they really are, and also the forces that drive them. OK, enough exposition, but there is a reason.

Both books follow a man’s life living abroad, working for the United States government. Wilbur Eveland ("Ropes of Sand;" 1980) worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, when the agency was called the Office of Strategic Services. Eveland continued his intelligence career into the CIA. His autobiographical book covers his experiences as a CIA Section Chief in the Middle East.

Robert "Bob" Baer ("See No Evil;" 2002) provided the inspiration for the movie, "Syriana." George Clooney played the part of Baer, though in the movie his name was Bob Barnes. Bob Baer was perhaps one of the best CIA Case Officers during his time with the agency. Most people misunderstand the CIA. Spying is not precisely the business of the CIA. A CIA Case Officer finds local, indigenous people whom they can encourage to provide sensitive information. A Case Officer is like District Manager for Frito-Lay who manages the sales reps who take or deliver orders, keep customers happy, and file reports for the corporate offices. Human Intelligence is what this action is called, and falls within the directive of the National Clandestine Service (NCS), formerly known as the Directorate of Operations (DO) of the CIA.

Both of these autobiographical works share a common theme – the failure of U.S. policy-makers to recognize the importance of Knowledge.

Eveland exposes many policies supported not by facts or knowledge, but supported simply by the sheer will of a select number of people. One such "policy" was the creation of a Jewish Homeland. Today, people commonly assume that all Jews were in favor of the creation of Israel. The reality was much different. Zionist Jews, those that advocated for a Jewish Homeland, comprised less than 10% of the Jewish diaspora. Christians were far more interested in creating a Jewish Homeland than the Jews were, in total. Eveland’s work is annotated, referenced, and indexed, creating a scholarly work for a life of intelligence-gathering, a career spanning the end of World War II until Vietnam. {For further reading about this, consult "The Israel-Arab Reader," "Righteous Victims," and "Power, Faith, and Fantasy."}

Baer may have worked with Eveland, as both were Middle East operatives. Not only do their careers overlap, but Eveland was a CIA Section Chief in the Middle East, and Baer was a CIA Case Officer in the Middle East. Baer’s job was to find local people who had government positions that were "unhappy" or "concerned" that his/her government was not behaving correctly. These disgruntled individuals, "human intelligence," (HUMINT) would be cultivated into providing information, considered sensitive, to Bob, which he would then pass along to a Section Chief or the Pentagon. New-gained knowledge would then be used to sculpt U.S. foreign policy, used to keep foreign governments honest, or perhaps be used to overthrow a government.

Baer’s book is a quick, exciting albeit uncomfortable read. Uncomfortable in the sense that he quickly outlines how diplomacy and satellites replaced boots-on-the-ground, real human-gathered intelligence. He essentially makes the point that satellites and hand-shaking ambassadors, all the while ignoring HUMINT, and closing CIA offices around the world, led to ineffectual data-collection. The absence of human intelligence allowed organizations such as al-Qaeda to develop and mature. The cannibalization of the CIA by the Department of State (diplomats) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), neither of which allegedly has the background or experience in running intelligence operations in foreign countries, created a vacancy of knowledge in which al-Qaeda, et. al., flourished.

The world, in spite of sleek iPhones, XBoxes, and Kindles, is an ugly, dirty place. Satellites, fantastically cool technology, should augment HUMINT, not replace HUMINT. Bob argues that replacing field agents with desk-jockey analysts who never put boots-on-the-ground is like making the restaurant manager the Head Chef – that one can be a chef simply because one knows the restaurant business does not follow. We have seen how terrorists defeat technology from horseback or bicycles, setting up Pony Express-style courier systems and hand-delivering messages and materials.

Without elaborate networks of "friendly" people, the world will continue to be a playground for those who decide to play with an alternate set of rules. The management of HUMINT assets requires people who speak languages, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Farsi, and French, can work "outside the box," and can read people, environments, and situations. However, the networks are of no use if the policy-makers, in their own arrogance, prefer their own counsel.

Listen to legislators, people running for office, or government employees who denigrate the CIA. That person is probably an intelligence failure waiting to happen. Anyone who criticizes the inclusion of foreign languages in Primary or Secondary Education is also a diplomatic and/or intelligence failure. In order to have intelligent thoughts about the world, we have to act in intelligent ways. The only way I know to accomplish this is through the promotion of Education. A little bit of education helps, and more education is always better.

Finally, both authors also suggest that diplomacy has been undermined by global energy interests. Perhaps "infiltrated" might be a better word. Oil and Natural Gas companies drive much of the world’s politics. These companies have lobbyists who constantly follow lawmakers. These companies find ways of subverting U.S. or foreign law to work abroad. To which companies do I refer? Name any; no matter. They are all guilty.

"See No Evil" I recommend simply because the events are within most reader’s generation, and may have some memory of. Many names may be recognizable. Many events described were memorable – the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut (1983) or the Lockerbie Bombing (1988.) The Lockerbie Bombing (PanAm 103) may have actually been planned in Iran, though Libya was blamed.

I personally would not be surprised if some within the Iranian government, or perhaps the Pakistani ISI, were involved in 9/11.

Shutting down knowledge-gathering efforts, out of fear, out of arrogance, or cultural egotism has proven to be a dangerous, deadly, tragically costly and grievously short-sighted mistake. Knowledge coupled with living experience is power and cannot be replaced with technology. At least, not yet. Augmented with technology, yes. But seeing people eye-to-eye, reading body language, skiing, hunting, fishing, and eating with them, that is how we learn what lies ahead.

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