“The Fourth Man” my Review

There are no end of internal CIA politics at play in this book. Baer tells the story at the behest of one of his CIA rabbis who was a contemporary of the person named as the suspect spy. The rabbi and the suspect did not get on and when Baer’s rabbi was caught out late in his career for approaching the National Security Counsel on behalf of a questionable individual trying to gain access to the White House, the person who would be the suspect was the senior Counterintelligence Official who would oversee the investigation that would result in the “Suggested” retirement of the rabbi, who then went to work for the questionable individual. Most of this, without some of the names, is available in open source material if you know where to look. Thus, there are many officers of this generation who believe this book is a “Hit Piece” on the suspect Baer names in the book. Most of these officers are former senior counterintelligence personnel who would know the backstory. Also, in the public domain is the information that a CIA officer, “Bob” NLU (as in no last name) made several telephone calls to the NSC on behalf of the questionable individual. The reader may draw their own conclusions.

As for the author, he is a talented story teller. His CIA career proved that. As for the sources remember the eventual suspect transferred them. What is not mentioned in the book is that they had administrative recourse at the time of the transfers, if they had chosen to take it. Did they? That they may still carry a grudge would only be human nature, as a good case officer would know and exploit.

The title of the book, while trying to make a tie to the Cambridge Five is inaccurate. If, indeed there was another spy then he or she would have been the “first” man not the “fourth” since the entire premise of the book is there was another spy who predated, Ames, Howard, Hanssen and Nicholson. Remember Hanssen was FBI and you also had Earl Pitts another FBI special agent who spied for the Russians from 1987 to 1992. So, they really should have picked another title. So, using Baer’s premise there would have been not four but six Russian spies who could have named agents and officers. By the way there are a number of CI professionals who believe Ames actually started spying much earlier than he admits to so, if there was information divulged, it may well have been Ames.

I won’t address the SVR agent mentioned in the book because that information should not have been released, but I will say that even the best of agents lie to you when they don’t want to do something or they will tell you things that aren’t so when they’ve run out of things that are. It is all part of the great game and good case officers know, expect and will respond accordingly when this starts to happen.

The CIA investigation was started on the premise of “if there was another spy” who might it be. It was not started on the premise of “there is another spy.” Rumor, innuendo, unexplained happenings do not a conspiracy make. In an investigation of this nature you’re always going to arrive at a suspect because the premise is, if there is, who is it most likely to be. Without fail it’s going to be a very active, accomplished officer who is in on most of the operations the organization is undertaking. Thus, arriving with a name of the most likely is no big deal. If there had been any actual evidence the Agency would have taken action. It did not, promoting this individual into more senior slots and if, as Baer claims, the FBI has an incredible amount of derogatory information on this individual why would he have been, upon leaving the CIA, appointed to one of the most important security oversight positions in the USG? While Baer makes sure he does not openly accuse the individual, he has the reader leaning towards conviction without due process.

Other reviewers have noted this, but no self-respecting intelligence officer calls a recruited intelligence official a “double agent” simply because they are spies. In the case of Ames, Howard, Hanssen, Nicholson, and Pitts, and all other intelligence turncoats, they are simply agents. Baer should have known that.

As for the timing of this book the ill heath of Baer’s former rabbi may have something to do with it.

Baer has written some interesting books and made some interesting claims in those books. That he is well-traveled is not in dispute, but other claims like being one of the best ever case officers in the CIA causes some mirth among his contemporaries, some of whom will tell you that, like his rabbi it was “Suggested” he retire. The medal his publicists claim he “won,” the CIA Career Intelligence Award, is given to most officers upon retirement. He has no other awards of which to speak like a Donovan Award or a Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Intelligence Star, Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the Intelligence Cross or the Intelligence Collector of the Year Award. These are awards presented to the top performing case officers in the CIA.

All in all, the book makes for a fascinating read for conspiracy theorists and those who either fear or have a strong aversion to the CIA, but it does not prove or disprove anything other than an investigation was carried out on the premise of “IF there was another spy, who would be the chief suspect.”

3 thoughts

  1. Your review was right on target, Tony–nailed it! Thanks for writing and posting this.

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