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Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent [Paperback]

Fred Burton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Jun 2009
In this hard-hitting memoir, Fred Burton, a key figure in international counterterrorism and domestic spycraft, emerges from the shadows to reveal who he is, what he has accomplished, and the threats that lurk unseen except by an experienced, worldly-wise few. Plunging readers into the murky world of violent religious extremism that spans the streets of Middle Eastern cities and the informant-filled alleys of American slums, Burton takes us behind the scenes to reveal how the United States tracked Libya-linked master terrorist Abu Nidal; captured Ramzi Yusef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; and pursued the assassins of major figures including Yitzhak Rabin, Meir Kahane, and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the president of Pakistan–classic cases that have sobering new meaning in the treacherous years since 9/11. Here, too, is Burton’s advice on personal safety for today’s most powerful CEOs, gleaned from his experience at Stratfor, the private firm Barron’s calls “the shadow CIA.”

Told in a no-holds-barred, gripping, nuanced style that illuminates a complex and driven man, Ghost is both a riveting read and an illuminating look into the shadows of the most important struggle of our time.

Product details

  • Paperback: 275 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; Reprint edition (9 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345494253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345494252
  • Product Dimensions: 25.2 x 2.1 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 731,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An insight into a shadowy world 16 May 2011
By V. Warrington VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fred Burton worked for many years in the Counter Terrorism section of the Diplomatic Security Service, and this is his account of life there in (mainly) the 1980's.

There's no doubt that Burton was a dedicated agent. He brings to life many of the incidents of the 1980's, especially the hostage situation in the Lebanon during the civil war, and the death of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the president of Pakistan, in an air crash. Burton reveals what he can about those incidents, and you get the feeling that he could reveal a whole lot more as well. As someone who was quite young when the events depicted occured, it was a refreshing insight into how the world worked back then. Burton doesn't give much away in terms of techniques - partly due to security reasons, but mainly due to the fact that the DSS isn't the CIA or FBI. The DSS was very much involved in how terrorist events took place, and how they could be avoided in future, as opposed to actively seeking out those responsible or having agents in deep cover.

There's no doubt that Burton is a 'patriot', and this can make for some slightly uncomfortable reading for non-American eyes. Oliver North and the Iran-Contra scandal is presented as good-intentioned, if misguided. He refers to the Islamic call to prayer as "I can't help but think it sounds sinister", and the defection of a Libyan diplomat is trumped as "America's global moral authority pays off again" - all, perhaps, insights into why the US finds it difficult to be liked in some parts of the world. Whilst Burton frequently states that he hopes his work is saving 'innocent lives', what he actually means is 'American lives (regardless of innocence)'.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terror 19 July 2009
Ghost, Confessions of a counter
Terrorism agent

By Fred Burton

A review by the Cote d'Azur Men's Book Club

One can really get spooked reading about the spies, or the spooks, or the good guys who lurk in the shadows and follow the baddies. Fact is those who wear the badge of courage, the counter this or counter that agents like our current hero, Fred Burton, form a guerilla army of ghosts whose spirits tackle the evil world of terror.

Ever since President George W Bush declared his War on Terror, the world has been obsessed by the problem of neutralizing the real ghosts, the shadows that lurk in caves and hidey holes and plan death and destruction to their enemies.
Bin Laden, the architect of 9/11 seems to be the chief ghost, the terrorist whose picture adorned a chart in the White House with Bush, black marker pen in hand, waiting every day for the news that would have meant his enemy was dead.

The Cote d' Azur Men's Book Club metaphorically followed Mr. Burton on his -wide search for the bad guys from the Dark Side through the tension of Iraq, Pakistan, London, Paris. He searched `em here, he searched `em there, he searched for `em everywhere but his ghost could not frighten anyone.

Word comes in, for example, that an informer is in the bag. Then comes a desultory record of an interrogation that ends in the realization that the guy's father's cousin on his brother's side heard a rumour that an Al Queda member was seen three weeks ago in a bazaar, and so on. Give me the money says the informer.

There are a few gems though, like the part where Mr.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good advice 25 Jun 2008
picked this up from Borders today, and have to admit it's a cracking good read. fast paced and lively like Sniper One by Sgt Dan Mills, it brings you into the action and poses some good solutions to really hairy situations.

don't leave for basra without it ;-)
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81 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sophisticated man, interesting story 5 Jun 2008
By americangadfly - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and informative, but.... 26 Jan 2009
By Matthew - Published on
This will be a riveting story for those who are interested in counter terrorism and DSS, but also maybe be somewhat annoying to those who are well read on the subject or who have personal experience with the intelligence or counter terrorism communities.

