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Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History Of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, And Assassins

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The definitive, character-driven history of CIA covert operations and U.S. government-sponsored assassinations, from the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Pentagon's Brain Since 1947, domestic and foreign assassinations have been executed under the CIA-led covert action operations team. Before that time, responsibility for taking out America's enemies abroad was eve The definitive, character-driven history of CIA covert operations and U.S. government-sponsored assassinations, from the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Pentagon's Brain Since 1947, domestic and foreign assassinations have been executed under the CIA-led covert action operations team. Before that time, responsibility for taking out America's enemies abroad was even more shrouded in mystery. Despite Hollywood notions of last-minute rogue-operations and external secret hires, covert action is actually a cog in a colossal foreign policy machine, moving through, among others, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the House and Senate Select Committees. At the end of the day, it is the President, not the CIA, who is singularly in charge. When diplomacy fails and overt military action is not feasible, the President often calls on the Special Activities Division, the most secretive and lowest-profile branch of the CIA. It is this paramilitary team that undertakes dramatic and little-known assignments: hostage rescues, sabotage, and, of course, assassinations. For the first time, Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author Annie Jacobsen takes us deep inside this top-secret history. With unparalleled access to former operatives, ambassadors, and even past directors of the Secret Service and CIA operations, Jacobsen reveals the inner workings of these teams, and just how far a U.S. president may go, covertly but lawfully, to pursue the nation's interests.


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The definitive, character-driven history of CIA covert operations and U.S. government-sponsored assassinations, from the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Pentagon's Brain Since 1947, domestic and foreign assassinations have been executed under the CIA-led covert action operations team. Before that time, responsibility for taking out America's enemies abroad was eve The definitive, character-driven history of CIA covert operations and U.S. government-sponsored assassinations, from the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Pentagon's Brain Since 1947, domestic and foreign assassinations have been executed under the CIA-led covert action operations team. Before that time, responsibility for taking out America's enemies abroad was even more shrouded in mystery. Despite Hollywood notions of last-minute rogue-operations and external secret hires, covert action is actually a cog in a colossal foreign policy machine, moving through, among others, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the House and Senate Select Committees. At the end of the day, it is the President, not the CIA, who is singularly in charge. When diplomacy fails and overt military action is not feasible, the President often calls on the Special Activities Division, the most secretive and lowest-profile branch of the CIA. It is this paramilitary team that undertakes dramatic and little-known assignments: hostage rescues, sabotage, and, of course, assassinations. For the first time, Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author Annie Jacobsen takes us deep inside this top-secret history. With unparalleled access to former operatives, ambassadors, and even past directors of the Secret Service and CIA operations, Jacobsen reveals the inner workings of these teams, and just how far a U.S. president may go, covertly but lawfully, to pursue the nation's interests.

30 review for Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History Of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, And Assassins

  1. 4 out of 5

    Annie Jacobsen

    My new book coming out in May!

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Lucero

    A fascinating, compelling look into how American politics has evolved in its effectiveness in fighting the war on terror. Author Annie Jacobsen's novel, 'Surprise, Kill, Vanish,' covers how America fought clandestine, behind-the-lines, covert, and tackling the delicate issue of assassination, all under the order of 'plausible deniability' in order to prevent World War III. From the 'Jedburgh' teams dropped into Occupied France during WWII when the Office of Strategic Services was born, to today's A fascinating, compelling look into how American politics has evolved in its effectiveness in fighting the war on terror. Author Annie Jacobsen's novel, 'Surprise, Kill, Vanish,' covers how America fought clandestine, behind-the-lines, covert, and tackling the delicate issue of assassination, all under the order of 'plausible deniability' in order to prevent World War III. From the 'Jedburgh' teams dropped into Occupied France during WWII when the Office of Strategic Services was born, to today's CIA Special Activities Division taking on America's most lethal enemies, this book is an eye-opener. American involvement in WWII required a special breed of men and women to fight Hitler's Europe, and volunteers signed up for training which took them to the heart of the enemy. Our men and women needed to fight Nazis in a way never fully understood.... Until now. Jacobsen tackles the delicate issue our leaders faced when fighting an enemy. Even discussing the assassination of a tyrant like Adolf Hitler meant opening a 'Pandora's Box' that left our leaders second-guessing themselves. Killing the head's of state meant our own leaders were subject to equal threats from a determined foe. Legalities of such action also comes to mind. When politics fail to bring peace, and a declaration of war is not an option....Plausible Deniability is the only course of action our American President has with which to keep our enemies at bay. In forefront of Jacobsen's powerful books is Billy Waugh, a veteran soldier and CIA operative, this man has done and seen it all. From the battlefields of Korea and Vietnam, and to the Middle East, Africa, and God only knows where else, this man has done so much for his country it's practically a crying shame he is not a household name. Jacobsen's book educates the reader on how war has evolved from presidents declaring war, to plausible deniability (meaning, we can neither verify nor deny any and such action). I'm a veteran myself, having served in the 82nd Airborne Division '84'-'87, and as a kid I admired some of the persons mentioned in Jacobsen's novel. I dreamed of being and doing what they did. Alas, that was not to be. But I do not have regrets. I've lived a good life. And I, and many of us, owe thanks to people like Billy Waugh and many others mentioned in Jacobsen's book for that. This book reads like an action novel, but it is in fact historically true. The author's research educates us as to how and why we are in a state of war in unprecedented terms. As I write this review, I have family celebrating a niece's 6th birthday, all the while there are men and women serving our nation abroad, fighting in a war our government neither acknowledges nor denies, so that I can be here safely with my family and friends. Parts most precious in this novel to me were her details of Vietnam, Laos, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. My father served in the United States Air Force for 23 years and was assigned to Communications Intelligence. Part of his tour was in Laos, at a time when our president denied we had troops there. They wore civilian clothes and set up communications in the jungles for SOG. He never got any awards or recognition for this part of his service because we weren't supposed to be there. Had he been caught he could have been shot as a spy! I think my father would like reading this book, and so will you. It is insightful, historical, and offers readers the ability to see for themselves how the war on terror has made us fight in a way we never imagined.

