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Posts Tagged ‘CIA’

A Review of The Last Man Out of Saigon

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2015

The Last Man Out Of Saigon: A NovelThe Last Man Out Of Saigon: A Novel by Chris Mullin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting novel to read. You see, it’s deeply anti-American and pro-Vietnamese and I think it would have helped to know these facts before delving into it, as it’s about a CIA agent inserted into South Vietnam three days before the fall of Saigon. You would think it would be a CIA thriller. It’s not. If you’re a die hard American “patriot,” you’ll probably be offended by the book. If, however, you can disassociate yourself from the politics and just enjoy the book for what it is, it’s not a bad book.

A CIA agent, MacShane, who’s never been to Vietnam and who’s worked in Bolivia and Brazil, as well as possibly Chile, doing some underhanded stuff there for the CIA, is sent to Vietnam as it’s about to fall to the NVA, for the purpose of spying on the Vietnamese and possibly destabilizing their new government, as well as establishing contacts and building resistance. It sounds unlikely, but if you can get past that, then you’re into the book. He arrives, Saigon falls, he stays, pretending to be a journalist. But his cover is blown and he is captured. And you immediately think, oh no, because everyone’s heard of the North Vietnamese atrocities. But he’s treated well. He’s surprised. He’s interrogated, yes, but it’s not bad and he’s not tortured and he’s given decent food and cigarettes and is allowed to exercise and wander the grounds. After awhile, he’s transported to Hanoi, where he’s taken to the Hanoi Hilton, although it’s not referred to as such in this book. Again, he’s treated well. It’s been decided that he’s going to be “re-educated,” so a professor comes to interact with him every day and they converse about all sorts of things. And he starts questioning his country’s action and intents. Everywhere he sees bomb damage, but happy people going about their business. Everyone he meets has lost relatives in the war and are possibly scarred, but they all treat him well.

After a couple of months of this, he’s told he’s going to be taken out into the countryside to work in a labor camp. He panics. He decides to escape. Security is lax, so he does and escapes to the Red Cross in a hotel, who are assholes to him. Still, he spends the night with them, determined to go to the British Embassy the next morning for aid. And he does, but it’s closed. And he’s recaptured. And the military is pissed! He’s embarrassed them. After all of their good will. He’s taken to a tougher jail, but after about 10 days is taken a couple hours out of the city to a village where he will live and labor in the fields with the peasants. He knows virtually no Vietnamese and they know no English. Fortunately, there’s a school teacher in the next village who knows some English, so she becomes his interpreter and teacher. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s lovely. Turns out her entire family, as well as her fiance, were all killed by the US. Bombs fell everywhere. It’s made pretty clear in this book that the Vietnamese aren’t the ones committing torture, the US/CIA is. The Vietnamese aren’t the ones bombing villages, the US is. The US government commits murder, yet the Vietnamese people love the American people, with whom they have no argument. Sounds like a type of utopia, doesn’t it? MacShane begins to really enjoy farming with these people, who accept them as one of their own, and he falls in love with Ha, the school teacher, who falls in love with him. She knows the US will come get him some time, but he wants to stay there and marry her and be a farmer. She won’t hear of it. So his former boss, the asshole who betrayed him to the NVA, comes to Vietnam to rescue him and MacShane confronts him with his evidence. The official tries to cover up, but off they go into the sunset, back to America, leaving MacShane’s heart back in Vietnam forever.

Ah, romance. Seriously, a little iffy there. I did some Googling of the author. Turns out he’s a British left wing Labour Party politician who’s written several books, at least one of which has been turned into a movie. He’s so left wing, he scares his left wing colleagues. And his wife is Vietnamese. So I guess it should come as little surprise that he’s rabidly anti-American and pro-Vietnamese in this book. My “patriotic” inclination is to not like that, but since I’m feeling royally unpatriotic these days with all of these crazed Republican assholes running around like nutjobs claiming to be patriotic, maybe I’ll side with him. After all, I think we shouldn’t have been in Vietnam to begin with. It was a civil war and one we had no business intruding in. And as many atrocities as the North Vietnamese committed, and yes there were many, I’m sure the US committed their own as well. So, would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. Perhaps. But with the caveat that you go in with the foreknowledge that you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you do that, it’s an interesting book. Although, frankly, it’s not much of a thriller. Very little action. Not much at all. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m even giving it three stars. I guess because it was pretty original. Otherwise, two. Very, very cautiously recommended then.

