Triumphs and tragedies in the career of a former FBI agent who became one of the Bureau’s first hostage-negotiation specialists.
The author, who retired in 1995 after 25 years’ service, ruminates on personal wins and losses as well as the evolution of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s policies and tactics as it moved into the era of terrorist threats under two different chiefs, J. Edgar Hoover and Louis Freeh. The initial chapters, covering Van Zandt’s struggles as a college dropout trying to fulfill his lifelong ambition of becoming a federal agent, are less than riveting. And it may come as a disappointment to the reader that he decides to “leave to history” the disastrous 1993 confrontation with the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, without expanding on his personal involvement in it. He does, however, include part of the transcript of his many conversations with cult leader David Koresh and appears at one point to suggest that, had his team been allowed more time, the burning of the compound, which resulted in the deaths of women and children as well as Koresh, might have been avoided. He also suggests, quite brusquely, that because of his own Christian beliefs, the FBI was concerned that he might develop empathy with the Davidians. In summation, though, he backs away from direct claims. He does cover his participation, as a security consultant, in tracking down Theodore Kaczynski by comparing personal letters supplied by an attorney for Kaczynki’s brother with a “manifesto” sent to newspapers by the so-called Unabomber. Another Van Zandt coup: suggesting to his former FBI associates that it was “a white male probably hung up on Waco” and not international terrorists (the FBI’s initial target) behind the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Timothy McVeigh was later executed for it.
A few exotic adventures, some tense moments, lots of redundant reflections.