  3. 5 out of 5

    11811 (Eleven)

    The CIA has a really bad habit of recruiting double agents. It's shocking how many operations went awry because of spies we mistakenly thought were working for us. This is the fifth book I've read by Annie Jacobsen. The common theme among all of them is they are based on recently declassified information, shedding new light on stories I'm already familiar with from various history classes. This new release covers the topic of assassination and paramilitary operations from WWII to present. The na The CIA has a really bad habit of recruiting double agents. It's shocking how many operations went awry because of spies we mistakenly thought were working for us. This is the fifth book I've read by Annie Jacobsen. The common theme among all of them is they are based on recently declassified information, shedding new light on stories I'm already familiar with from various history classes. This new release covers the topic of assassination and paramilitary operations from WWII to present. The narrative primarily focuses on Billy Waugh who was involved in roughly 60 years worth of operations. The Waugh narrative makes most of the book read like an action oriented spy novel. We get to see all the sketchy stuff the U.S. was involved with in Germany, Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Cuba, Vietnam, Egypt, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The stories cover everything from the Kennedy assassination (weeks after Kennedy approved assassination as a political tool) to the assassinations of Che Guevara, and countless terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan. There's also a focus on the morality issues. What methods of murder are more acceptable than others? Is it wrong to assassinate someone at close range with a knife, but okay to take out the same person along with 50 civilian casualties with a 2,000 lbs bomb? The morality issues border on the surreal. I've read plenty of books on these topics before but this was mostly new material for me because of the recently declassified information. I think of it as "new" history. I recommend skipping your next spy novel and grabbing this instead. It's so much crazier than fiction. You won't be bored. I received a free ARC from Goodreads. This is my second ARC in a row for Jacobsen's books and I'm hoping the publisher sends me the next one, whatever it is, whenever it is released.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tucker (TuckerTheReader)

    Many thanks to Little Brown for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review | Goodreads | Blog | Twitch | Pinterest | Many thanks to Little Brown for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review | Goodreads | Blog | Twitch | Pinterest |

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This is hardly the definitive story of CIA special operations. Rather, it discusses the activities of regular military special forces as well as comparable activities by agents of foreign powers. What seems to have occurred is that Jacobsen became close to a couple of guys who did work for the CIA and who served as her primary informants for some accounts ranging from WWII until the ongoing 'war on terror'. It is, in my opinion, a rather lazy, but still engrossing, book. This is hardly the definitive story of CIA special operations. Rather, it discusses the activities of regular military special forces as well as comparable activities by agents of foreign powers. What seems to have occurred is that Jacobsen became close to a couple of guys who did work for the CIA and who served as her primary informants for some accounts ranging from WWII until the ongoing 'war on terror'. It is, in my opinion, a rather lazy, but still engrossing, book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    A remarkable narrative on the history of the CIA with numerous interviews, first hand accounts and a bibliography filling several pages. If you seek an unbiased account of the shadowy world of espionage in the United States, this book delivers. Without bias or blame, the political aspect is acknowledged and given its place in the hidden hand operations of the CIA. Being a consumer of numerous spy & action books & movies, this true history of America's secret organization is remarkable and fascin A remarkable narrative on the history of the CIA with numerous interviews, first hand accounts and a bibliography filling several pages. If you seek an unbiased account of the shadowy world of espionage in the United States, this book delivers. Without bias or blame, the political aspect is acknowledged and given its place in the hidden hand operations of the CIA. Being a consumer of numerous spy & action books & movies, this true history of America's secret organization is remarkable and fascinating. Given the subject matter, I was not surprised to shelve this one for adult readers. The content discusses killings, both the methods and actual events, as well as the sexual proclivities and cultural norms of many Middle Eastern men. Suffice it to say this is a mature audience book. *I received a free proof of this book from Goodreads giveaways*

  7. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Could not stop, once I started this book. Recommended to me by a friend and former CIA employee, this book delivered 100% on expectation. I can see why it has captured curious outside readers like me while also satisfying readers from the inside who would certainly absorb these stories through different goggles that allow them to see many subtle layers. The author walks the reader through the history of the CIA from inception to modern day, hitting all of the main events you have heard about whil Could not stop, once I started this book. Recommended to me by a friend and former CIA employee, this book delivered 100% on expectation. I can see why it has captured curious outside readers like me while also satisfying readers from the inside who would certainly absorb these stories through different goggles that allow them to see many subtle layers. The author walks the reader through the history of the CIA from inception to modern day, hitting all of the main events you have heard about while providing considerable backdrop and additional detail to those events that the average person would have previously had no awareness of. The account uses names, dates, and locations whenever available, possible, and accurate. Full disclosure is given to clarify sources and accuracy assessment. This book prepares you for more thoughtfully arriving at your own conclusions and boundaries with many sensitive subjects and behavior lines, for example assassination and its related terminologies and distinctions. You will find greater clarity in your own definitions of amoral and immoral behaviors in war and special operations. If you choose to pause and ponder as you read, you will get the most out of this book. Funny, that the more I learn about our government and agencies like the CIA the more I am torn between two feelings. On one hand, it's all much more simple and tangible than I imagined as a child. These are real people working on real problems in the midst of complex conditions, no more or less. Frankly it is at times shocking to field the impression that many of them, largely in the political sector and executive branch, are woefully under-qualified for the task at hand and that far too much action is selfishly motivated. On the other hand, I am blown away by the impressive depth of training, bravery, and field judgement that occurs in order to preserve our relative peace and American freedoms. The game is complex and fast-paced. The historical and current work of our special opps people and the men and women of the CIA can not be commended enough. We sleep well because they do not. Excellent read. Highly recommend.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    First time reading an Annie Jacobsen book. Quite the surprise considering I thought the length alone would deter me. One of the rare finds where I only meant to read a chapter or two a day, and ended up with six or more. Her research, access and ability to write a thorough and, dare I say, entertaining book without the need for sensationalism was a breath of fresh air. I must admit my bias, coming from the ranks of the formally uniformed, I tend to lean to these type of topics. I am adding the r First time reading an Annie Jacobsen book. Quite the surprise considering I thought the length alone would deter me. One of the rare finds where I only meant to read a chapter or two a day, and ended up with six or more. Her research, access and ability to write a thorough and, dare I say, entertaining book without the need for sensationalism was a breath of fresh air. I must admit my bias, coming from the ranks of the formally uniformed, I tend to lean to these type of topics. I am adding the rest of her books to my reading list.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I received this book as a free give-a-way from Goodreads Giveaways. I have never been disappointed by Jacobsen's writings, and this one does did not disappoint. This read was one that was hard to put down. If you're interested in paramilitary/special ops history, this book is for you! I received this book as a free give-a-way from Goodreads Giveaways. I have never been disappointed by Jacobsen's writings, and this one does did not disappoint. This read was one that was hard to put down. If you're interested in paramilitary/special ops history, this book is for you!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