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A Review of Warrior: Frank Sturgis

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 3, 2015

Warrior: Frank Sturgis---The CIA's #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by WatergateWarrior: Frank Sturgis—The CIA’s #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro but Was Ambushed by Watergate by Jim Hunt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is about a legend in the subject’s own mind. And perhaps the co-authors’. And perhaps even a few others. But he’s really not all that. This book is poorly researched, is largely hearsay, is mostly guided by the nephew of the subject, who lived with him for awhile and is one of the co-authors, and seems spurious at best.

Sturgis joined the Marines in WWII and fought in the Pacific, winning several decorations. He was later stationed in Europe after the war. This is where he began spying for the Zionist movement for Israel, pre-Mossad, something which would have been illegal and would have resulted in dishonorable discharge at best and perhaps even loss of his citizenship. After leaving the Marines, he joined the Navy and the Army, although in what capacity, I’m not sure. The book states he served in all four armed services, but he did not serve in the Air Force, one of a number of factual mistakes made by the authors.

Following his military career, Sturgis, who’s real name was Fiorini and who changed his name to suit his circumstances some 33 alleged times opened up several bars, but grew restless, so he became a mercenary and started becoming involved in several South and Central American country’s military efforts, both in terms of training and arms supplying. At some point, he became interested in Cuba and was put off by the dictator there and intrigued by the new rebel, Castro, who promised reform and democracy. So Sturgis went off to offer his help to Castro. He trained his rebels, supplied arms and ammunition, an airplane and boats, and helped Castro and Che take over Cuba. A famous picture of Sturgis holding a rifle and identified as a captain in Castro’s army standing on a mass grave appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper, which later got him into trouble. When he returns to America, he was stripped of his citizenship, and held for trial. His Florida senator got him off. He returned to Cuba, retained his status in the army, was given control of the air force, and was then made the gambling czar. In this capacity, he met all the mob bosses, many of whom he pissed off, most of whom he forced back to the US. Still, he seemed to be on good terms with them. During this time, he was approached, apparently, by a CIA agent who asked him to spy on Castro and supply them with any information about communism or anything else that could be indicting. Since Sturgis was extremely anti-communist, he agreed. And he was becoming nervous. It seemed Castro was backtracking on his promise for democracy and was filling his cabinet with communists. Che played a big role in this. Sturgis thought it might be time for him to head back to Miami. But first he contemplated assassinating Castro. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d done such a thing, apparently. He was, after all according to the book, the CIA’s “#1 Assassin-Spy,” and someone Castro later called the CIA’s “most dangerous agent.” He apparently had at least four opportunities. On page 80 in the book, it states “Throughout his anti-Castro career, Frank participated in more than 150 air operations and 60 boat incursions. As Frank put it, these missions were done both ‘with the green light and without the green light’.” So one of my biggest questions about the book is, at some point, Sturgis is asked why he didn’t pull the trigger and he replied that he never got the green light. So if he hated Castro that much, why suddenly wait for the green light when everything else he does is done without any authority? That makes utterly no sense at all. It sounds like a bad cop out and I don’t buy it.

In 1959, Frank leaves Cuba for Miami, where he sets up an anti-Castro operation, where he sends in teams of people, including himself, to disrupt, antagonize, breed anti-Castro resentment, etc. It barely ever works. He does this for the rest of his life.

Much later, he is hired to commit the Watergate burglary, where he is caught and goes to prison. He allegedly does this as a CIA operative, along with other CIA operatives, most of whom are Cubans who the CIA are just dying to hire to join the CIA fresh off the boat (sarcasm intended) when Sturgis remains an independent contractor his whole career and is never an actual employee of the Agency.

