Ghost is a memoir by one of the founding agents of the Counterterrorism Division of the Diplomatic Security Service, part of the U.S. Department of State. Author Fred Burton reveals the sinister realities of the global counterterrorism game in a very serious, readable, unpretentious way. The book is devoid of the ego-tripping and grandstanding that a lot of these memoirs suffer from (i.e. books like "Jawbreaker" etc.).
Burton gives you the point of view of a working professional field agent, dedicated and patriotic, doing work that Hollywood thinks is like Jack Bauer but really resembles that of an unusually committed and hard-core local cop or criminal investigator. Burton puts the lie to the idea that effective work against Al Qaeda et al. is anything other than good police work. If you think the military should be the first line of defense against AQ et al., read Burton for the fuller picture. To beat the terrorists, we need guys like Fred Burton too.
The book had a lot of things that were new to me, including:
* the theory that the airplane crash that killed Pakistani President Zia was a KGB hit -- the Soviet Union's "farewell kiss" to the mujahadin as the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in defeat. Burton was the lead investigator on that case.
* how scary-close the world was to nuclear war after the Zia hit. Burton says that Pakistan, fearing Zia's death might be the first phase of an attack by India, put its recently deployed nuclear forces on high alert. The Indians did the same, and for a few days it was very touch and go, the worst international nuclear tension since the Cuban crisis.
* the real story of how Ramzi Yousef, the first World Trade Center bomber and Al Qaeda's first master of terror, was taken down. Burton played a key role in this first battle with Osama Bin Laden's true believers, directing Pakistani and U.S. agents on the ground.
* new, inside stuff on the Beirut hostage crisis, including the search for hostages William Buckley, David Jacobson, and Father Martin Jenco. (You really get the sense that Burton still weeps for them. You feel his frustration, and his rage.)
* how terrorists have occasionally been turned into effective double agents, used as spies in the battle with Hezbollah and other radical Muslim groups.
* how counter-surveillance programs employed by the DSS successfully uncovered terror attacks or assassination attempts before they actually took place. These programs, which Burton advocates today, saved many lives since the mid-nineties.
* Burton is rather funny in discussing how the State Department's details protecting international dignitaries often put Burton in the position of protecting foreign leaders suspected of mafia ties, terrorism, and other criminal activity.
All in all, Ghost gives a fresh, unusual perspective by a man who was in the trenches for a very long time and deserves our gratitude. The book is worth reading for its insights into the tradecraft of the working "terror cop."
Very readable, in its best parts a lot like a spy novel.