Baer, Robert 1952–
Baer, Robert 1952–
(Robert B. Baer)
PERSONAL: Born July 1, 1952, in Aspen, CO. Education: Earned degree from Georgetown University School of Foreign Services, 1976.
CAREER: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Washington, DC, 1976–97, began as case agent, became director of operations.
AWARDS, HONORS: Career Intelligence Medal, CIA; Merit Unit Citation, CIA, 1995.
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism (nonfiction), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.
Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude (nonfiction), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2003.
Blow the House Down (novel), Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of documentary film The Cult of the Suicide Bomber.
ADAPTATIONS: See No Evil and Sleeping with the Devil were adapted as the film Syriana, written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, Warner Bros., 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Baer grew up in Aspen, Colorado, where he enjoyed skiing and hoped to become a professional ski racer. But Baer's grades were low, and his mother sent him to military school in hopes of improving his academic performance. He later attended Georgetown University's School of Foreign Services. After graduating in 1976, he made a phone call to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inquiring about a job. He refers to the phone call as a prank, but it was responsible for landing him the position of case officer for the CIA's Director of Operations. After receiving training, Baer was sent to a number of overseas locations, mostly in the Middle East, including Northern Iraq, Dushanbe, Rabat, Paris, Beirut, Khartoum, and New Delhi. He is fluent in Arabic, Farsi, French, and German. He worked for the CIA for twenty-one years. As a case officer, he recruited foreign agents, gathered information from them, and then used that information to attempt various operations. He received the coveted Career Intelligence Medal and a Merit Unit Citation from the CIA for his work in Iraq during 1995. In 1997, he retired from the CIA due to his dissatisfaction with the way the organization was being run, and thereafter, he divided his time between Washington DC and France.
Baer's first book, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, was published in 2002. It is in some ways a memoir of his time spent working for the CIA. He chronicles many of his experiences and explains the problems existing within the organization, which in his view have led to the inability of the CIA to effectively prevent terrorism. Baer believes that it is a mixture of bureaucracy, political correctness, and depending too much on technological espionage—while not relying enough on agents and informants who bring first-hand information—that has been the downfall of the organization. Ewa Wasilewska of the World and I described See No Evil as "a compelling personal account of the not-so-slow disintegration of U.S. intelligence operations abroad, an honest presentation of the complex reality of foreign cultures, and a powerful call to restore the CIA to what it was meant to be: the protector and preserver of the nation, freedom, democracy and our lives." Evan Thomas, writing in the New York Times Book Review stated: "Though See No Evil is breezy and blustery and presents a one-sided view, it is entertaining and at times revealing." Barton Gellman, writing in the Washington Post was impressed with Baer's skills as an agent and found that the book "makes a persuasive case, with much amusing evidence that the CIA lost interest in the skills Baer had to offer." Chris Patsilelis writing in the Houston Chronicle Online wrote: "Baer has written a valuable, illuminating book."
Baer's next book was Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude. Baer uses his first-hand experience from his time spent in the Middle East to critique the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia. He believes that as a country, the U.S. has become too dependent on Saudi Arabia for oil, and that it is unwise to be so heavily allied with a country that he believes is unstable and improperly run. Baer believes that financial ties to Saudi Arabia have hampered the U.S.'s ability to fight terrorism, leading the U.S. to be too lenient, ignoring the actions of Saudi citizens and keeping their involvement in terrorist acts out of the media. Baer is certain that Saudi Arabia as a country will fall in the near future and that it is unsafe to be so closely tied, economically, to that country. Baer closes his book with the idea that invading Saudi Arabia may be the only option for survival, in that the U.S. cannot continue the relationship now formed and remain dependent on Saudi oil. Elizabeth Shelburne writing in the Atlantic Online stated: "Baer maintains that we must look at Saudi Arabia with a more objective lens and examine the foundations of that country, since they are, in some sense, the foundations of our own." A reviewer for the Economist was critical of Baer's writing, saying: "His rat-a-tat prose suggests a book that belongs more comfortably in an airport bookshop rather than on the desk of a serious analyst, and his discussion of the petroleum industry is amateurish." The reviewer did find, however, that the author's "main point deserves to be remembered." The material from Sleeping with the Devil and See No Evil was adapted into the film Syriana.
In his first novel, Blow the House Down, Baer created an espionage story centered on the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Though the story is fictional, Baer's experience in the Middle East figures prominently in his writing. He paints Iran as one of the key players in the attacks, and depicts an ongoing "secret war" between Iran and the United States. The story's protagonist, Maxwell Waller, has much in common with Baer: He is a top CIA agent working at a very high level in the Middle East. Reviewing the novel for the Library Journal, Ronnie H. Terpening called it a "complex thriller" full of inside knowledge that will "entertain and instruct" those who read it. A Kirkus Reviews writer recommended Blow the House Down as "predictably hard-boiled but unflaggingly entertaining."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Baer, Robert, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.
Commentary, April, 2002, Kenneth R. Timmerman, review of See No Evil, p. 70.
Economist, August 9, 2003, review of Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, p. 69.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2006, review of Blow the House Down, p. 308.
Library Journal, August, 2003, Daniel K. Blewett, review of Sleeping with the Devil, 99; April 15, 2006, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of Blow the House Down, p. 64.
New York Times Book Review, February 3, 2002, Evan Thomas, "Bring Back the Exploding Cigars," p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2003, review of Sleeping with the Devil, p. 58; March 13, 2006, review of Blow the House Down, p. 38.
Time, July 21, 2003, Adam Zagorin, "An Arabian Nightmare: The Saudi Kingdom Is Corrupt and Doomed and Cannot Be Trusted, Says a Former CIA Agent," p. 62.
USA Today, May, 2002, Gerald F. Kreyche, review of See No Evil, p. 81.
Washington Post, March 17-23, 2002, Barton Gellman, "Failure to Communicate," p. 7.
World and I, July, 2002, Ewa Wasilewska, "Seeing Evil but Blinking," p. 236.
Atlantic Online, http://www.theatlantic.com/ (October 22, 2003), Elizabeth Shelburne, "Addicted to Oil."
Buzz Flash, http://www.buzzflash.com/ (October 22, 2003), interview with Robert Baer.
Guardian Online, http://www.books.guardian.co.uk/ (October 22, 2003), excerpt and synopsis of See No Evil.
Houston Chronicle Online, http://www.chron.com/ (October 22, 2003), Lawrence Kaplan, "Joined at the Hip"; Chris Patsilelis, "What's Wrong with the CIA?"
Mother Jones Online, http://www.MotherJones.com/ (July 5, 2006), Dave Gilson, interview with Robert Baer.