Ex-CIA agent tar­gets as­sas­sin’s work

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Barry Craig

THERE’S no com­bi­na­tion of words to de­scribe what it must be like to cen­tre a hu­man be­ing in your tele­scopic crosshairs — to see them so close you mis­take feel­ing their breath — then, with all the piti­less de­tach­ment of a slaugh­ter­house, to pull the trig­ger. Even James Jones, a Sec­ond World War in­fantry­man and the great war nov­el­ist, con­fessed that re­al­is­ti­cally de­scrib­ing com­bat is unattain­able. And nar­ra­tives about the hu­man ma­chin­ery that plans and ter­mi­nates for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage are like­wise im­per­fect and fi­nite, es­pe­cially when just about ev­ery ex­e­cu­tioner’s vow of si­lence would put any monas­tic or­der to shame. But then there’s The Per­fect Kill, the lat­est work of the re­spected and pro­lific writer Robert Baer, said to be one of the most com­pe­tent op­er­a­tives ever moulded by the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency (CIA) and now a se­cu­rity an­a­lyst for CNN and an ex­pert on the world of in­tel­li­gence and the Mid­dle East. There are two fac­tors that dis­tin­guish Baer from the lit­er­ary pack in mod­ern, real-life es­pi­onage writ­ing about the world’s deadly sur­geons of po­lit­i­cal in­trigue and mur­der: his com­bi­na­tion 21 years of ser­vice as per­haps the best field of­fi­cer the CIA ever had, and his im­pres­sive tal­ent for putting on pa­per with style both his ex­pe­ri­ences and what he learned from them. The Per­fect Kill is a unique twist in foren­sics that the great Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle and his Sher­lock Holmes would ad­mire. Baer as­sem­bles the scary build­ing blocks of the ul­ti­mate as­sas­sin while lead­ing us through the fas­ci­nat­ing, some­times-lethal hap­pen­ings in his own never-dull ca­reer. He also pro­vides au­top­sies of other ma­jor in­tel­li­gence events such as the failed as­sas­si­na­tion of the late Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher and the suc­cess­ful killing of Egyp­tian pres­i­dent An­war al-Sa­dat. For­tu­nately, the per­fect as­sas­sin he imag­ines re­mains on pa­per. How­ever, he dwells at some length on the world’s great­est po­lit­i­cal killer in mod­ern times that he hunted for 10 years and was as­signed to erase. The man — Baer calls him “the Leonardo da Vinci of po­lit­i­cal mur­der” — was ex­e­cuted in 2008 by, Baer claims, some­one else. Baer’s treat­ment of his topic is mag­netic through­out the book be­cause his writ­ing is both ma­cho and pa­ter­nal, mak­ing The Per­fect Kill a kind of cheeky blend of Steve McQueen and Fa­ther Knows Best. Baer also comes across as some­thing of a philoso­pher. For ex­am­ple, he muses that the mod­ern method of elim­i­nat­ing peo­ple with the po­lit­i­cally popular drones of­ten causes col­lat­eral dam­age of the in­no­cent that in­creases en­mity be­tween ad­ver­saries. He says in­di­vid­ual killings — one bul­let, one per­son — have been found to be more ef­fec­tive in re­solv­ing con­flict, partly be­cause they are sat­is­fy­ingly un­am­bigu­ous and can be ap­plied with sur­gi­cal cer­tainty. As he puts it: “A good kill speaks for it­self.” In other words, it’s a lit­tle like a mod­ern (but more vi­o­lent) rewrite of Theodore Roo­sevelt’s dic­tum: “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” Dis­cour­ag­ingly, Baer thinks the mod­ern CIA needs to be re­built from the ground up, ex­plain­ing why he thinks it’s so in­ept in to­day’s in­tel­li­gence world, and how it can be fixed. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Baer also con­cluded that the threat to world or­der posed by al-Qaida is am­a­teur­ish com­pared to that of Is­lamic State (IS). He says the lat­ter’s so­phis­ti­ca­tion in tech­nol­ogy, or­ga­ni­za­tion and in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing is su­pe­rior to that of many gov­ern­ments, and may be even equal to that of some of the ma­jor pow­ers. The Per­fect Kill is due to be made into a se­ries for cable tele­vi­sion. Another of Baer’s books, See No Evil, is a mem­oir of his time in the CIA. It was made into the movie Syr­i­ana, a por­ridge of po­lit­i­cal may­hem, cor­rup­tion and killing over oil. George Clooney won an Os­car for his role in it. He played Baer. On the back cover of The Per­fect Kill Baer is de­scribed as an as­sas­sin him­self, but inside he makes no men­tion of his killing any­one. How­ever, at one point he sug­gests an­nounc­ing that you’re an as­sas­sin is in­tem­per­ate and self-de­feat­ing. Maybe this con­fu­sion is em­blem­atic. In Baer’s shad­owy, murky world there’s some­times the per­fect kill, but there’s never the per­fect truth. Barry Craig thinks he’s the per­fect killer be­cause he of­ten bores peo­ple to death.

The Per­fect Kill: 21 Laws for As­sas­sins

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.