    A readable, mostly well-researched history of America’s use of assassination in foreign policy, both in wartime and in covert action. Jacobsen’s narrative is engaging and crafted around people. She covers the origins and history of the CIA’s paramilitary branch (often using Billy Waugh’s Special Forces and CIA career to flesh it out), and the US government’s search for the best way to protect the president from assassination (using Lew Merletti’s Special Forces and Secret Service career to add th A readable, mostly well-researched history of America’s use of assassination in foreign policy, both in wartime and in covert action. Jacobsen’s narrative is engaging and crafted around people. She covers the origins and history of the CIA’s paramilitary branch (often using Billy Waugh’s Special Forces and CIA career to flesh it out), and the US government’s search for the best way to protect the president from assassination (using Lew Merletti’s Special Forces and Secret Service career to add the human dimension) Jacobsen covers a lot of the Agency’s paramilitary operations here, and, unfortunately, her treatment is often somewhat cursory (there’s more in-depth works available for almost all of these) but, again, she does do a good job with the human element. The writing is lively and almost upbeat. There are few errors and typos here and there in my advance copy: at one point JFK is called a “lieutenant colonel” during World War II, and the Army’s Robert Marasco is called a CIA officer, and she mentions RPGs with “green tracers.” Elsewhere she claims that Ali Salameh became a CIA asset as a result of a deal between Kissinger and Arafat (huh?), and that the US was willing to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam (really?) She also writes of “F-47” planes. Bill Buckley is called “Bill Casey” at one point. For some reason there is no coverage of the Phoenix program. Also, it seems like she tries too hard to make Billy Waugh central to the story, even though he only pops up a few times. The writing can also get a bit breathless at times (Jacobsen happens to be a screenwriter, which might explain it) A good work overall, strong and thoughtful at times, sometimes not so much.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tom Oman

    This is a book about the CIA and its history of meddling in other countries, often steering the political landscape of these countries toward something more favourable to the US and its allies. Events of this magnitude usually end up as spectacular successes or failures. Many of these stories have been retold countless times; the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadegh in Iran, attempts to bring down Castro and his regime. The book focuses much more on the operational and tactical approach, This is a book about the CIA and its history of meddling in other countries, often steering the political landscape of these countries toward something more favourable to the US and its allies. Events of this magnitude usually end up as spectacular successes or failures. Many of these stories have been retold countless times; the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadegh in Iran, attempts to bring down Castro and his regime. The book focuses much more on the operational and tactical approach, and does a good job of discussing the contemporary context of how the CIA generally believed they were acting for the greater good. Generally speaking the author casts the CIA in a positive light, not in an ethical sense, but in terms of their capability to achieve what they set out to do. This is an interesting perspective after having recently read the Legacy of Ashes History of the CIA by Tim Weiner (a must-read) which strongly argues that the CIA is an organization that has historically abused its power and acted with almost complete incompetence. This book is commendable for not digressing too much into the wider political ramifications, a topic which is undoubtedly more interesting but not within the scope of the subject. These events are the manifestation of American foreign policy and their success, failure and discretion is what determined the US's entire network of allies, enemies as well as its legitimacy as the worlds hegemon. In the vein of ethics, the CIA was never acting with total knowledge of a situation, and as mentioned above, they often took great gambles based on their limited information. A priori it is unethical to intervene in the politics of a sovereign nation, but the long term outcomes for better or worse are arguably what determines the story and record of the CIA's contribution to world history, regardless of original intention. For these reasons, the book is extremely entertaining and enlightening. One choice anecdote comes from a press conference with Gerald Ford, who must be a contender for least intelligent president of all time. When reporters asked him about his administrations knowledge and complicity in classified CIA actions overseas. Ford responds, "...disclosing these things could get the government in a great deal of hot water and possibly bring down the office of the president." Reporter: "Like what kinds of things Mr President?", Ford: "..like assassinations...". This was a turning point in the general publics' view of their own government and the role of the CIA as the furthest reaching arm of their taxpayer dollars. Many failed operations are discussed, one of the most staggering was the mission to drop tactical nukes into Laos to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail (the North Vietnamese supply line into the south). This mission was in the last stages of the training and execution phase when it was called off in the final hour. It is mind-blowing to read this, and it must be one of histories great 'what-ifs'. How could the US even consider the possibility of discarding the relative peace that was brought on by the realization that a nuclear war meant mutually assured destruction (MAD) for everyone. This great standoff is one of the main reasons the Cold War didn't turn into another world war. What is clear is that the architects of this plan had almost no understanding of what seems to us to have been obvious to everyone during the Cold War. One last thing that needs to be mentioned is the story of Billy Waugh, which is threaded throughout the book. This is a man who needs an entire book written of his exploits, if only we were able to know everything that he had done. He was involved in so many episodes in the history of the 20th Century that he comes across like the Forrest Gump of clandestine operations. On top of all the events covered in the book he was almost certainly involved in countless other classified operations, including assassinations and other things that are so sensitive that they will never be declassified. Billy Waugh is still alive (age 90 in 2020), and the things he knows would apparently re-write our understanding of history. Overall, this is a great and well written book. I recommend it completely, especially in conjunction with the book Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner which provides a totally different perspective in every way. Two thumbs up

