Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Company The Baer Family Keeps

The Company We KeepMr. & Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) might be the most famous spy couple in Hollywood, but they are not the most famous spy couple to the CIA. That honor belongs to real life agents who chose a life of upheaval, secrets and unknowns.

Robert (Bob) Baer and Dayna Williamson Baer know all too well what it's like to live behind the shroud of secrecy. And their new book, The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story, gives readers an up close and personal look at living behind enemy lines in the CIA.

The real movie based on Bob Baer.

There really is a movie that touches on the life of Bob Baer as he is anything but a slouch. Working as a CIA operative for more than two decades, he was considered the best agent on the ground in the Middle East. He has shared his experiences before in three previous books — Sleeping With the Devil, The Devil We Know, and See No Evil.

The latter book, See No Evil, was the basis for the film Syriana. The 2005 geopolitical thriller film written and directed by Stephen Gaghan was loosely based on the memoir. The character played by George Clooney? That’s Bob. He really did risk his life working for a politically-fixated and strategically oblivious American government. He also had a small part in the film.

His wife, Dayna, is equally accomplished. She trained as a shooter for the CIA and found herself on covert missions all around the world, conducting top secret surveillance in places as diverse as Greece and Croatia. Dayna crossed paths with Bob on a few missions, here and there, while they were both were married to other people.

The book ties an unlikely couple together.

Unlike previous Baer books, The Company We Keep is told in chapters that alternate between Bob and Dayna. They both describe unique experiences that CIA operatives face while working in various Third World countries. Some of the “company” they keep is frightening. Spies, sheiks, princes, and revolutionaries are among the people they meet.

The alternating chapters also reinforce how they co-existed with a curtain of anonymity. Fellow CIA agents never know each other's real names or any details about each other's lives. Information could too easily undermine a mission. Agents aren't even meant to "connect" even if they do work together toward a shared objective.

Bob and Dayna do cross paths on occasion. And the last time they do, they make a real connection (taboo in the CIA). With both of their marriages strained by the constant pressure to be absent from home, they share an uncommon bond.

Bob and Dayna BaerImmediately after making this connection (with divorces coming first), however, Dayna opts to take a leave of absence rather than face being deployed to different parts of the world at a moment's notice. Shortly after she resigns, Bob tenders his resignation too.

Old habits, though, they die hard. The Baers don't return to America to live in the suburbs. They make war-torn Beirut their home base instead. It's a place that makes it all the more difficult for them to adjust to life as civilians.

Their world — especially Bob's — is still peppered with “connections” from their murky CIA past. And their lives change forever when they marry and decide to adopt a baby from Pakistan. The adoption turns out to be one of the most challenging and scariest “missions” of their lives. Today, they live in California.

The Company We Keep By Robert And Dayna Baer Slips In At 8 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

In addition to being an author and a former CIA case officer, Bob Baer is an intelligence columnist for TIME and frequent media commentator on American intelligence and foreign policy issues for news programming. He was born in Los Angeles and raised in Aspen, Colorado, where he aspired to become a professional skier. In 1976, he joined the CIA.

Today, he and Dayna spend most of their time raising their daughter, Khyber. In 2009, Bob Baer wrote a compelling column related to the Iranian election and protests for TIME. In it, he cautions the media against looking at Iran through the narrow prism of the country's liberal middle class.

The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story is available from Amazon on March 8. The Company We Keep is also available from Barnes & Noble. This review relates to an advanced copy from Crown Publishers prior to the release date.
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