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The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA Paperback – May 1, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 131 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bob Baer Reviews The Triple Agent

Robert Baer is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: Sleeping with the Devil, about the Saudi royal family and its relationship with the United States; and See No Evil, which recounts Baer's years as a top CIA operative. See No Evil was the basis for the acclaimed film Syriana, which earned George Clooney an Oscar for his portrayal of Baer. Baer writes regularly for Time.com and has contributed to Vanity Fair, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on the Middle East.

I’ve never read a book like this, a detailed and compelling postmortem of an intelligence failure. In a driving narrative Warrick tells the story of how the CIA came to suffer its worst loss ever.

Since Khost I’ve taken more than a passing interest in how precisely the tragedy came about, how more than a dozen CIA operatives let themselves be caught in an ambush like this. Needless to say, my ex-colleagues could talk about nothing else in the months afterwards. But no one could give me the detail that explained it. Warrick’s finally done it, better than any CIA “damage assessment” could ever hope to.

The story of Khost has much wider significance than a tragic event. Warrick paints a picture of a CIA obsessed with technology – drones, iris scans, intercepts. No one at Khost spoke the local language, no one set foot out of base, and the officer in charge had no real field experience. She knew nothing about Afghanistan or Pakistan. Yet she was not only put in charge, she was handed the CIA’s first mole inside al Qaeda - and put in charge of overseeing the assassination of al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al Zawahari.

The Triple Agent is not only the best book out there on the CIA’s hunt for al Qaeda, it’s the best book on post-9/11 CIA, bar none. Read it.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Warrick is a brilliant reporter. . . . A gripping true-life spy saga.” —Los Angeles Times
“Riveting and harrowing, laden with deception and duplicity, The Triple Agent is a remarkable, behind-the-curtain account of the CIA’s darkest day in Afghanistan.” —Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City
“Absolutely first-rate, breakthrough reporting.” —Bob Woodward, author of Obama’s Wars
“A fast-paced and compelling narrative that reads like a Hollywood screenplay. [Warrick] provides a rare look at the careers and personal lives of CIA officers, including the courageous women who played key roles. . . . Spellbinding.” The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Warrick has reconstructed, in vivid and telling detail, the sequence of events that led Humam al-Balawi to kill seven CIA operatives in a suicide attack in Afghanistan in December 2009. . . . It is a chilling tale, told with skill and verve.” The Economist
The Triple Agent is a superlative piece of reporting and writing. . . . Unforgettable. The Triple Agent is one of the best true-life spy stories I have ever read.” —David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post and author of Bloodmoney
“A startling and memorable account of daring, treachery, and catastrophe in the CIA’s war against al-Qaeda. . . .  A powerful and fast-paced story of our time.” —David E. Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Dead Hand
“An extraordinary story of intrigue and betrayal. . . . Warrick shows how the pressure for results led the CIA to take shortcuts when it came to handling an agent who some feared, correctly, was too good to be true.” —Foreign Affairs
“Potent, swift. . . . Warrick is very, very good. He burrows deep inside not only the CIA, which might be expected, but also the Mukhabarat and ISI, Pakistan’s main spy agency.” —The Washington Post
“A fascinating . . . postmortem on the 2009 ambush on the American compound at Knost, Afghanistan. . . . Riveting. . . . Sketches careful, illuminating portraits of those who died.” —The Plain Dealer
“Warrick demonstrates the initiative that has marked his newspaper career. . . . An alarming narrative, especially because of its understated, never-shrill tone.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Riveting. . . . A must-read.” —Associated Press
“Insightful and riveting. . . . Mr. Warrick adds a wealth of new detail to a narrative that reads like the best spy fiction.” The Washington Times
“[An] accessible and fast-paced debut. . . . [Warrick] gives this story a cinematic feel with suspenseful foreshadowing, rich character development . . . and a remarkable amount of heart.” Publishers Weekly

“A grim reminder that the U.S. war on terror as it has been conducted is deadly, expensive, and mostly futile.” —Houston Chronicle

The Triple Agent is by turns harrowing and heartbreaking, fascinating and frightening. . . . . A tale that reads like a thriller and stretches from the dusty back alleys of Waziristan to the plush executive floor at Langley.” —James Bamford, author of the bestselling The Puzzle Palace, Body of Secrets, and The Shadow Factory
“Were Shakespeare alive, he would find ample material for a high tragedy among the players in . . . The Triple Agent. All the ingredients are there, including betrayal, shame, heroism, and more than one person with a recklessly determined hubris worthy of King Lear himself.  Yet as those who have operated in the world of human intelligence will viscerally feel, this is not cathartic fiction, but a factual account of a modern day human intelligence operation gone terribly wrong, involving real men and women, with all the failings thereof.” —Foreign Policy

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307742318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307742315
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Perhaps the best way to review this book is to state up front what it is not: it is not a scathing critique of CIA or the U.S. Intelligence Community. Those who buy it expecting to be inflamed by a stream of criticisms of CIA officers and trade craft will be disappointed.

