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Robert Baer was known inside the CIA as perhaps the best operative working the Middle East. Over several decades he served everywhere from Iraq to New Delhi and racked up such an impressive list of accomplishments that he was eventually awarded the Career Intelligence Medal.  But if his career was everything a spy might aspire to, his personal life was a brutal illustration of everything a spy is asked to sacrifice. Bob had few enduring non-work friendships, only contacts and acquaintances. His prolonged absences destroyed his marriage, and he felt intense guilt at spending so little time with his children. Sworn to secrecy and constantly driven by ulterior motives, he was a man apart wherever he went.
 
Dayna Williamson thought of herself as just an ordinary California girl -- admittedly one born into a comfortable lifestyle.  But she was always looking to get closer to the edge.  When she joined the CIA, she was initially tasked with Agency background checks, but the attractive Berkeley graduate quickly distinguished herself as someone who could thrive in the field, and she was eventually assigned to “Protective Operations” training where she learned to handle weapons and explosives and conduct high-speed escape and evasion. Tapped to serve in some of the world's most dangerous places, she discovered an inner strength and resourcefulness she'd never known -- but she also came to see that the spy life exacts a heavy toll.  Her marriage crumbled, her parents grew distant, and she lost touch with friends who'd once meant everything to her.
 
When Bob and Dayna met on a mission in Sarajevo, it wasn't love at first sight. They were both too jaded for that. But there was something there, a spark. And as the danger escalated and their affection for each other grew, they realized it was time to leave “the Company,” to somehow rediscover the people they’d once been.
 
As worldly as both were, the couple didn’t realize at first that turning in their Agency I.D. cards would not be enough to put their covert past behind.  The fact was, their clandestine relationships remained.  Living as “civilians” in conflict-ridden Beirut, they fielded assassination proposals, met with Arab sheiks, wily oil tycoons, terrorists, and assorted outlaws – and came perilously close to dying.  But even then they couldn’t know that their most formidable challenge lay ahead.
 
Simultaneously a trip deep down the intelligence rabbit hole – one that shows how the “game” actually works, including the compromises it asks of those who play by its rules -- and a portrait of two people trying to regain a normal life, The Company We Keep is a masterly depiction of the real world of shadows.