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Interesting read, but not really anything new or surprising.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    I had high expectations for this book and was not disappointed. As all of Annie Jacobsen’s books, Surprise, Kill, Vanish was spectacularly well-researched and provided a good history of long-suppressed CIA operations. One can only imagine what has been left classified.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Larsen

    Within the cloak and dagger world of geo-political warfare, there exists an elite few sworn to defend their countries interests in the name of national security and survival. Comprised of elements from the CIA and elite Paramilitary units such as Delta Force, these top-secret operatives work in the shadows, far removed from the glaring spotlight of the media. Answering to the President of the United States and Foreign Heads of State, their mission… to get on the ground and eliminate high profile Within the cloak and dagger world of geo-political warfare, there exists an elite few sworn to defend their countries interests in the name of national security and survival. Comprised of elements from the CIA and elite Paramilitary units such as Delta Force, these top-secret operatives work in the shadows, far removed from the glaring spotlight of the media. Answering to the President of the United States and Foreign Heads of State, their mission… to get on the ground and eliminate high profile targets before an act of terror or indiscriminate murder can be executed. Now, award-winning Journalist and Author Annie Jacobsen goes behind the scenes for a rare in-depth glimpse into the clandestine realm of a real-life James Bond and Jack Bauer. That’s the premise behind the intriguing Book “Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators and Assassins.” From the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to the United Kingdom’s Special Office Executive (SOE), Annie Jacobsen delivers a compelling account of covert action during some of the most pivotal moments in history. When the President needs America’s best and brightest to discreetly dispose of some very bad actors, Direct Action is authorized. Operatives deploy anywhere in the world, at any time, conducting their missions with “Plausible Deniability.” In other words, they were never there and more importantly, they don’t exist. Annie Jacobsen goes beyond the stark headlines revealing when bold covert action was the best option versus a full-blown military campaign. From Adolf Hitler to radical revolutionaries like Che Guevara to Libya’s ruthless Dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, no job is too big for the CIA’s Paramilitary units or the U.S. Army’s Delta Force. Annie Jacobsen even explores the terrifying realm of the professional assassin when a trained killer working for the enemy achieves his deadly objective. From the 1963 John F. Kennedy assassination, the attempted assassination on President Ronald Reagan in 1981, to the Secret Service’s Counter Assault Team (CAT) protecting President Clinton while traveling to Israel against a litany of unknown assassination attempts orchestrated by Islamic Extremists. Former Green Beret and Secret Service Director Lewis Merletti talks candidly about his tenure as Director with his head on a swivel and his brain working in over-drive anticipating the worst-case scenario. Even enlisting the aid of Delta Force who launched a mock raid on the White House to better help the Secret Service rectify weaknesses in their protective bubble. After listening to this book on Audible, I was very impressed with Annie Jacobsen’s literary style and her vocal delivery narrating her book. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to play James Bond or Jack Bauer for real, this book is a must-read or listen for anyone interested in covert clandestine operations behind the headlines and deep behind enemy lines.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    A few years ago I visited the memorial and what is currently occupying the small village of Lidice in the Czech Republic and learned the horrific details of an assassination of a Nazi general during WWII. Then, on another vacation trip, I visited Guatemala and our guide recounted the story of CIA action in that country during the '50s and how its resulting consequences are still being felt today. Both of these events and many others are related in this fascinating book. It finally has begun to s A few years ago I visited the memorial and what is currently occupying the small village of Lidice in the Czech Republic and learned the horrific details of an assassination of a Nazi general during WWII. Then, on another vacation trip, I visited Guatemala and our guide recounted the story of CIA action in that country during the '50s and how its resulting consequences are still being felt today. Both of these events and many others are related in this fascinating book. It finally has begun to sink in that those action/espionage/terrorist thrillers that I read have basis in fact. This country is engaged in complex, dangerous and subversive missions that create international outcomes with soul-searching ramifications. This is a long, well- written and well-documented read that has some fascinating historical stories and information about the dark world of black operations. If you are interested in the shady world of covert actions, you will be captivated by this book. If you are not, you might find your interest grows as you read this one. I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway for this honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    While the writing was decent, I was dissatisfied with the book. It’s essentially a recounting of many “hidden hand “operations. I think I was dissatisfied because I want to understand the value or lack of value in these operations more so than what took place. And of course, the book focused on what took place, not on the value and outcomes of the operations.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jarrod

    This is a fantastic read. I chuckle at the title though. If it's secret, how was she able to write the book? But I digress... "The most successful covert operations are designed and orchestrated to be plausibly denied". Annie does a fantastic job of showing the light of this statement. This book is more of a tribute to Billy Waugh, but that shouldn't down play the delivery of the substance of the book. I'm glad that books like this exist and we get a however be-it small peek behind the curtains o This is a fantastic read. I chuckle at the title though. If it's secret, how was she able to write the book? But I digress... "The most successful covert operations are designed and orchestrated to be plausibly denied". Annie does a fantastic job of showing the light of this statement. This book is more of a tribute to Billy Waugh, but that shouldn't down play the delivery of the substance of the book. I'm glad that books like this exist and we get a however be-it small peek behind the curtains of clandestine operations. I consider this book a brief and small peek behind the figurative curtain. It starts out in Soviet Russia and the communist threat, the development of covert ops and how sigint, humint and others "ints" become expedient as the enemy changes faces and objectives. It holds your interest throughout and gives many spoilers from de-classified documents and first hand interviews with CIA ground branch operatives. It's non-political yet goes into the political ramifications of the decisions made and the effects they had on world events. Beautifully done.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robert Heckert

