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Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins Paperback – July 7, 2020
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Surprise . . . your target. Kill . . . your enemy. Vanish . . . without a trace.
When diplomacy fails, and war is unwise, the president calls on the CIA's Special Activities Division, a highly-classified branch of the CIA and the most effective, black operations force in the world.
Originally known as the president's guerrilla warfare corps, SAD conducts risky and ruthless operations that have evolved over time to defend America from its enemies. Almost every American president since World War II has asked the CIA to conduct sabotage, subversion and, yes, assassination.
With unprecedented access to forty-two men and women who proudly and secretly worked on CIA covert operations from the dawn of the Cold War to the present day, along with declassified documents and deep historical research, Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen unveils -- like never before -- a complex world of individuals working in treacherous environments populated with killers, connivers, and saboteurs.
Despite Hollywood notions of off-book operations and external secret hires, covert action is actually one piece in a colossal foreign policy machine.
Written with the pacing of a thriller, Surprise, Kill, Vanish brings to vivid life the sheer pandemonium and chaos, as well as the unforgettable human will to survive and the intellectual challenge of not giving up hope that define paramilitary and intelligence work. Jacobsen's exclusive interviews -- with members of the CIA's Senior Intelligence Service (equivalent to the Pentagon's generals), its counterterrorism chiefs, targeting officers, and Special Activities Division's Ground Branch operators who conduct today's close-quarters killing operations around the world -- reveal, for the first time, the enormity of this shocking, controversial, and morally complex terrain. Is the CIA's paramilitary army America's weaponized strength, or a liability to its principled standing in the world? Every operation reported in this book, however unsettling, is legal.
"As fast paced as a thriller." ―Fred Burton, Stratfor Talks' Pen and Sword Podcast
"Jacobsen here presents a tour de force exploring the CIA's paramilitary activities...this excellent work feels like uncovering the tip of the iceberg. VERDICT: Highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of American foreign policy in action."―Jacob Sherman, Library Journal
"In SURPRISE, VANISH, KILL, Annie Jacobsen takes us inside the darkest and most morally ambiguous corner of our government, where politicians ask brave men and women to kill-up close and personal-on America's behalf. She offers, in cinematic detail, the real story of recent geopolitical history, the plots and assassinations that in some instances presidents and diplomats have denied for years, including the CIA's biggest successes and its biggest fiascos."―Garrett M. Graff, author of Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die
"A behind-the-scenes look at the most shadowy corners of the American intelligence community...Well-sourced and well-paced, this book is full of surprises."―Kirkus
"Having already demonstrated her remarkable aptitude for unearthing government secrets in books like Area 51 (2011) and The Pentagon's Brain (2015), Jacobsen pulls back the curtain on the history of covert warfare and state sanctioned assassinations from WWII to the present...Jacobsen's work revealing a poorly understood but essential slice of warfare history belongs in every library collection."―Booklist
Praise for The Pentagon's Brain
Pulitzer Prize Finalist in History
One of The Washington Post's Notable Nonfiction Books of 2015
One of The Boston Globe's Best Books of 2015
One of Amazon's Top 100 Books of 2015
"A brilliantly researched account of a small but powerful secret government agency whose military research profoundly affects world affairs."―The Pulitzer Prize Committee
"Filled with the intrigue and high stakes of a spy novel, Jacobsen's history of DARPA is as much a fascinating testament to human ingenuity as it is a paean to endless industrial warfare and the bureaucracy of the military-industrial complex."―Kirkus
"A fascinating and unsettling portrait of the secretive U.S. government agency....Jacobsen walks a fine line in telling the story of the agency and its innovations without coming across as a cheerleader or a critic, or letting the narrative devolve into a salacious tell-all. Jacobsen's ability to objectively tell the story of DARPA, not to mention its murky past, is truly remarkable, making for a terrifically well-crafted treatise on the agency most Americans know next to nothing about."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Jacobsen offers a definitive history of the clandestine agency.... She explores the implications of DARPA work on technology that will not be widely known to the public for generations but will certainly impact national security and concepts of war."―Vanessa Bush, Booklist (starred review)
Praise for Phenomena
One of The Washington Post's most anticipated books of 2017
One of USA Today's New and Noteworthy Picks!
"With Phenomena, Annie Jacobsen has once again produced an utterly absorbing and brilliantly reported chronicle that truly breaks new ground. This is a boundary-breaking story of mental phenomena-extra sensory perception techniques-that is truly a pleasure to read. A mind-bending triumph!"―Alex Kershaw, bestselling author of The Liberator and Avenue of Spies
"Richly researched.... Jacobsen shows that, in the face of inexplicable events, even 'the most pragmatic, commonsense thinkers found themselves uncertain.'"―The New Yorker
"Annie Jacobsen has written an entertaining narrative of the many salaried people in our government who have supported the exploration of psychic phenomena....Much of the information presented is already known, but Jacobsen has accomplished the gargantuan feat of bulldozing it all into one place. She has a keen eye for amusing anecdotes, and writes them up with convincing detail. More than that, Jacobsen has arranged her story in a kind of nonfiction picaresque novel."―Dick Teresi, New York Times Book Review
"Annie Jacobsen is back with a new tome that should entice anyone who doesn't mind thinking outside the box; or as referenced in her book, as if there is no box.... A well researched and fascinating tale.... It's everything you could possibly want"―Simon Constable, Forbes
Praise for Operation Paperclip
"The most in depth account yet of the lives of Paperclip recruits and their American counterparts.... Jacobsen deftly untangles the myriad German and American agencies and personnel involved...more gripping and skillfully rendered are the stories of American and British officials who scoured defeated Germany for Nazi scientists and their research."―New York Times Book Review
"With Annie Jacobsen's OPERATION PAPERCLIP for the first time the enormity of the effort has been laid bare. The result is a book that is at once chilling and riveting, and one that raises substantial and difficult questions about national honor and security...This book is a remarkable achievement of investigative reporting and historical writing."―Boston Globe
About the Author
- Publisher : Back Bay Books (July 7, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 560 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316441422
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316441421
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 2.1 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #21,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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--Re the interviews w/ the senior officers now retired; We only get a snippet here and there of their answers to the author's questions. You are not allowed unless otherwise cleared to discuss classified information. Sort of difficult to know what they actually said. A lot has been declassified, but when in doubt, shut up.
Re the Laotian trail watchers and their picture coded buttons: A few yrs later, it was discovered that the indig assets didn't risk going to the Ho Chi Minh trail, but much closer to home pushed some buttons at random. Since all these sightings were converted into intel reports, all of them, and there were thousands, had to be recalled and deleted from customers' data bases. Embarrassing.
Re Green Beret Murder Case: Gets very complicated but let me simplify. A MAC/SOG team had a suspected enemy spy in their employ. They went through their chain of command to SF Hqs who went to their Agency counterparts and asked for advice what to do w/a traitor. The Agency person responded that you "terminate with extreme prejudice." Now the Agency is not usually thinking of operating in war zones and used this phrase at the time with the word "extreme" to just to stress what normal business phrase "terminate w/ prejudice" means. Simply fire the person and document it so the the person will not be rehired. In our culture, we've been had and paid the person good money for fabricated info, and don't want him to show up at the next base and take us again. BUT in the heat of the moment, SF took the commonly expected meaning that it means to do the poor bastard in, and did precisely that. A little later, the Agency banned the use of the phrase from our lexicon.
--Re the rehash of this 40 yrs later in Kandahar, Afgh: Did the Ground Branch guys actually think that by using their call signs instead of whatever names they are know by that they will remain anonymous? In two tdys at Kandahar I saw a much milder incident that the GBers had observed an Afgh guy trying to obtain too much info over an extended period and as I was the conduit to the Afgh service, they (GBers) wanted me to just get the guy transferred out. which was done. Much easier than killing someone. Maybe the GBers were pulling one over on the author, telling her what she wanted to here, etc.
Re the trip to VN and Cuba: Who paid for this, not the author I'm sure.
Re Billy W.: No disrespect to him, but in my total 37+ yrs, I never heard of him and I've been around Ground Branch at times. This means absolutely nothing. Now he wrote his book in 2005, and he's fair game game to pick on. His status w/the Agency is never clarified. I suspect he is more than a contractor for the 30 yrs he was w/ the Agency; probably was given staff status at some point. Most of the GBers are contractors and do NOT stay around for a long time. Its easy to get injured or killed in that line of work and if they don't have a military retirement and health care to fall back on, they're SOL if they get hurt on Agency time. They will get their injuries paid for on the Agency's dime, but it ain't covered by the VA. for compensation.
As other reviewers have mentioned, there are several points that could have been picked up an Agency reviewer. Killing the enemy during wartime is not assassination. She did not approach the issue with an open mind. Just as assassination may have been looked at during the Cold War, so was interrogation after 9/11. End result is the same; the evil act has been abolished. A very common fault currently is to judge past actions by current knowledge-it isn't that simple.
Although a verified purchaser, I did obtain an advanced copy. Reviewer opinions are my own.
Top reviews from other countries
I had high hopes for this book - a Pulitzer finalist no less - but was disappointed. Three mistakes in the first twenty pages, operations described in too little detail. I think the author might have been more successful if she had settled on a smaller time period. The task she set herself led the prose to seem hurried and unsatisfactory.
A good bit of build up history to the how and why the CIA, paramilitary division and it precursors really lend well to setting up the rest of the book.
It sits on the fence for the lions share, which is good as it doesn’t become propaganda, or blurs history.
In short, if you’re interested in Intelligence and military history, with explanations behind the wisdom of operations, you’ll not go wrong with this book.