It is a fun and interesting read. I don't think Burton exaggerates his involvement; he is pretty straight forward about it. However, his experiences are nonetheless sometimes accompanied by over-the-top commentary. I suspect this makes the ride more enjoyable for those who are new to the subject matter or are merely seeking entertainment, but I'm afraid it will invoke quite a few eye rolls and "oh come ons" by others.

Instead of merely discussing the generally unnecessary (though nonetheless advisable)precautions taken to avoid tails, Burton paints dramatic portraits of imminent danger which ultimately lead to...nothing. It isn't the result (nothing) that I found frustrating, but rather the overly dramatic portrayal of relatively routine occurrences. I have little doubt that at many points in his career he was truly and justifiably frightened, but every recounted story does not warrant a paragraph about how he may never see his family again. Further, his constant referral to himself as a "spook" involved in the perilous "dark world" is destined to annoy some readers.

I would certainly recommend the read. However, I think he missed some of his audience on this one.
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
By Rick Shaq Goldstein - Published on
This exciting well written memoir by Fred Burton, former Deputy Chief of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the Department of State's counterterrorism (CT) division, is among other things, a detailed look back at all the glaring warning signs and signals America was given years before the catastrophe of 9/11. The author had been a Maryland cop. "He protected his community, loved law enforcement, but wanted something more." He applied for federal service and the DSS whom he had never heard of offered him a job. So in 1986 he entered "THE-DARK-WORLD", "THE-BLACK-WORLD"... he became a "SPOOK". His entire life was turned upside down. His normal jogging routes had to be constantly changed as he started carrying paranoia with him along with his sweatshirt. His route to work involved a constantly changing labyrinth of right turns, left turns, double and triple u-turns. His wife was told there would never be any discussions about his workday, and he was trained to understand that sometimes, without a warning, he wouldn't be home for weeks at a time without his wife knowing he was leaving or where he had gone.

Fred was one of the earliest members of organized counter terrorism (CT) and his early work involved researching almost every terrorist act in modern recorded history including Beirut 1 and 2. He was told to study top secret documents in the "buried bodies" files to see if he could find any patterns or anything that had been missed. From there Fred was thrown to the wolves and had to learn on the job. He started flying all around the world on a moment's notice, wherever there was a blown up plane, or assassination, or hostage situation. Security was always the top priority, and orders were never questioned. "FRED'S BOSS ONCE TOLD HIM TO GO THE WHITE HOUSE AND DELIVER A BRIEFING. HE ASKED TO WHOM AND HIS RESPONSE WAS, "YOU DON'T NEED TO KNOW THAT. THEY'LL BE WAITING." "I DID IT AND DIDN'T HAVE A CLUE WHOM I WAS TALKING TO THE ENTIRE TIME I WAS AT 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE." Another time Fred was parking his car in the garage when his phone rings. He answers it. It's his boss. "Fred?" "Yes?" Be at Andrews at 2100 hours for a trip. Pack for a week, maybe two. "Okay. Where am I going? "You don't need to know that yet." CLICK.

The reader is "dragged" down memory lane through the rubble of destroyed humanity as the author leads you in an effective real-time horrid lesson of modern terrorism. One of the most chilling mental realizations occur after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, when Fred finds out that the FBI had an informant who penetrated the mosque responsible two years earlier. He had worn a wire and attended planning sessions and meetings with Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman the blind Egyptian cleric. Fred convinces his contacts to let him see the transcripts of what this informant recorded. "He is floored!" Part of the transcripts detailed a planned assassination of Egyptian President Mubarak. They had an entire detailed plan to overcome the American government agents that were assigned to protect the President of Egypt. The terrorists knew every move of the American security detail, and their plan probably would have worked. The terrorists had become expertly familiar with every move the American security personnel made... IT WAS FRED'S SECURITY DETAIL! "AS I READ THE TRANSCRIPTS, I REALIZE THAT I HAD BEEN ON SOME OF THE DETAILS THEY'D BEEN WATCHING. THE REVELATION DRAINS THE COLOR FROM MY FACE. WE NEVER EVEN CAUGHT A WHIFF OF THIS SOPHISTICATED SURVEILLANCE OPERATION."