    "Ground Branch officers and operators are high-level problem-solving warriors who operate in the most radical, nonpermissive combat environments in the world. They must think clearly and act flawlessly in a 360-degree gunfight; in close-quarters combat; in ambush, hit-and-run, snatch-and-grab, and rescue operations. To infiltrate a target, they must be able to fast-rope out of helicopters, perform HALO and HAHO jumps out of airplanes, walk twelve kilometers or more behind enemy lines, carrying s "Ground Branch officers and operators are high-level problem-solving warriors who operate in the most radical, nonpermissive combat environments in the world. They must think clearly and act flawlessly in a 360-degree gunfight; in close-quarters combat; in ambush, hit-and-run, snatch-and-grab, and rescue operations. To infiltrate a target, they must be able to fast-rope out of helicopters, perform HALO and HAHO jumps out of airplanes, walk twelve kilometers or more behind enemy lines, carrying seventy-five pounds of gear or a wounded soldier. All of this must be performed in any terrain or temperature, on top of a 10,000-foot mountain, or in subsurface underwater environments... from subzero freezing to 122-degree Fahrenheit heat. The operators need Olympian confidence and stamina..." Sounds like the intro to an 80's serial like the A-Team, but real. I first discovered Annie Jacobsen on Joe Rogan when she shared about Operation Paperclip. I was skeptical of her at first because Rogan has numerous many crack-pot conspiracy theorists on his show who hold WILD views on everything from exctinction-level events to aliens at Area 51. Thankfully, Jacobsen checks out. Her work is airtight. I'm utterly amazed at the level of dedication and discipline required to write about these preternatural agents who carry out America's most top-secret "preemptive neutralization" missions.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I am amazed by people who conduct the kind of research that Annie Jacobson does!  Hours of interviews, and I am sure piles and boxes of files and papers.  Annie spent LOTS of time interviewing William (Billy) D Waugh, a much decorated veteran.  According to Military.com, he received 8 Purple Hearts!  I thought this might be boring, but it is not at all!  I learned quite a bit - going back to the beginning of the CIA and the Civil War - up to the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden and the Trump admin I am amazed by people who conduct the kind of research that Annie Jacobson does!  Hours of interviews, and I am sure piles and boxes of files and papers.  Annie spent LOTS of time interviewing William (Billy) D Waugh, a much decorated veteran.  According to Military.com, he received 8 Purple Hearts!  I thought this might be boring, but it is not at all!  I learned quite a bit - going back to the beginning of the CIA and the Civil War - up to the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden and the Trump administration.  The origins of presidential use of plausible deniability and use of the third option (following the options of peace or war) The Hidden Hand.   According to rules of engagement, "CIA armed Predator Drone is not allowed to Kill someone while they are taking a bath."  Current laws of war do not permit assassination.  So, it is called many other things. What the public doesn't know.... Written and narrated by Annie Jacobson herself

  20. 5 out of 5

    guy

    not a big fan of the military industrial complex but this was (if true) a pretty interesting history of the CIA that i hadn't heard before. i'm still not a big fan of of our meddling in other countries through assassination and espionage but out of the many narratives told in this book it's story about our relationships in the middle east all the way back to the 1950's and 60's is very compelling and add much background to huge problems and conflicts that have been going on long before Bin Laden not a big fan of the military industrial complex but this was (if true) a pretty interesting history of the CIA that i hadn't heard before. i'm still not a big fan of of our meddling in other countries through assassination and espionage but out of the many narratives told in this book it's story about our relationships in the middle east all the way back to the 1950's and 60's is very compelling and add much background to huge problems and conflicts that have been going on long before Bin Laden was born. still i'm not a big fan of our illicit foreign policies over the years, but if you want to have an pretty clear and balanced idea of how and when we get our hands "dirty" this is a pretty good place to start

  21. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    I won this on a Goodreads Giveaway for my honest opinion. Even though it took me awhile to read, because I have been sick, it is an interesting book. A nonfiction about some of the things the CIA has done for America since its inception. Sometimes war is not the answer and the President needs another way, when this happens he calls in the CIA Paramilitary Armies. It takes you thru the 1940's up to President Trump. Is assassination right, when it's for the safety of our country? I will leave that I won this on a Goodreads Giveaway for my honest opinion. Even though it took me awhile to read, because I have been sick, it is an interesting book. A nonfiction about some of the things the CIA has done for America since its inception. Sometimes war is not the answer and the President needs another way, when this happens he calls in the CIA Paramilitary Armies. It takes you thru the 1940's up to President Trump. Is assassination right, when it's for the safety of our country? I will leave that up to the reader to decide. For me, it's a yes. If one President would have used this, would 9/11 not have happened? Again, that's the readers decision to make. Happy Reading 😊

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Page

    I have now listened too all but one of Annie Jacobsen's books in the audiobook format and I continue to be drawn in and amazed by all of her writings. The topics that Annie writs about are fascinating and to someone interested but not an expert in these fields can find her books are addicting. Researching topics like these, which in their very nature are ultra secretive are not for everyone. The detail of each mission and the time frame that this book encompasses is detailed and extensively rese I have now listened too all but one of Annie Jacobsen's books in the audiobook format and I continue to be drawn in and amazed by all of her writings. The topics that Annie writs about are fascinating and to someone interested but not an expert in these fields can find her books are addicting. Researching topics like these, which in their very nature are ultra secretive are not for everyone. The detail of each mission and the time frame that this book encompasses is detailed and extensively researched. Finishing this audiobook left a void and makes me want more of her books. I hope there are more in the works because I will be the first to get it!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Adekunle

