Robert Baer

Baer, Robert. "A Dagger to the CIA." GQ, Apr. 2010. []

Clark comment: Baer's analysis of what went wrong for the CIA in Khost on 30 December 2009 says nothing that those who care to listen have not heard before from his and other voices. However, he says it plainer, in more detail, and with such certainty that it is difficult to ignore -- whether he is right or not. It is difficult -- nay, impossible -- for an outsider to differentiate between what could be sour grapes, on the one hand, or insightful commentary, on the other.

"It's impossible to pinpoint exactly when the [field] operatives' sun started to set, but many CIA insiders would point to John Deutch.... From the moment Deutch set foot in Langley, he made it plain that he hated the operatives.... What John Deutch set in motion was the deprofessionalization of the directorate of operations.... The idea that an officer would spend his entire career abroad learning the fundamentals of espionage is incomprehensible to the new CIA....

"If we take Khost as a metaphor for what has happened to the CIA, the deprofessionalization of spying, it's tempting to consider that the agency's time has passed.... [However, t]he United States still needs a civilian intelligence agency. (The military cannot be trusted to oversee all intelligence-gathering on its own.) But the CIA -- and especially the directorate of operations -- must be stripped down to its studs and rebuilt with a renewed sense of mission and purpose. It should start by getting the amateurs out of the field. And then it should impose professional standards of training and experience -- the kind it upheld with great success in the past."

[CIA/2010s/2010 & Components/NCS]

Baer, Robert. See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism. New York: Crown, 2002.

According to Gellman, Washington Post, 17 Mar. 2002, "Baer leaps from these pages as a zealous and creative man, courageous to the brink of recklessness, and altogether lacking the political and diplomatic judgment that an intelligence agency needs at the top. What the book does well is provide a spy's-eye view of CIA intrigues by one of the agency's best. And it makes a persuasive case, with much amusing evidence, that the CIA lost interest in the skills Baer had to offer....

"Baer can write authoritatively on one page and with cartoonish fancy on another.... [He] adds an intriguing chapter to the literature on the Clinton administration's betrayal of Iraqi coup plotters in 1995. But he undermines the reader's trust with assertions that then-national security adviser Anthony Lake masterminded an FBI investigation meant to punish Baer for his role. No one who knows the mutual loathing between Louis Freeh and the Clinton White House will buy that."

Peake, AFIO WIN 31-02, 5 Aug. 2002, and Intelligencer 13.2, finds that See No Evil is "a memoir of disillusionment written in a positive style, not the bitter tone of those who wrote because they could not cope with the demands of the clandestine life.... Baer's comments on the tradecraft of espionage as practiced on the ground ... will enlighten historians and laymen interested in the profession.... This is a fine memoir, one of the best ever written." To Berkowitz. IJI&C15.4, this book "is a great read." The author "is direct and honest ... and tells a good story."

Clark comment: I enjoyed reading Baer's See No Evil. The words flow in a spritely fashion from the page, and Baer certainly touched plenty of potentially important events in less frequented parts of the world. Much of what he writes rings true whether or not the reader is familiar with the details of each episode he spotlights. That does not mean, however, that he has captured the "capital T" truth.

Baer's view is that of the classic field operative -- essentially, "if politics/Headquarters/ Washington hadn't screwed it up, we could have pulled it off." It is true that too often those making the decisions back in Washington do not share the field operative's intimate knowledge of the situation on the ground. But it is just as often true that the person in the field has little understanding of the factors at play beyond his/her vision.

Baer complains that some Headquarters-based personnel considered him a "cowboy." From reading his memoirs, I have to conclude that they were correct. I would argue, however, that the CIA and the United States need a few such cowboys, although we probably should not put them in charge of things.

[CIA/C&C/DO; CIA/Memoirs]

Baer, Robert. "Wanted: Spies Unlike Us." Foreign Policy 147 (Mar.-Apr. 2005): 66-70.

"The CIA must cultivate foreign sources, reward service overseas, and tap America's top students to once again get good information on enemies of the United States."


Baer, Robert. "Why Were CIA Interrogation Tapes Destroyed?" Time, 22 Apr. 2010. []

Clark comment: Baer does not answer the question in the article's title. He does, however, ask an even more interesting question:

Why is the CIA "interrogating prisoners of war?" The CIA was established "as a civilian spy agency, not as some Pentagon backroom where you get to do things you don't want the American people to find out about. But more to the point, the military is much better equipped to interrogate prisoners. It has its own interrogation school at Fort Huachuca, not to mention hundreds of language-qualified and experienced interrogators. It also has the Uniform Code of Military Justice to deal with interrogations that have gone bad.... It's not an accident that military misdeeds such as those at Abu Ghraib go right to trial, while CIA investigations drag on for years."


Baer, Robert, and Dayna Baer. The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story. New York: Crown, 2011.

Goulden, Washington Times, 14 Mar. 2011, and Intelligencer 18.2 (Winter-Spring 2011), sees this as "one of the better insider accounts of life in the modern CIA." For Schickel, Los Angeles Times, 16 Mar. 2011, this book "is curiously weightless -- all windup and virtually no delivery. It offers a few hints about their 'trade craft' but nothing that radically alters" what you know from elsewhere.

For Kanon, Washington Post, 14 Mar. 2011, says this "is a breezy, often fascinating account" of the authors' "CIA romance, with tradecraft details and war stories thrown in to make it catnip for any fan of espionage fiction." Wippl, IJI&C 24.4 (Winter 2011-2012), comments that what he misses in this book "is some direct acknowledgment" that the Baers' "individual lives in the CIA were worthwhile and made them what they are." See also, Rohde, New York Times, 18 Mar. 2011.

[CIA/Components/DO & Memoirs]

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