The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames

On April 18, 1983, a truck loaded with explosives crashed into the lobby of the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Today, it's "a largely forgotten moment in the history of America's presence in the Middle East," Kai Bird (Crossing Mandelbaum Gate) writes in The Good Spy, but one with great underlying significance--"the beginning of America's deadly encounter with a political Islamist movement."

Among the 63 people killed in the bombing was Robert Ames, a CIA agent who had played a pivotal role in establishing a line of communication between the U.S. government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The Good Spy pays tribute to his accomplishments and sacrifice; though it was written without any official cooperation from the CIA, more than 30 retired officers shared their personal and professional recollections. The portrait of Robert Ames that emerges is that of "a model intelligence officer," who'd become captivated with the Arab world after a stint in the army where he'd been assigned to a Cold War listening post in equatorial Africa. He applied to the CIA after his initial efforts to join the Foreign Service failed and quickly distinguished himself with the depth of his immersion into the local cultures at his postings.

"The point was to influence the course of history--to create a better world," Bird says in describing Ames's views--and, he'd made significant headway toward that end, until subsequent events, including the terrorist attack that took his life, made the goal of a true peace in the Middle East that much harder to achieve. --Ron Hogan, founder of

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