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THE TARGETER by Nada Bakos


My Life in the CIA, Hunting Terrorists and Challenging the White House

by Nada Bakos with Davin Coburn

Pub Date: June 4th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-316-26047-3
Publisher: Little, Brown

Tense memoir of a CIA analyst’s pursuit of terrorists in the post–9/11 era.

In her debut, Bakos shares her insider’s view of analytical tradecraft, set against the unraveling of civil order in Iraq. In her position, she “focused on whether there was a connection between Iraq and al Qaida,” especially regarding “the movement sparked by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” the “godfather of terrorism in Iraq.” Her unusual background underscores the unique qualities of intelligence officers, who “worked in quiet obscurity” to guard against the mass-casualty attacks that al-Zarqawi popularized in Iraq. Growing up in rural Montana, where “self-reliance was less an ethos than an expectation,” Bakos joined the CIA’s human resources division and then transitioned into the Career Analyst Program after 9/11. Following the Bush administration’s focus on Iraq, she spent time in Baghdad, observing the insurgency’s beginnings. She realized that al-Zarqawi’s hybrid terror group al-Qaida in Iraq could potentially destabilize the country, so he remained her focus once back at Langley, where her briefings routinely reached the White House. Frustrated by the disconnect between their meticulous analysis and the flawed military actions that followed, she recalls her unit’s camaraderie: “We were on a misfit island of targeters within a larger Agency that didn’t understand how to embrace our work.” Still, she notes that the team dynamic could not survive the grueling pace and increasingly uncertain goals of the occupation. She left the unit in 2006 yet remained haunted by her targeting experience. In an epilogue, she describes coming to terms with PTSD and unwelcome publicity from a congressional report on the CIA’s treatment of detainees. Ultimately, she writes, the terrorist leader’s death “did not signal an immediate downturn in violence.” Bakos writes with the careful discretion of CIA retirees, but her revelations are relevant and unsettling given the continued menace of mass-casualty terrorism and political overreaction.

An exciting tale of cutting-edge espionage and a rueful account of how political exigencies can blunt tradecraft’s effectiveness.