I really enjoyed Christopher Ketcham‘s recent piece on ex-CIA spy Bob Baer, upon whom the George Clooney film Syriana is based. Baer’s an eyewitness to the institutional absurdities of the Agency and by extension, US foreign policy and the recent privatization mania infecting the Beltway. He’s also an author I plan on reading, starting with his reflections on Saudi-US mutual exploitation Sleeping With The Devil. From the interview on his days in the field, Baer lays it out:
Tradecraft was the key. You learned to dodge surveillance and to run surveillance. You learned how to tap phones and to make sure you weren’t tapped. You learned about the enemy’s weapons, battle plans, the latest technologies. You devoured books, a CIA man devoting himself as a regional scholar. You learned to use the toys of the trade, weird poisons like “Who, Me?”, which makes the victim smell literally like shit for days, the stench seeping from his pores. You used standard-issue James Bond items like microdots, photographic negatives reduced to the size of a period on a page, and you learned stegonography, the art of caching data inside photographs. You learned disguises. Baer thought highly of the Diamond-Tooth Disguise – a false diamond incisor in your smile-line and “the only thing people remember about you is that diamond.” You learned covers for action and covers for status, the latter being the big picture explanation for why you’re in-country. Most often your cover for status is that you work in some capacity for the US embassy, a day job shuffling paper (Baer, like all CIA case officers, is constrained by lifetime contract with the CIA from revealing his status covers over the years).