Shannon, Elaine 1946-
SHANNON, Elaine 1946-
PERSONAL: Born November 16, 1946 in Gainesville, GA; married Dan Morgan (a newspaper correspondent and author); children: Andrew. Education: Vanderbilt University, 1968.
AWARDS, HONORS: Clarion Award, Women in Communications; New York State Bar Association Award; IAPA-Bartolome Mitre Award, Inter-American Press Association, for Time cover story on the Cali cocaine cartel, 1992.
Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Danny O. Coulson) No Heroes: Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Ann Blackman) The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Elaine Shannon covered the international drug saga for ten years for Newsweek magazine. Since the 1970s she has been a Washington, D.C. correspondent covering the FBI and the Justice Department, and in 1987, she joined the staff of Time magazine. Described by her coworkers at Time as having a "get-to-the-bottom-of-it style," Shannon has earned a reputation as a tough but fair journalist and has won numerous awards for her work.
Shannon first covered the drug problem in 1968 while working at her first job in journalism—as a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean. It soon became her area of expertise, and she has spent much time talking to drug lords, law enforcement officers, and members of drug cartels. Despite the fact that around fifty journalists have been murdered in Colombia since 1980, Shannon felt it was impossible to cover the drug war without spending time at the Mexican border; she wanted to get her information first-hand, and she knew the only way to do that was to take risks.
Her first book, titled Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win, is the result of her risk-taking. In it Shannon reveals that, despite Mexico's boasts that it had virtually wiped out the drug trade, drug trafficking continued to escalate throughout the mid-1980s. Mexican drug kingpins were enjoying the protection of the Federal Security Directorate (DFS) and carried DFS credentials, which gave them immunity from prosecution. Woven throughout Shannon's narrative are vivid portraits of a number of the biggest dealers. But at the heart of the book is Shannon's chronicle of the torture death of Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, a drug enforcement officer whose battered corpse was buried in a roadside grave in Mexico. The book was turned into an Emmywinning mini-series called Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. Another mini-series, also based on Shannon's book and titled Drug Wars II: The Medellin Cartel, received an Emmy nomination for best mini-series.
In his review for National Review, Wayne Lutton wrote, "Shannon's purpose—which she accomplishes in exemplary fashion—is to describe the current situation, not to outline solutions. After finishing Desperados, however, most readers will conclude that there are no easy alternatives to border control." John Katzenbach of the Washington Post Book World wrote, "Shannon's strong suit is her digging and her steady presentation of well-documented material."
Shannon's second book, No Heroes: Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror, explores the conflict between the FBI and those who reject government and use violence to further their goals. Shannon and Danny Coulson, an FBI agent with whom she collaborated on the book, discuss a number of antigovernment groups active during the 1960s and 1970s, and boldly describe the struggle against these forces. Michael Breen of BookPage wrote, "Not only a tale of stakeouts, investigations, and sieges, it is a story that engenders a greater appreciation of those who are on the front lines of the war against terrorism."
After more than twenty-seven years as a journalist, Shannon wrote The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History. Hanssen was a veteran FBI agent whose job was to help track enemy agents and maintain American security. Described as "loyal" by those who knew him, Hanssen in fact spent two decades selling some of America's most valuable secrets. He single-handedly devised and operated a spying operation in the midst of the most exclusive and sophisticated counterespionage organization in the world. Shannon and her collaborator, Ann Blackman, present compelling evidence that helps explain how he decided to betray his homeland and create a double life.
In addition to revealing his professional deceits, Shannon reports on Hanssen's personal idiosyncrasies. Though a self-declared Catholic, Hanssen bragged in an Internet chat room about nude photos of his wife that he shared with his neighbor and friend; he carried on a bizarre affair with a stripper. Shannon argues that Hanssen's duplicity was locked inside his psyche: His childhood was loveless, and as an adult he had few friends. As a member of the FBI, his life was controlled by outside forces, and he became resentful and suspicious of that world. During his fifteen years of espionage activity, he collected $1.5 million in cash payments. But it wasn't the money that compelled him to spy; it was the thrill of getting away with it under the noses of the very people whose responsibility it was to prevent that sort of behavior.
Since publication of The Spy Next Door, a blue-ribbon commission conducted an investigation into the Hanssen case and determined that routine background checks conducted as long as two decades prior to Hanssen's arrest turned up enough tip-offs to warrant further investigation. The FBI never followed up on those clues.
When The Spy Next Door was published, two other books on the Hanssen case were just hitting bookstores as well. Ernest R. May of the Times Literary Supplement determined "The Spy Next Door is the best of the three on the Hanssen case."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1988, William J. Drummond, review of Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War American Can't Win, p. 5.
National Review, September 1, 1989, Wayne Lutton, review of Desperados, p. 48.
New York Times Book Review,February 24, 2002, Benjamin Schwarz, "Dirty Little Secrets: Three Books Explore the Case of the FBI Agent Who Was a Spy for Russia and an Amateur Pornographer," p. 11.
Time (London, England), July 1, 1991, p. 18; May 29, 1995, Elizabeth Valk Long, "To Our Readers," p. 4.
Times Literary Supplement,April 26, 2002, Ernest R. May, "Was Vanity the Spur?," p. 8.
Washington Post,October 2, 1988, John Katzenbach, "The Real Evil Empire," p. 11.
Bookpage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 6, 2002), Michael Breen, review of No Heroes: Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror Force and The Spy Next Door: The Extraordinary Secret Life of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Damaging FBI Agent in U.S. History.
CNN,http://www.cnn.com/ (September 6, 2002), "Elaine Shannon."
Houston Chronicle,http://www.chron.com/ (September 6, 2002), Stephen Kurkjian, "Double-dealing at the FBI."
National Press Club,http://www.npc.press.org/ (September 6, 2002), biography of author.
Time,http://www.time.com/ (December 18, 2002), Elaine Shannon, "Post-Hanssen FBI Circles the Wagons."
TWBookmark,http://www.twbookmark.com/ (September 6, 2002).*