    Some non-fiction books read like the most exciting fiction, and this is one of them. Annie Jacobsen's writing is very engaging, and through her detailed research, she unearths stories that are downright unbelievable. That said, something about these hidden-hand operations left a bad taste in my mouth. To say the world is a complex place is an understatement, and after reading this, I don't even know what words like 'justice' and 'right' mean in the context of global politics. I need to cleanse my Some non-fiction books read like the most exciting fiction, and this is one of them. Annie Jacobsen's writing is very engaging, and through her detailed research, she unearths stories that are downright unbelievable. That said, something about these hidden-hand operations left a bad taste in my mouth. To say the world is a complex place is an understatement, and after reading this, I don't even know what words like 'justice' and 'right' mean in the context of global politics. I need to cleanse my 'palate' with something lighter, lol. Either way, this was a fantastic read. If the subject interests you then by all means jump in, you won't regret it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John Piotrowski

    Felt somewhat choppy and areas where attention to detail was done were not always in parts that felt pertinent. Ended up finishing as a book specifically around one person that has seen multiple battle fields. I did do this via an audio book and the author is the reader, her reading was very dry and monotone, had to listen to it at 2X speed to make it sound like a normal read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Drexler

    Great read, and a page burner! I enjoyed reading and learning about numerous foreign leaders and their intertwining connections to one another. Jacobsen is a great author, and I always enjoy her books. This was such a fascinating history of CIA operations, and I’m certain only a glimpse, at that.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nick Swanson

    I was extremely disappointed in this book. Rather than being a history of CIA’s Special Activities Division as the cover jacket advertised, it focused on Billy Waugh, a single CIA contractor. While interesting, Billy Waugh’s story has already been written about in numerous other books.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Haley

