By Michael Ledeen, NRO contributing editor & resident
scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American
Enterprise Institute. He is author, most recently, of Tocqueville
on American Character and is writing The War Against the Terror
Masters, to be published shortly by St Martins Press.
The reception of Robert Baer's terrific book, See No Evil, speaks volumes about what people read nowadays, and how they read it. See No Evil is many things. It's a thumbnail autobiography of a really interesting man, with exceptional physical skills and plenty of courage, who went into the CIA's Directorate of Operations because he wanted to fight bad guys. In the course of 20-plus years, he damaged his share of bad guys, learned that the CIA is hopelessly politicized and morally corrupt, and quit.
It's also a bit of a kiss-and-tell book about the agency, which always attracts attention, and so it has in this case. Bob Baer is plenty disgusted with the CIA, which is nothing new; lots of disgruntled former agency employees have lambasted the place for one reason or another, and usually they have been good reasons. Baer's indictment is rather unusual, and particularly important at this time: He thinks it's incompetent, and he's certainly made a convincing case.
From case officers who spend most all their time trying to convert their colleagues and agents to a modernistic form of Christianity, to superiors who will not, under any circumstances, take any risks (so what do we need a CIA for anyway? I mean, the State Department can avoid risks with the best of them), and regional bureaus at Langley where hardly anyone is fluent in the major languages of the region, he paints a really distressing picture of the place. Sy Hersh wrote the introduction, and of course all he cares about is the anti-CIA stuff.
But See No Evil is much more than this. It's a real blockbuster, a revelation. But I have yet to see a review that mentions it. So here goes.
Bob Baer was terribly shaken by the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983, in which several of his buddies were killed. His obsession for the next 15 years was to figure out who had done it, and how. As he kept looking for the answers, he was astonished that the CIA apparently didn't know very much about it, and didn't seem to obsess about it nearly as much as he did. But he kept at it, and finally arrived at a minor epiphany:
In my last months (at CIA)," he tells us, "I unraveled the...bombing, at least to my satisfaction: Iran ordered it, and a Fatah network carried it out."
So our guys were killed by an unholy alliance between the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The same deadly duo that recently organized the very short voyage of the Karine A, loaded with tons of explosives and weapons from Iran headed for Palestinian territory.
If that's not a headline story, I don't know what is.
If Baer is right, then we're just going to have to add Yasser to the axis of evil. His evidence is quite convincing, and wonderfully presented. Despite all the unfamiliar names and the scouring of documents and archives all over the Middle East and Langley, Virginia, and conversations everywhere, he ties it all together like a suspense novel.
And then, having found the truth he had sought so long, he figures out something else, which is also of great importance to us today:
So the CIA had the book on Iran at least five years ago, but either Bill Clinton never noticed, or John Deutch and George Tenet never let him in on the secret.
Somehow I don't have the impression that George Tenet told "W." about it before September 11th, either. If he had, I think we'd have heard a lot more about Iran before the State of the Union. I think it took the "Karine A" to get the spooks to fess up.
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