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Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent Hardcover – Bargain Price, June 3, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With spy thriller suspense and the clarity of a police report, former special agent Burton's State Department saga reads like a brewing-storm prequel to the current "war on terror." Working for the tiny, newly created counterterrorism division of the Diplomatic Security Service in the mid-1980s, Burton liaisons among the FBI, the CIA, and a network of covert informants "to find out the how" of terrorist attacks, and prevent repeat events. This snapshot of his career reveals "the foundations for the chaos we face today: a cold war between superpowers overlayed atop a growing struggle between the Christian world and radical Islam." Of obvious interest to anyone with an eye on world affairs, Burton's assets will draw in even casual counterterrorism fans: the spook can actually write. His first hook is a Dashiell Hammett-esque preface about his hand-written list of targeted terrorist masterminds, which he keeps on his person at all times and "as current as today's headlines." From there he takes readers through the crimes and captures of a few, along with the formation and administration of the first State Department unit of its kind. Most striking is the material's relevance twenty years later; Burton's clashes with Hezbollah in Beirut and prickly diplomacy with Iran could almost be pulled from present-day newspapers.
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From Booklist

In the mid-1980s, Burton, a Maryland police officer, joined the Diplomatic Security Service, a little-known U.S. government agency, and was assigned to its even less-well-known counterterrorism branch. Far from the fictional CTU of television’s 24, Burton’s new office consisted of three men: the author, another new recruit, and the boss, a no-nonsense career man who had been trying to combat all the world’s terrorists single-handedly. Soon Burton was plunged into the world of Middle Eastern terrorism, and this memoir follows him as he works a number of cases, including the release of hostages from Beirut, which exploded into the Iran-Contra affair and appears to have affected the author in a deep and personal way. In many ways, this book reads like a le Carré spy novel: it’s not flashy, not filled with pyrotechnics, not full of chase scenes and derring-do. Rather, it’s the story of a working man whose job involved trying to prevent people from attacking his country. Shorn of ideological rights and wrongs, it’s a fascinating look at what counterterrorism really means on a day-to-day level. --David Pitt

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065690
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065691
  • ASIN: B002U0KO54
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,971,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 86 people found the following review helpful By americangadfly on June 4, 2008
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.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Matthew on January 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Duff HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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