    A fascinating read but one that felt somewhat disjointed when transitioning between eras and persons of interest.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    “My observation is that the more the battle machines are perfected, the greater the need in modern warfare of men calculatingly reckless with disciplined daring, who are trained for aggressive action...It will mean a return to our old tradition of the scouts, the raiders, and the rangers,” - William “Bill” Donovan (OSS Chief) TITLE OF BOOK - The motto of one unit, the OSS Jedburghs, was “Surprise, Kill, Vanish.” THIRD OPTION - Tertia Optio, the president’s third option when the first option, diploma “My observation is that the more the battle machines are perfected, the greater the need in modern warfare of men calculatingly reckless with disciplined daring, who are trained for aggressive action...It will mean a return to our old tradition of the scouts, the raiders, and the rangers,” - William “Bill” Donovan (OSS Chief) TITLE OF BOOK - The motto of one unit, the OSS Jedburghs, was “Surprise, Kill, Vanish.” THIRD OPTION - Tertia Optio, the president’s third option when the first option, diplomacy, is inadequate and the second, war, is a terrible idea. - The most extreme of all hidden-hand operations involves killing a leader or prominent person, and this book focuses on that act. LEGALITY - Killing a leader or prominent person at the behest of the president is legal under Title 50 of the U.S. Code. - Covert-action orders are formalized by CIA lawyers in a Presidential Finding, or Memorandum of Notification (MON), to be signed by the president. - “Where the laws of war end,” one Ground Branch operator told me, “Ground Branch begins.” U.S. POLICY AGAINST ASSASSINATION, RIGHT? - President Ford issued Executive Order 11905, a decree to govern covert-action operations, and this included a prohibition on assassinations...a presidential decree could easily be changed by decree, by another president. - the door was left wide-open for new liberties in interpretation when a more conservative president took the helm. Which is exactly what happened starting in 1981 KILLING AS MEANS OF PREVENTION, NOT REVENGE - To kill a specific individual under Title 50 authority of the U.S. Code was about prevention, not revenge. - lex talionis, the law of retaliation ...OR PERHAPS AS A MEANS OF DETERRENCE - The logic was, “If you don’t punish for one crime, you will get another,” says Dina Porat, chief historian at Israel’s Yad Vashem, or Holocaust, memorial. “This is what was driving [the Avengers], not only justice but a warning—a warning to the world that you cannot hurt Jews in such a manner and get away with it.” COMPLICATED ETHICS - The idea that most people find hand-to-hand killing repugnant but mechanized killing somehow more palatable is central to this book. - “Why is an expensive military raid with heavy collateral damage to our allies and to innocent children okay—more morally acceptable than a bullet to the head?” UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES - But there is so much more that results, including grave and unintended consequence the CIA can neither foresee nor control. In its hidden-hand operations in Guatemala in 1954, the CIA created a revenge-seeking monster intent on destroying its creator. It took the form of Che Guevara, the young doctor who watched the CIA-led coup through an open window in an apartment in Guatemala City. - By allowing the use of assassination as a hidden-hand foreign policy tool, did President Kennedy become an easier target to assassinate? - This is the tricky thing about MONs,” Rizzo explains. Lethal direct action would become known as targeted killing. “Capture, detain, interrogate” would become known as enhanced interrogation, or torture. LESS IS SOMETIMES MORE - Susan Hasler, a CTC analyst and early member of Alec Station, saw the writing on the wall. “Shock and awe does not end wars on terrorism. It only creates more terrorism,”...Uniquely familiar with covert operations against terrorist organizations, she considers hidden-hand operations to be the most effective way to combat terrorism in the modern world. Big military operations encourage more terrorism CHANGING VERNACULAR, EUPHEMISMS - President John F. Kennedy’s advisors formalized killing and called it Executive Action. To President Ronald Reagan the construct became “pre-emptive neutralization”—eliminating terrorists before they had a chance to strike again. Under President George W. Bush the term “lethal direct action” was used. Under President Barack Obama, killing terrorists became known publicly as “targeted killing.” SPECIAL ACTIVITIES DIVISION - The group that has the authority to conduct these lethal operations outside a war zone, on the ground, is the CIA’s Special Activities Division. One of its most lethal components is called Ground Branch. - (In addition to the CIA’s Ground Branch, there is Air Branch, which is the aviation wing of the Special Activities Division, and Maritime Branch, for amphibious operations. There’s also a political action arm, which interfaces with all three branches.) ‘PRESTIGE WORLDWIDE’ - Ground Branch operators and their special operations forces partners presently operate in 138 countries around the world. BILLY WAUGH PLAYS A CENTRAL ROLE IN BOOK - William D. Waugh, one of the oldest longest-serving covert-action operators in the United States and a highly decorated U.S. Army Green Beret, makes up the core of this book. - Billy Waugh would spend the next seven decades, until at least 2011, engaged in or training for direct-action, kill-or-be-killed, covert-action operations against America’s enemies around the globe. - “You’ll only ever know a hundredth of the things Billy accomplished for us,” said Black cryptically...“Most of what Billy Waugh did was never written down,” he said. “Almost everything was on verbal [orders] from someone like me, to someone like him.” THE ONLY THING THAT NEARLY DEFEATED WAUGH WAS WORKING IN THE POST OFFICE AFTER RETIREMENT - “I do not ever recall feeling fear, not up to that moment in my life. Not in combat before, and not anywhere since. But there in the post office, I feared my life was over,” he remembers. “That I would wind up some old man drinking at the end of the bar.” For five long years, Billy Waugh continued to work for the Postal Service, CHARACTERISTICS OF OPERATORS, ASSASSINS - Operators needed to be extremely competitive, self-reliant, stress-resistant, and stoic to the point of arrogant. - “Murder is not morally justifiable,” and “assassination can seldom be employed with a clear conscience. Persons who are morally squeamish should not attempt it.” DELTA TESTS SECRET SERVICE READINESS - Delta Force would attempt: to have a team of parachute assassins try and infiltrate the White House via high-altitude low-opening (HALO) infiltration. The operation has never been reported before. On the night of October 14, 1990, President George H. W. Bush was taken to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland. Live ammunition was collected from the Secret Service special agents on duty, an indicator that something was going on. One of the agents on duty that night, a sniper on the White House roof, recalls what happened. “All of a sudden, there were these Delta guys on the lawn. It was that fast. It was a ‘holy shit’ moment for everybody involved.” HUGINT? - A new form of intelligence emerged called HUGINT, the synthesis of human intelligence and signals intelligence. - At Mossad, the discipline of HUGINT requires the acquisition of the most private, scandalous details about enemies, for the purpose of blackmailing them and turning them into assets. To this end, Mossad collects information on infidelities, illicit sexual encounters, drug use, porn habits, the taking of bribes, and anything else that compromises the reputations of allegedly pious members of terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas. *** *** *** FACTOIDS - “Neither of us realized at the time that we’d invented the concept of high-altitude low-opening (HALO) parachute drops, right there over the Han River in Korea.” The HALO jump has since become the most effective means of inserting covert-action operators into denied territory and behind enemy lines. In 2019, it is still the method of choice. - Radio communication did not exist in the outer reaches of [Korea], so agents were dropped in with homing pigeons strapped to their legs. This was often their only means of communicating with their CIA and U.S. Army handlers in the south: a single homing pigeon to let the handler know they’d made it safely in. - Fedayeen-e Islam modeled their activities after history’s original assassins, the Hashashin, an eleventh-century strike force of Shiite fundamentalist warriors led by the enigmatic holy man Hassan-i Sabbah, from whom the word “assassin” derives. - One of the assassins was a foot soldier from the village of Tikrit named Saddam Hussein. During the ambush, Saddam Hussein began shooting prematurely, drawing fire from Qasim’s bodyguards and causing the plan to go awry. Qasim’s chauffeur was