This memoir is an educational-historical book on America's battle against terrorism that leads you from the author's first days that entailed nothing but studying files of "dead-bodies", all the way through his personal growth, which results in him openly disagreeing with a Pakistani Colonel, who says the plane that crashed killing his countries President was downed by a missile. When you're done with your "SPOOK'S" tour through "THE-DARK-WORLD", you will truly feel enlightened!
25 of 34 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so hot 10 Sep 2008
By Formid - Published on
This is a fun little book, but it's not much of a "confession" as billed. Burton was a DSS agent with an interesting career, but he was not a big player. Most of his involvement was at a low-level, conducting debriefings, meeting a few informants, and reading lots of cables. He does not document personal involvement in ANY top takedowns, no intelligence "coups" nor any real excitement. In spite of describing his countersurveillance training, his need to wear "tied shoes" to be able to fight, and running through his home neigborhoods watching for tails, he never really makes the bigtime. He does have some decent tips on countersurveillance and terrorist planning and execution cycle, and some interesting inside tidbits, but this is no true "ghost."
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, but it seems to end far too early... 12 July 2008
By Thomas Duff - Published on
I got on the library hold list early for the book Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent by Fred Burton. From the standpoint of a "been there, done that" memoir, it's a good read. You get a feel for how difficult it is to fight terrorism on a global basis. But the book loses a bit when it comes to style and storyline. It seems to be building up to something that never quite happens.

Part 1 - Rookie Year: The Buried Bodies; Down the Rabbit Hole; Night Train; The Dark World's Redheaded Stepchildren; Chasing Shadows; No Space Between Black and White; The Mad Dog of the Middle East; Two Hits for El Dorado Canyon; Human Poker Chips; One More Gold Star; The Gray Hell of Wait and Hope; The Stench of Good Intentions; Shipwreck; The Beer Hall Encounter
Part 2 - The Veteran: Little Italy; Mice; Threat Matrix; The Bronze Star Assassin; PAK-1 Down; Night Flight; In Country; Pakistani Two-Step; One Hour to Nowheresville; The Buffet at the End of the World; Puzzle Pieces; The Perfect Murder; Autumn Leaves; Two-Minute Free Fall
Part 3 - War Weary: Street Dance; The Colonel's Revelations; Watching the Watchers; The World's Most-Wanted Man; Deadly Equation; Money Changes Everything; Finale In Pakistan; Lillybrook
Epilogue - Brotherhood of the Badge; Author's Note; Acknowledgments

Burton's story begins in 1986 when he was assigned to the Diplomatic Security Service's (DSS) small Counter-Terrorism Division. It was made up of a whopping three people, two of whom were brand new, and all the work was manual and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. Imagine everything being paper files, tons of filing cabinets, and all the growing institutional knowledge of terrorism in certain areas being all in the head of one or two people. Burton was quickly crowned the Middle East "expert" and as such became deeply involved in terrorist activities in Beirut, Iran, Iraq, India, and Pakistan, just to name a few. As major terror figures like Abu Nidal and Ramzi Yusef carried out their plans, Burton and his small (but growing) team tried to anticipate, warn, prevent, and ultimately capture (or kill) these criminals. His front-row perspective on these events makes you realize that luck and chance plays a much bigger role than you'd like to believe or admit. It really is a wonder that more events like the first World Trade Center bombing don't happen...

While I found the material interesting, I struggled with the style and pacing of his story. 90% of all the action takes place in the mid-80's with the kidnappings and air bombings. Any one of those incidents could be a full book in itself, so by necessity he can't go as deep as you might like. He's writing in as "as it happens" style, so there are times you feel as if you already know the outcome of the story since the major players may have already been caught/jailed/killed. Part 3 jumps to the mid-90's and gets a bit more personal as to what the job has cost him, but the gap doesn't necessarily bring you further along in the DSS story. And for all intents and purposes, it end in 1994. Nothing much on why he left, why he joined a private security firm, and so on. For a book written in 2008 and for a topic very much in the forefront of today's headlines, the 15 year gap from then to now just screams to be addressed somehow. Maybe it's all classified or he's forbidden from writing about later events, but how do you not even touch on 9/11 and the full impact it had on his agency or his private firm?

I would still recommend this as a good read if only to understand the battle that goes on in The Dark World. Just don't expect to come away with a full up-to-the-minute analysis of where we are today.
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