The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
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The Good Spy is Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Kai Bird’s compelling portrait of the remarkable life and death of one of the most important operatives in CIA history – a man who, had he lived, might have helped heal the rift between Arabs and the West.
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.
irreverence. He once teased her that when she was old she would acquire “the venerability, if not the piety, of Mother Teresa.” Janet scoffed at this. She thought the comparison was absurd. They also shared similar political views about the Arab-Israeli conflict. “I think the Israelis have behaved disgracefully,” le Carré told Monday Morning, “and I don’t care who knows it.” Janet had interviewed Yasir Arafat on numerous occasions, and on August 8, 1982—three weeks before Arafat’s eventual
Light had just left Cpl. Bobby McMaugh at Guard Post One and returned to his office on the first floor when the explosion blew him through a cinder-block wall into the adjoining room. He came to six or seven minutes later and heard ammunition rounds “cooking off” from the intense heat. He glanced to where his solid-oak desk had stood between him and the blast and saw that there was nothing left. “There wasn’t a piece of wood on it as big as a match or a toothpick.” When he got to his feet he
Striking Back, p. 153. 84 “The Mossad was not after the muscle …”: Fadl Naqib, e-mail to author, May 23, 2012; Fadl Naqib, “Ghassan Kanafani: Questions and Answers,” speech delivered at the Brecht Forum, New York City, May 8, 1999. 85 “Kubaisi rings a bell”: George Cave, e-mail to author, May 11, 2012. 86 “Mr. K was a chattering contact …”: Duane R. Clarridge, e-mail to author, May 11, 2012. 87 “I know”: Graham Fuller, e-mail to author, May 7, 2012. 88 “interesting intelligence”: Robert
Carter, White House Diary, p. 352. 120 Memorandum of Agreement: This September 1, 1975, memorandum is quoted by NSC officer Douglas J. Feith in an August 28, 1981, memo to Norman A. Bailey, “U.S. Policy Toward PLO,” Folder PLO 1981 (1 of 3), Box 90220, Kemp Files, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. 121 “The loss of innocence comes in stages”: Graham Fuller, interview, April 3, 2012. 122 “on some very sensitive stuff”: Robert Ames to Yvonne, April 9, 1977. 123 “Maybe my sharp cables …”:
of building a bridge across the political and cultural divides between America and the Arab world. Zein knew America from his college years—and he knew the Arab world. Zein was an Arab Zelig—and like Woody Allen’s Leonard Zelig, he seemed to be everywhere and know everyone. (His unpublished memoir, “Deceit with Extreme Prejudice,” contains photographs of himself with King Hussein of Jordan, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser, India’s Krishna Menon, the sheikh of Sharjah, Yasir Arafat, Barbara