From the Hardcover edition.
Published: Crown Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on Apr 8, 2011
ISBN: 9780307588166
List price: $11.99
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Bit dry, not what I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This account of how two CIA operating officers met, married and began settling into life after the CIA treats the dissolution of each of their first marriages rather offhandedly, but does make the point that the only path to true relationships is to settle in and work on maintaining them.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bob Baer has earned a lot of friends since becoming a famous author, judging by the jacket blurbs, which are hyperbolic even by blurb standards. And totally unmerited for this book. Perhaps the couple has hit a cash crunch and needs to buy a fourth or fifth house. And the kid they adopted at the end (at least I'm pretty sure they did, since I rapidly skimmed through that) will need private boarding school in France and all the other mundane stuff Baer's other children got.I have read Baer's first two books and this quickie is so embarrassing in comparison. He's run out of things to say and apparently is too lazy to go out and research something, despite his knowledge of Farsi and Arabic. Apparently he recently did a book on Iran and the second book, Sleeping with the Devil, regarding the US's dangerous dependence on Saudi Arabia was fine.You already know about the husband-and-wife hook. A newcomer to Baer might find some redeeming feature in the bits about how to recruit informers. Problem is, he already did that in the first book, See No Evil, which recapped his own history with the CIA, and with more interesting informers. That first book also had another virtue. It came out right before or after 9/11, the thrust being: the shit is about to hit the fan with some of these Muslim fanatics and the CIA and US does not have enough human intelligence on the ground. Now, he did carry that nostalgia for an unstated time (I think before he joined) when there wasn't so much reliance on technology, the NSA eavesdropping, etc. too farHe also had a sneer or sexual harassment training and female agents, which is kind of interesting since it seems that diversity pressure is what whisked Dayna into an overseas placement (and he was long involved with her at the time of the first book.)I'm not sure if Baer realizes that this book contradicts the thrust of that first book. If there's a theme to this book, it's that none of the work he did "added or subtracted" to the state of the world while he sacrificed his relationships with his family--ex-wife, kids and his mother. Not sure if the wife feels the same way; joined the CIA, she had to know her first marriage was doomed and she didn't stay in more than eight years or so. I don't buy Baer's excuse for his alienated relationship with his kids. He had quit the CIA in the late 1990s, lived in Beirut and Geneva for a while and was living in NY where his oldest child briefly came to live with him and Dayna. Uh, the boy was 12--too late to form a relationship with the ones ever younger? Baer appears to have plenty of money to buy a house in DC and Dayna proceeds to attend law school (not that she seems to have used her degree); he then earned plenty from his first book, supposedly (beats me how) the inspiration for Syriana. Really to late to form relationships with your kids, wherever they were? Perhaps moving to Colorado was not the best idea. Come to think of it, on Dayna's part the relationship with her father is now strained. Since she loves where she grew up in southern Cal, maybe buying another house and moving to northern California wouldn't be the wisest choice if she so mourns that relationship? I digress.The best that can be said about this book is that it moves along and the chapters are short. The best are on the nuts and bolts of spycraft--how you set up surveillance, the endless (and no doubt boring) meals and drinking sessions. Be warned: this is over by the first third of the book when the Baers quit the CIA. I kept wondering what one talks about with these people hour on end but I suppose it's too boring to specify. It's notable, too, how both are so poor at conveying personalities and physical descriptions. Wouldn't you think the first would be important to a)assess a prospective informer and b) get that across to your bosses? As for physical descriptions, we get the bare inventory of things in their spy perches and the bare facts of clothing (black, white, wool, black trainers) of fellow spies and the spied upon (lots of Gore-tex on the former) but, jeez., you're no longer in the trade. Try a little harder.None of these little spying interludes pan out, as we might expect from too many movies and TV shows. The covers are blown, so to speak. Sure, that's what happens in real life but it doesn't make for much of a book. Again, if they weren't so lazy, these bits could be put in context of what is happening in the country (notably the Bosnia) at the time. Sarajevo is a good (bad) example of the lack of descriptive chops: what the heck does it look like after being shelled by the Serbs for years? Actually, speaking of context, they never explicitly place we the readers in time, it took me a while to realize that they arrived after the NATO bombing, in peacetime. No sense at all of what UN and NGO types are floating around. Similar problem with Baer in Dushanbe. The botched recruitment of the Russian here was touching but it's characteristic of the sloppiness of this book that Baer doesn't provide any context. Is this par for the course with the CIA? Just at the time? Still? In earlier eras? Since the CIA was closing in on Ames at the time, surely they should have been feeding him fake turncoats?Or superiors just didn't give a damn about Bob Baer's informants? Given the role of the mole Aldrich Ames in this, were there are sacrificial lambs? A Baer liked this Russian, right? He introduced his mother, after all. Actually, not knowing the substance of their many conversations, I'm not sure.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Bit dry, not what I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This account of how two CIA operating officers met, married and began settling into life after the CIA treats the dissolution of each of their first marriages rather offhandedly, but does make the point that the only path to true relationships is to settle in and work on maintaining them.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bob Baer has earned a lot of friends since becoming a famous author, judging by the jacket blurbs, which are hyperbolic even by blurb standards. And totally unmerited for this book. Perhaps the couple has hit a cash crunch and needs to buy a fourth or fifth house. And the kid they adopted at the end (at least I'm pretty sure they did, since I rapidly skimmed through that) will need private boarding school in France and all the other mundane stuff Baer's other children got.I have read Baer's first two books and this quickie is so embarrassing in comparison. He's run out of things to say and apparently is too lazy to go out and research something, despite his knowledge of Farsi and Arabic. Apparently he recently did a book on Iran and the second book, Sleeping with the Devil, regarding the US's dangerous dependence on Saudi Arabia was fine.You already know about the husband-and-wife hook. A newcomer to Baer might find some redeeming feature in the bits about how to recruit informers. Problem is, he already did that in the first book, See No Evil, which recapped his own history with the CIA, and with more interesting informers. That first book also had another virtue. It came out right before or after 9/11, the thrust being: the shit is about to hit the fan with some of these Muslim fanatics and the CIA and US does not have enough human intelligence on the