Old Site Menu

Missive #230

A best-selling author and former CIA operative chronicles his experiences as an assassin while offering chilling insight into the fine art of political murder.

This is an interesting book but in my opinion is muddled . He moves the chronology around such that I found it difficult to keep track of when events were happening. There does not seem to be any continuity to an overall story; each of the ’21 laws’ stand alone for the most part. I may try some of his other books. When FBI agents told CNN national security affairs analyst Baer (The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, 2008, etc.) he was under investigation for the attempted murder of Saddam Hussein, he was bewildered. The CIA had indeed charged him with terminating Hussein, but now his country was turning against him for trying to do his job. With dry wit and intelligence, the author reviews his long career as a sometime-assassin (who ultimately never killed his targets) and provides running commentary about the do’s and don’ts of political murder. He draws on his more than 25 years of experience as a CIA operative as well as the long, bloody history of assassination itself, titling each of the chapters after what he calls the 21 “laws” of killing powerful leaders. At the heart of the labyrinthine story are the author’s experiences with a man he calls Hajj Radwan, who had “truly mastered that eternal intimate dance between politics and murder.” Feared throughout the Middle East but especially in Lebanon, Radwan—who Baer speculates may have helped mastermind the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland—worked with speed, secrecy, surprise and intimate knowledge of his victims. Perhaps even more importantly, he channeled his brutality on individuals rather than groups to “obtain well-defined and valid military objectives.” Baer contrasts Radwan’s tactics to the impersonal drone strikes—which often miss their marks, kill the innocent and produce more violence—currently employed by the United States. In the end, it is the skilled assassin, rather than the American technocrat, who doesn’t understand “the murky stew of clans and tribes that govern the ragged edges of the world,” that stands the better chance of eliminating evil.

Fascinating reading from an expert. — Kirkus Reviews

[I]ntuitively understood that the capable assassin doesn’t measure his worth by the size of his budget, how many people are under him, or the number of fancy gadgets he possesses. And he definitely doesn’t play the numbers game. Toting up body counts is a mark of failure and impotence, like a waterfront whore counting her tricks at the end of a night. In political murder, no one gives a shit how hard you try or how many times you do something, but rather how well you do it.
Other professional murderers bring the same sort of asceticism to the act. The Mexican drug cartels behead their victims with axes and kitchen knives, deliberately leaving the remains by the side of the road to make people understand just how ruthless they are . . . and to send the implicit message they’ll happily do it again.

An insecure people will destroy an enemy’s architectural heritage and other cultural symbols as a means to deny its existence and thereby shore up its own. This is exactly what al-Qaeda tried to do when it destroyed the Sufi tombs in Timbuktu. Or when the Saudi Wahhabis systemically razed ancient Mecca to efface Islam’s pagan past.

Another thing the state sees in its interest is bringing to bear disproportional and irremediable force against any challenge to its authority and dignity. Cross one of its bright, shining lines, and a state will go out of its way to destroy you. You’ll spend the rest of your life either sleeping on a cold concrete slab or receive a fatal jolt of electricity.

Somewhere along the line we’ve deceived ourselves into believing that money wins war, that we have the great luxury of time, and that the show of force is enough to make our enemies submit. In stubbornly refusing to see our enemies for who and what they are, we’ve missed the fact that you can’t kill what you can’t see.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *