Kassinger presents an unvarnished memoir of his days in the field as a CIA support officer.
Kassinger thought he was headed for a career in the Marines until he was dazzled by a CIA recruiter and embarked on a decades-long tenure with the agency. In this thoughtfully laid out, perceptive and richly detailed chronicle, he captures the many events he played a part in orchestrating. When Kassinger entered the CIA, he did not have a college degree, so advancement looked grim. But he hired on as a contract employee and slowly, steadily gained in pay grade, from file clerk to a roving, troubleshooting support officer in the Directorate of Operations. Kassinger emerges as a humble, capable character, a quick study, someone who brought both pride and a sense of ethics to a slippery job (he even had a brush with Oliver North). There is still plenty that Kassinger has to keep under wraps—like names and the location of his first assignment, referred to simply as the “Site”—which lends the proceedings a note of mystery. He is both appreciative of the opportunity to range about the world—“The smell and sounds of Africa would take control of our senses, as we sat in our Isuzu Trooper eating quiche, drinking our Bloody Marys, and listening to the roar of lions after an early morning kill”—and excited by the challenges of his work, though his low-key demeanor keeps the excitement from becoming breathless. His travels are far and wide, one minute in Central Asia, then in Central Europe, down in Central America, putting out brush fires and jerry-rigging equipment to meet the logistical needs of the field stations, but clearly his favorite assignments are in Africa, and the strongest, most evocative chapters in the book take place during the delamination of Somalia. He also provides an intelligent analysis of the CIA’s own delamination, and its effects on the employees, during the mid-’90s.
Kassinger’s depiction of intelligence gathering at ground level is engrossing and rings with real-McCoy authenticity.