ground. Now, he did carry that nostalgia for an unstated time (I think before he joined) when there wasn't so much reliance on technology, the NSA eavesdropping, etc. too farHe also had a sneer or sexual harassment training and female agents, which is kind of interesting since it seems that diversity pressure is what whisked Dayna into an overseas placement (and he was long involved with her at the time of the first book.)I'm not sure if Baer realizes that this book contradicts the thrust of that first book. If there's a theme to this book, it's that none of the work he did "added or subtracted" to the state of the world while he sacrificed his relationships with his family--ex-wife, kids and his mother. Not sure if the wife feels the same way; joined the CIA, she had to know her first marriage was doomed and she didn't stay in more than eight years or so. I don't buy Baer's excuse for his alienated relationship with his kids. He had quit the CIA in the late 1990s, lived in Beirut and Geneva for a while and was living in NY where his oldest child briefly came to live with him and Dayna. Uh, the boy was 12--too late to form a relationship with the ones ever younger? Baer appears to have plenty of money to buy a house in DC and Dayna proceeds to attend law school (not that she seems to have used her degree); he then earned plenty from his first book, supposedly (beats me how) the inspiration for Syriana. Really to late to form relationships with your kids, wherever they were? Perhaps moving to Colorado was not the best idea. Come to think of it, on Dayna's part the relationship with her father is now strained. Since she loves where she grew up in southern Cal, maybe buying another house and moving to northern California wouldn't be the wisest choice if she so mourns that relationship? I digress.The best that can be said about this book is that it moves along and the chapters are short. The best are on the nuts and bolts of spycraft--how you set up surveillance, the endless (and no doubt boring) meals and drinking sessions. Be warned: this is over by the first third of the book when the Baers quit the CIA. I kept wondering what one talks about with these people hour on end but I suppose it's too boring to specify. It's notable, too, how both are so poor at conveying personalities and physical descriptions. Wouldn't you think the first would be important to a)assess a prospective informer and b) get that across to your bosses? As for physical descriptions, we get the bare inventory of things in their spy perches and the bare facts of clothing (black, white, wool, black trainers) of fellow spies and the spied upon (lots of Gore-tex on the former) but, jeez., you're no longer in the trade. Try a little harder.None of these little spying interludes pan out, as we might expect from too many movies and TV shows. The covers are blown, so to speak. Sure, that's what happens in real life but it doesn't make for much of a book. Again, if they weren't so lazy, these bits could be put in context of what is happening in the country (notably the Bosnia) at the time. Sarajevo is a good (bad) example of the lack of descriptive chops: what the heck does it look like after being shelled by the Serbs for years? Actually, speaking of context, they never explicitly place we the readers in time, it took me a while to realize that they arrived after the NATO bombing, in peacetime. No sense at all of what UN and NGO types are floating around. Similar problem with Baer in Dushanbe. The botched recruitment of the Russian here was touching but it's characteristic of the sloppiness of this book that Baer doesn't provide any context. Is this par for the course with the CIA? Just at the time? Still? In earlier eras? Since the CIA was closing in on Ames at the time, surely they should have been feeding him fake turncoats?Or superiors just didn't give a damn about Bob Baer's informants? Given the role of the mole Aldrich Ames in this, were there are sacrificial lambs? A Baer liked this Russian, right? He introduced his mother, after all. Actually, not knowing the substance of their many conversations, I'm not sure.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Former CIA officers Bob and Dayna Baer tell what they can of their respective careers. Bob was mainly in the Middle East and Asia. Tajikistan, Bosnia and Syria, among other places, play a big part. He tells about several operations, of alienation from his wife and children, and their house in France to which he once hoped to retire. Dayna tells about her early days conducting background investigations, recruitment to operations, training, and some assignments. By nature, this type of memoir leaves out enough detail to be noticeable.After leaving the agency they live in Beirut as civilians, until it seems wise to leave The story turns tender after they settle in Berkley, California and adopt a ten month old baby in Pakistan.
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Don't expect to learn much about specific CIA operations in this impressionistic joint memoir. Like CIA field agents themselves, we collect many a fact but rarely get to collate them into a narrative. Was that house in Athens innocent or were its residents with 17N, a terrorist organization that assassinated a CIA agent in 1975? Was the shooting of an agent in Sarajevo a random act in a war between Croats and Bosnian Serbs or a Hizballah hit? Whatever became of Yuri, a KBG officer, after his attempted recruitment was noted by one Aldrich Ames?What you do get, with Robert and Dayna's alternating, present-tense accounts, is a sense of life as a CIA field operative.Robert was a field agent for over 25 years. We get snapshots of life in Beirut, telling a would-be informant in Morocco not to bother because the US really isn't all that interested in more documentation on the royal family smuggling narcotics into Europe, of allying with the KGB in keeping up with events in newly independent Tajikistan, and running surveillance operations against Hizballah, described as a "great spies and saboteurs", in Sarajevo.Dayna was in the CIA about 5 years, first running background checks on people in the Los Angeles area then as a Protective Agent, a "shooter" in Agency parlance. After a rigorous training course in firearms, aggressive and evasive driving, and unarmed combat, Protective Agents are used to provide security to other field agents and aid in surveillance and counter-surveillance activities abroad. It's an odd life of disguise, codenames for even your fellow employees, living in dumps and elegant hotels, 18 hour days and long stretches of boredom.It's also long stretches of separation from family. A substantial part of this story is the fatal damage that such long separation and secrecy do to Robert and Dayna's first marriages. After they left the CIA - and about a third of this book is their post-CIA life, they married each other after meeting on assignment in Sarajevo. The importance of "the human touch" is shown throughout the book whether it's Robert on errands to tell Syrian intelligence officers the US will not interfere in a Lebanon-Syrian war; the amazing ability of Robert's world-traveling, chatty mother to insinuate herself in social circles her son can't; or his post-CIA employment as a consultant. One of the "eccentrics, rogues, and scoundrals" he meets is Malik, an Iraqi of the Dulayn tribe so influential in the Hussein regime. The book concludes with the Baers' struggles to adopt a Pakistani girlRecommended for anyone wanting a feel for the lives of modern CIA agents or glimpses of Middle Eastern intrigue.
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I really enjoyed this true life story of Bob and Dayna Baer and their life and exploits in mainly middle-east countries while working for the CIA. Told in alternating chapters, it had wonderful description and read like a travelogue.
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