killed, but General Qasim survived the attempt on his life. - Santa Claus was outlawed in Cuba, English no longer allowed. - A legend among his men, Brute Krulak was famous at the Pentagon for the risky, nighttime amphibious raids he’d led on islands across the Pacific during World War II. On one of these raids, he was leading thirty commandos on an ambush when their vessel hit a reef and began to sink. Facing certain death, they were rescued by a torpedo boat crew commanded by a young lieutenant named John F. Kennedy. - Plaster is considered one of the most competent snipers in U.S. military history, and his experiences in MACV-SOG would later serve as the basis for part of the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops. - Nung tribesmen demonstrated how, by digging a four-foot hole into a hillside, a fighter could see and feel the vibrations of an advancing aircraft long before his ears registered the engine sound. - U.S. Secret Service—a law enforcement agency created by President Abraham Lincoln and signed into law on the morning of April 14, 1865, the day of Lincoln’s own assassination. - Mossad legend has it that in 1948, in exchange for diplomatic relations, the Vatican asked Israel to hold a mock trial of Jesus and reverse the original biblical death verdict of Christ. Israel declined, and no prime minister had been invited to the Vatican since. - the Gold Codes: the gamma-classified launch codes for a nuclear weapons attack, printed on a business-sized card. - One of the radical ideas at the CTC in 1986, to preemptively neutralize threats, was to build and use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), also called a drone. - The Secret Service keeps all assassination attempts against a U.S. president classified Top Secret so as not to encourage copycat attacks. - A combat intelligence team, Unit 8200, Israel’s equivalent of the NSA. - “OGA”: Other Government Agency, a euphemism for the CIA. - the war Americans call the Vietnam War and Vietnamese call the American War. WTF - In the event Buffalo killed North Korea’s leader, he’d receive a “grand prize of a considerable amount of money.” The mission failed and Buffalo was never heard from again. The idea that a Native American Indian, an assassin for the CIA, could simply make his way to Pyongyang in the middle of a war and blend in among the locals there was ambitious and foolhardy. - Prime Minister Nuri al-Said escaped the immediate carnage and the following day donned an abaya and sneaked out a back door of the palace. He was captured and shot, and his corpse “cut up by shawerma knives” by a vengeful mob. The mutilated corpses of the crown prince and the prime minister were then strung up outside the Ministry of Defense and hit with sticks. After the bodies were taken down, they were laid out in the street, where they were run over by an army vehicle. The corpses “resembled sausage,” reported a Baghdad newspaper, which ran photographs of the bodies and the mayhem. - “The Laotian commander of our unit drank a lot and drove his Mercedes around,” remembers Waugh. “The concept of discipline or physical training did not exist.” White Star advisor Colonel Alfred Paddock recalls that “an astonishing fifteen soldiers were killed by their own mines during our stay.” - Trujillo was power-mad and masochistic. Historians hold him responsible for tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings, including those in 1937 in the border region with Haiti, which would come to be known as the Parsley Massacre. “Few bullets were used,” according to a UN Security Council report on the mass killing. “Instead, 20,000–30,000 Haitians were bludgeoned and bayonetted, then herded into the sea, where sharks finished what Trujillo had begun.” - Blackburn was a master of guerrilla warfare. During World War II he led kill-or-be-killed missions in the Philippines, where the tribesmen he organized into a guerrilla fighting force turned out to be headhunters. - Waugh saw Horton emerge from the woods, looking ill. In one hand he carried an American jungle boot. Something grotesque was sticking out of the shoe, recalls Waugh, as he figured out he was looking at part of Delmer Laws’s leg. Danny Horton took the group to where he’d found it. “He’d been mostly eaten by a tiger,” says Waugh. - Sergeant First Class Charlie Wilklow had survived two deadly helicopter crashes, been captured by the NVA, held as a POW, forgotten about, and then rescued—all against impossible odds. The NVA had set Wilklow up as bait and had prepared to ambush and kill or capture the SOG rescue team. But apparently after three and a half days the NVA gave up on Wilklow being rescued and instead left him out in the open to die...Charlie Wilklow was the only captured SOG operator to ever be rescued during the entire Vietnam War. - At one point during the conversation, the general ordered a subordinate to cut off Che Guevara’s hands, remembers Rodriguez. “The hands were sent to Cuba, to Fidel [Castro], as proof that Che was dead,” Rodriguez stated in an interview for this book. “I know for certain from sources that they are kept in preservatives, in Havana, in a secure facility there.” - As Jordan’s prime minister lay dying on the floor, the assassin got down on his hands and knees and licked the blood flowing across the marble floor. - Qaddafi expelled from the country all American and British military advisors and shut down their military facilities, calling them “bases of imperialism.” The Italians, Libya’s former colonizers, fared worse. Twelve thousand Italians were banished, told to exhume the bones of their dead relatives and take them back to Italy. The event was televised on Libyan state TV. - Another CIA pilot also on the mission that day, a man named Tunon, was captured by a different group of tribesmen, the Simbas, who killed and ate him, according to reports by local missionaries. - General Dostum ordered his men to herd the surrendered Taliban into metal shipping containers, without ventilation or water, then close and lock the doors. While waiting to be trucked to a prison facility, 1,500 Taliban POWs suffocated to death. Those who tried to escape were shot by Dostum’s men. - “I once asked an Afghan soldier why he joined special forces as opposed to the regular army,” recalls Stiles. “He said, ‘Because in special forces you get raped less.’” HAHA - “Watch this,” the sergeant major said, unhooking his prosthetic leg and putting it on backward, so the foot faced in reverse. The soldier with the prosthetic asked a pretty girl to dance and she said sure, but while they were dancing, she looked down at his backward foot, screamed, and ran away. The sergeant major howled with laughter. - Qaddafi wanted his own version of the U.S. Navy SEALs and assigned Waugh to lead training. During a training exercise on the Gulf of Sidra, one of the commandos in a boat ahead of Waugh leapt out of the craft and into the water and drowned. “He didn’t know how to swim,” recalls Waugh. “He thought the scuba suit worked like a life preserver” and would keep him afloat. In a post-accident debriefing, Waugh learned only two of the twenty-two commandos knew how to swim. - “I heard a muffled sound coming from my passenger, a kind of light gagging noise,” he recalls. Suddenly, the whole car smelled of vomit. Waugh realized that the deputy chief of station had thrown up inside his mask. “He was angry and embarrassed, but he couldn’t take off the mask for fear of blowing our cover,” remembers Waugh. They drove on, headed back to Khartoum. “It’s your fault,” the deputy chief said after a while. “The way you’re driving the car caused me to throw up.” - Cofer Black returned from a meeting at the White House to find Billy Waugh in front of his office, stretched out on a cheap folding chair. “The kind you take to the beach,”...More CIA paramilitary teams were being put together for Afghanistan, and Waugh had not been chosen for any of them, which infuriated him. Black refused to assign him a spot on a team; Waugh’s protest was the beach chair setup...All kinds of people were coming to see me, and every goddamn one of them had to step around Billy Waugh in that cheap folding chair.” - “I said to [the Afghans], ‘So the moon is 250,000 miles away.’ And while I was on the subject, I said, ‘By the way, we landed there fifty years ago; the missions were called Apollo.’ One of the soldiers said, ‘That’s impossible.’ He pointed to the moon and said, ‘The moon’s too small to land people on.’” BONUS - W54 backpack nuclear device: https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-a... - Larry Thorne: https://youtu.be/n9OeZSW8wZ4

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jesse D

    Well written and pretty comprehensive, definitely learned some new things I hadn’t known before.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pete Zilla

    I enjoyed this - it pairs well with “Legacy of Ashes” and I definitely learned intelligence history and details I had never read before. The author clearly had some amazing sources, both on the record and for background.

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