One thing that’s interesting about the book is the Kennedy assassination conspiracy. Apparently there are those who believe Frank was involved and indeed was the “only one who could pull off killing Kennedy.” Um, right. Yep. Apparently, because of his Cuban connections, his mob connections, and his right wing CIA connections, all of whom wanted Kennedy dead, he was the one to pull it all together and pictures show him as one of the tramps on the grassy knoll. The two co-authors offer their own interpretations, one of which places him in Dallas on hand and ready to pull the trigger, and the other of which states that he had to have been in Miami through an eyewitness account, but that he could have overseen everything and indeed, probably did. If this is true, it’s likely the only successful thing he ever did, as he failed at unseating Castro and he failed at Watergate. Now, he did help assassinate a couple of small time banana republic dictators, apparently, so I guess that’s something, but for a man who considered himself a true patriot, he sure did a lot of unpatriotic things, including hating Kennedy for life after the Bay of Pigs incident, which he apparently trained the men for, and including virtually everything else he did.

Enough. It’s hard enough to believe that much of this is true. If it is, Sturgis was an interesting failure. He’s dead, so we’ll never truly know. His nephew thinks he knows, but he doesn’t — it’s conjecture. The tale is fascinating, but largely unbelievable and thus not recommended.

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A Review of Icon

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 18, 2014

IconIcon by Frederick Forsyth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book by Forsyth. It was epic in scale. And he pulled it off masterfully. The first half of the book is plot set up, which is typical of the author. He’s really into details and logistics, so this part of his books often bores some readers. But not me. I like finding out about all of the details that go into an operation. The second half of the book was action packed and I had a hard time putting the book down.

The plot revolves around post-Soviet Russia circa 1999. It’s falling apart, is broke, its leadership in shambles. Up steps a charismatic leader named Igor Komarov, who’s expected to become president in the upcoming election and who vows to return Mother Russia to its glory. However, he’s not what he seems to be. He’s a Hitler wannabe who is going to practice genocide on Jews, ethnic minorities, the military leadership, etc. And he’s got all of his plans written down in a “Black Manifesto,” of which there are three copies. One of them is foolishly left on his secretary’s desk and an old ex-soldier who now cleans Komarov’s headquarters sees it, reads some of it, realizes its importance and steals it. He then gets it to the British embassy, where it works its was back to British intelligence. The document is shared between British and American governments, but they choose to do nothing, so a group of highly influential and secretive world leaders meet to discuss the situation and come up with a solution — to send in a spy to destabilize Komarov’s platform and discredit him, thereby ensuring he loses the election. The person chosen to do this is ex-CIA agent Jason Monk. Monk fights it, but Sir Nigel Irvine (a great character!) convinces him to do it, and so he goes in.

When Monk arrives in Moscow, he immediately calls in a favor of a particular Chechen who is head of the Chechen underworld and he gains their support and protection. He then starts making the rounds, contacting the military’s leadership, the state police’s leader, the head of the Russian Orthadox church, and a major bank president who also presides over the television media. These people, after being confronted with the facts of the Black Manifesto, turn on Komarov and his security chief, Colonel Grishin. Meanwhile, Grishin finds out Monk is in the country and has an old score to settle with him, so he puts his Black Guard troops at work trying to locate him. Monk moves around, and this is a weakness of the book I think, and is almost omniscient in anticipating their moves and making adjustments for himself and his Russian collaborators. Sir Nigel makes it to Russia to meet with the clergy and comes up with the idea of returning Russia to a czar-based country, which is accepted by said clergy. He then comes up with a distant heir to the throne and promotes his return to Russia to take over.

When Komarov and Grishin realize their time is almost up, they do something completely crazy — attempt a New Year’s Eve coup in Moscow. But Monk anticipates this and helps prepare the military the the police, so the coup attempt fails and everything works out beautifully. The climactic scene between Grishin and Monk is largely anticlimactic, though, and that was disappointing.