So what is the book? It is a careful compilation of the events, actions, decisions and personalities that ultimately culminated in the tragedy at Camp Chapman (Khost). Warrick has built a somewhat breathless, but engaging narrative that describes in some detail how a string of seemingly unrelated events build with inevitability of a Greek Tragedy to a horrendous conclusion. Warrick followed what can be called the Bob Woodward style of reporting. That is he reports what is happening without passing judgment on any of the decisions, personalities or actions involved. Indeed one of the more attractive elements of his narrative is that he treats the late Jennifer Matthews with dignity and respect along with a good deal of sympathy. He does the same with CIA `targeters' like Elizabeth Hanson. He also treats Matthews' murderer Humam al Balawi with equal respect and dignity. This will undoubtedly inflame the legion of real and self-declared counter-terrorism `experts' who plague the Inner Beltway of D.C. as well as the many armchair foes of Islamic extremism. Yet the first step in developing any rational counter terrorist strategy is understanding who terrorists are. Warrick should be commended for his balanced and fair approach to what is still a highly emotional subject.

Although Warrick scrupulously avoids second guessing and judgments of any sort, his account does provide a good deal of evidence that CIA has not dealt with its counter-terrorism mission particularly well.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I eagerly awaited the release of this book (on July 19th) and promptly devoured it in two days when it finally popped into my Kindle. I was not disappointed. The author has, in my opinion, assembled an outstanding account of the events leading up to (and subsequent to) the tragic terrorist attack that left several CIA Officers, security personnel, a Jordanian Intelligence Officer, and an Afghan driver dead. Joby Warrick seems to have done an incredible amount of research and interviews for this book, all of which are appropriately cited/footnoted. This book also serves as a great overview of CIA HUMINT and Predator drone operations along the Af-Pak border region and within Pakistan's ungoverned tribal areas. His overview of the Taliban commanders and Haqqani Network personnel was clear, concise, and reminded me of the thorough, yet user-friendly text of Steve Coll's Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars. It is easily the best account to date of US intelligence and military activity in this turbulent region. Warrick also did a commendable job with introducing the reader to the backgrounds and personalities of both the bomber as well as his victims; you will feel like you know them all and will be appropriately outraged and saddened by this operation's outcome. We as readers also get to be flies on the wall for the happenings at CIA Headquarters and at the White House, which places a proper perspective on the entire ill-fated operation and its aftermath. Finally, Warrick's book serves as a way to critically think about all the factors that led up to this attack. Was there too much oversight from CIA's bureaucracy or not enough? Were there too many people involved in this operation or too few?Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you enjoyed "Ghost Wars," "The Looming Tower," and "The Bin Ladens", you'll want to add this to your collection. Warrick dives into extraordinary detail about the events leading up to the attack (and, about the attack itself), given the fact that the book is relatively short - just over 200 pages. I read it this weekend after hearing his recent interview on NPR and was very impressed with both the writing and the research. Yet, this is more than just another book for policy wonks and intelligence geeks. This book is as much about the people on both sides of the battle as it is about the battle itself, and that's its true strength. Warrick gives us an amazing window into the policy making and operational details leading up to the tragic event, but the book is really about the brave officers from the CIA and Jordanian intelligence playing a deadly game of chess against the malevolent forces of Al-Qadea and the Taliban. Warrick's very moving account of the death notifications and funerals makes this book a real tribute to the fallen. Too often books of this nature focus on indicting administrations and assigning blame. Warrick takes himself out of the book and makes it about the people and the operation - a tough thing to do for many authors in today's partisan and political climate.

This book is excellent.
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Format: Hardcover
This book chronicles the killing of CIA officers and assets at Khost in Afghanistan in December 2009, the result of a successful Al-Qaeda operation. It is a fast read, written like a thriller novel, the story told from the various points of view of the main characters, regularly from inside their minds, showing us what they were thinking. Since virtually all of them are dead, that inevitably raises the question how much of this is fact and how much fiction.

I have to presume that Warrick has gotten the main facts of the story correct. He spoke to many unnamed CIA sources, as well as others involved, and much of the story has been out in the open media for some time. He provides some insight into why this disaster happened, particularly the political forces that warped operational decisions, but a nuanced understanding of the CIA's and GID's operation, and al-Qaeda's counter operation, is just not there. That may be due to his sources' aversion to speaking in detail but also probably to the author's limitations, since he exhibits only an outsider's appreciation of the espionage trade.

In the end this account is highly readable but not satisfying. Warrick catches the urgency and passion, but this episode in a continuing war also requires serious study and reflection.
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