The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
The Good Spy is Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Kai Bird’s compelling portrait of the remarkable life and death of one of the most important operatives in CIA history – a man who, had he lived, might have helped heal the rift between Arabs and the West.
On April 18, 1983, a bomb exploded outside the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. The attack was a geopolitical turning point. It marked the beginning of Hezbollah as a political force, but even more important, it eliminated America’s most influential and effective intelligence officer in the Middle East – CIA operative Robert Ames. What set Ames apart from his peers was his extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence figures. Some operatives relied on threats and subterfuge, but Ames worked by building friendships and emphasizing shared values – never more notably than with Yasir Arafat’s charismatic intelligence chief and heir apparent Ali Hassan Salameh (aka “The Red Prince”). Ames’ deepening relationship with Salameh held the potential for a lasting peace. Within a few years, though, both men were killed by assassins, and America’s relations with the Arab world began heading down a path that culminated in 9/11, the War on Terror, and the current fog of mistrust.
Bird, who as a child lived in the Beirut Embassy and knew Ames as a neighbor when he was twelve years old, spent years researching The Good Spy. Not only does the book draw on hours of interviews with Ames’ widow, and quotes from hundreds of Ames’ private letters, it’s woven from interviews with scores of current and former American, Israeli, and Palestinian intelligence officers as well as other players in the Middle East “Great Game.”
What emerges is a masterpiece-level narrative of the making of a CIA officer, a uniquely insightful history of twentieth-century conflict in the Middle East, and an absorbing hour-by-hour account of the Beirut Embassy bombing. Even more impressive, Bird draws on his reporter’s skills to deliver a full dossier on the bombers and expose the shocking truth of where the attack’s mastermind resides today.
Lebanon into northern Israel. Over the next ten months the border was relatively quiet, indeed, almost serene. In April 1982, Ames invited three of his top analysts to meet with Mustafa Zein. Ames rented a large suite in the Hilton Hotel, just north of Dupont Circle in downtown Washington. He ordered a nice buffet lunch and then told everyone he wanted to hear them debate whether there was going to be another conventional war in the Middle East. After some back-and-forth, the three analysts said
retrospect, Yvonne believes she made a mistake in not confronting her grief. “So the stiff upper lip is not a good way to go. It is better to feel the pain and face the reality and heal. I think as a result of that, none of us have healed. None.” When Anne Dammarell wrote her a letter asking her to join the civil suit against Iran, Yvonne was initially opposed to the idea. She did not like the notion of a lawsuit. But after talking with Anne on the phone, and thinking about it for a month, she
Infamous 1970 Hijackings (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 138–39; Hume Horan, interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy, November 3, 2000. 46 “It was very messy”: Bird, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, pp. 274–75; Hume Horan, interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy, November 3, 2000. 47 “The fight goes on …”: Bird, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, p. 275; Peter Snow and David Phillips, The Arab Hijack War: The Whole Story of the Most Incredible Act of Piracy in the Decade (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971),
was just experiencing a lull in the fighting. “Beirut is dead,” he wrote. “But it’s coming to life.… It looks like things are opening up and tension is lessening.” But Bob found his new post depressing. Soon after his arrival the city was hit by a spring thunderstorm. “Lebanon needs the rain,” he wrote Yvonne, “to wash away the death and filth. It has snowed heavily in the mountains and one day we had such heavy hail in Beirut that a few inches accumulated and Beirut was pure and white for a few
spoke before a rally of seventy thousand Shi’as and told them, “Possessing weapons is as important as possessing the Koran.” He was nevertheless regarded as a voice of reason and moderation, a Shi’a cleric who could break bread with Maronite Christian businessmen, Greek Orthodox prelates, Druze chieftains, and Sunni Muslim leaders. But on August 31, 1978, Musa Sadr mysteriously disappeared while on a trip to Libya, where he’d been invited to meet with Col. Muammar Qaddafi. When the Lebanese