The Good Spy
The Life and Death of Robert Ames
By Kai Bird
(Crown Publishing Group (NY), Hardcover, 9780307889751, 430pp.)
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
List Price: $26.00*
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On April 18, 1983, a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. The attack was a geopolitical turning point. It marked the beginning of Hezbollah as a political force, but even more important, it eliminated America's most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East - CIA operative Robert Ames. What set Ames apart from his peers was his extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence figures. Some operatives relied on threats and subterfuge, but Ames worked by building friendships and emphasizing shared values - never more notably than with Yasir Arafat's charismatic intelligence chief and heir apparent Ali Hassan Salameh (aka "The Red Prince"). Ames' deepening relationship with Salameh held the potential for a lasting peace. Within a few years, though, both men were killed by assassins, and America's relations with the Arab world began heading down a path that culminated in 9/11, the War on Terror, and the current fog of mistrust.
Bird, who as a child lived in the Beirut Embassy and knew Ames as a neighbor when he was twelve years old, spent years researching "The Good Spy. "Not only does the book draw on hours of interviews with Ames' widow, and quotes from hundreds of Ames' private letters, it's woven from interviews with scores of current and former American, Israeli, and Palestinian intelligence officers as well as other players in the Middle East "Great Game."
What emerges is a masterpiece-level narrative of the making of a CIA officer, a uniquely insightful history of twentieth-century conflict in the Middle East, and an absorbing hour-by-hour account of the Beirut Embassy bombing. Even more impressive, Bird draws on his reporter's skills to deliver a full dossier on the bombers and expose the shocking truth of where the attack's mastermind resides today.
Among his colleagues at the CIA, Robert Ames was considered the quintessential spy. Integral in the Oslo Peace Accords, the late secret agent is now the subject of Kai Bird's book, The Good Spy. More at NPR.org
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“Kai Bird has produced a compelling and complex narrative that must be read on many levels – including as a detailed account of the immense influence that a truly good man can have on an agency as cynical as the CIA, and as a reminder of a myriad of losses. Robert Ames did not live long enough to get what he most desperately wanted -- a real peace in the Middle East. And America's intelligence agencies no longer seem as welcoming to agents with the wisdom, vision and integrity that Ames exemplified.”
-Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Price of Power, The Dark Side of Camelot, and Chain of Command
“Kai Bird has delivered two miracles -- the best day-by-day account of a secret intelligence career in the CIA, and the best book about the murderous intelligence war between Israel and her enemies with America smack in the middle. For years Robert Ames -- The Good Spy -- tried to nudge both sides toward peace until he picked the wrong day to visit the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and was killed by a car bomb. Bird has written a powerful and revealing story that leaves the reader with a troubling question -- how did America get trapped in this war it can do nothing to end?”
--Thomas Powers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Intelligence Wars and The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA
“The Good Spy gives us the CIA up close and personal -- the intricate dance of recruiting ‘assets,’ the bureaucratic maneuverings, the family compromises. But because Ames was a Mideast specialist his biography also becomes a knowing history of that region's political failures and relentless descent into violence. Well reported, even-handed, compelling reading -- one of the best books ever written about the CIA.”
-Joseph Kanon, New York Times bestselling author of Los Alamos and The Good German
"Beautifully written and researched, The Good Spy is the best book I've ever read on espionage. It perfectly captures the CIA at its best. What's more, it's a book you can't put down, right to its tragic end. I need to add this: while Bob Ames's career and mine crossed paths over the years, it's Kai Bird who has finally put the story together for me. Reading this, I wondered at times if Kai somehow pulled off a black bag operation to get into the Agency archives."
--Robert Baer, former CIA operative and New York Times bestselling author of See No Evil
“Kai Bird has unearthed an astonishing amount of detail about Robert Ames, the CIA, and U.S. spy operations in the Middle East. His book could not be more timely in showing us the perils and advantages of clandestine actions in the name of national security. The Good Spy gives new meaning to the adage that truth can be stranger than fiction.”
Robert Dallek, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963
"If John le Carre were a nonfiction specialist, he surely would feel the lure of writing the story that is at the heart of The Good Spy. Kai Bird works the seam between history and espionage. He has produced an arresting book – one that is knowing, and masterful in its rendition of a time when the United States cast a huge shadow across the Arab world. Robert Ames, the spy in Kai Bird's title, is a figure of unusual poignancy because his guile and innocence run side by side.”
--Fouad Ajami, Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author of The Syrian Rebellion