It’s not Forsyth’s best book, but it’s an entertaining one, with a lot of research having gone into Russia, their crime scene, politics, etc., and it’s certainly worth reading. Monk is a bit too super human to be very believable, but he’s a likeable character, so one can overlook that. Recommended.

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A Review of The Silent Man

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 17, 2014

The Silent Man (John Wells, #3)The Silent Man by Alex Berenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another good book in the John Wells series by Alex Berenson. It’s the third book. In the first two, CIA agent John Wells has pretty much saved the world, or at least the US, so it’s hard to imagine the author being able to concoct another plot that would live up to the first two. But he does. The book opens with a Russian scientist at a nuclear facility who is pressured into helping to improbably steal two nuclear bombs for Muslim militants. They intend to detonate the bombs in Washington during the State of the Union address. The story of these militants and their travels with the bombs to North America is very interesting.

Meanwhile, one morning Wells and his fiance, Jennifer Exley, are on their way to work at the CIA when they are attacked by Russian assassins who are killed after killing some CIA agents and severely wounding Exley. In the previous book, Wells had seriously humiliated a powerful arms dealer who has, in turn, contracted with some Russians to get his revenge. Needless to say, after this attack, Wells is ticked. This doesn’t bode well for the arms dealer. Wells flies to Russia to get at and kill the Russians behind the attack and does kill three of them, but has to fly out of the country as he is pursued by the KGB. The arms dealer is so frightened of a pissed off Wells coming for him, that he offers a truce — information in exchange for letting him live. Wells agrees when he hears the information. It’s about the nuclear bomb theft and all hell breaks loose after that. It’s a great race to the finish and the finish is almost anticlimactic, but it’s still satisfying, in my opinion.

However, one of my complaints about the book is Exley’s very minor role. She’s John’s fiance and we barely see or hear anything from her. She’s an afterthought. Additionally, in the first book, a lot was made of Wells and his conversion to Islam, but that’s almost never broached in this book. I found that strange. Still, it was a good book, an exciting read, and the author has this unique knack of taking implausible sounding scenarios and making them seem entirely realistic. The only other thriller author I’ve read who does it that well is Forsyth. That’s high praise, coming from me. I’d read these books in order, if possible, but it’s not necessary — it stands on its own. Good book. Recommended.

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A Review of The Faithful Spy

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 25, 2014

The Faithful Spy (John Wells, #1)The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Faithful Spy was a very exciting book to read. I like spy/thriller novels, although I actually don’t read that many of them, and this was among the best I have read.

John Wells is a CIA agent who has successfully penetrated al Qaeda. He’s been with them for years, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, he hasn’t been in touch with his CIA bosses for years and they don’t even know if he’s still alive or if he’s still on their side. See, Wells has converted to Islam and learns to deplore America’s superficiality and arrogance. That said, he makes contact with Special Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11, which he didn’t foresee, and shortly after, he’s plucked from his Pakistani village by al Qaeda leaders to go back home to America for a hugely important mission, one they don’t fill him in on. Meanwhile, the head of al Qaeda’s nuclear “program” is captured in Iraq and, through torture, fills the US in on potential plots in the US and on John Wells.

Wells comes home and goes to the CIA, where he is given a hostile greeting by the director. However, his handler, Jennifer Exley, still believes in him. He’s put in a virtual prison, but escapes because he wants to stop al Qaeda from whatever it is they’re plotting. What follows is an exciting series of challenges, chases, biological warfare, and confrontations, ultimately with Omar Khandri, John’s al Qaeda handler.

When I read reviews of this book, I was shocked to see how many people viewed it as more of the same. They deplored the love story in the book and thought the middle part of it was boring. I couldn’t view it more differently. I thought the love story was great and really enjoyed the ending. I also thought some of the “boring” parts allowed the characters to be flushed out pretty fully, so I had no problem with that. Just because Wells has to wait to be contacted by his handler doesn’t mean it’s boring, sorry. I thought the terrorism scenarios painted by Berenson were horrifyingly realistic and well thought out. I think he did a great job with this book, and even though it shares some similarities with Frederick Forsythe’s The Afghan, it’s a really good book that stands on its own. Strongly recommended.

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