Cover image for The perfect kill : 21 laws for assassins
The perfect kill : 21 laws for assassins
Baer, Robert, author.
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Publication Information:
New York : Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), [2014]
Physical Description:
xvii, 310 pages ; 24 cm
"A book about assassinations and Baer's years in the CIA"--

Sometimes assassination is the senseless act of a psychotic, a bloodletting without social value. Other times, it can be the sanest and most humane way to change the course of conflict: one bullet, one death, case closed. For Baer, one of the most accomplished agents to ever work for the CIA, it's a source of endless fascination, speculation, and intrigue. He takes us through the history of political murder; his firsthand experience with political executions; and his decades-long cat-and-mouse hunt, across the Middle East and Europe, for the most effective and deadliest assassin of the modern age.
The assassin's catechism -- The bastard has to deserve it -- Make it count -- Placate the edifice until it's time to blow it up -- Every act a bullet or a shield -- Always have a backup for everything -- Tend your reputation like a rare orchid -- Rent the gun, buy the bullet -- Vet your proxies in blood -- Don't shoot everyone in the room -- Never cede tactical control -- Own the geography -- Make it personal -- No dancing with the feathers -- Don't get caught in flagrante delicto -- Don't miss -- If you can't control the kill, control the aftermath -- He who laughs last shoots first -- Like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky -- Always have an encore in your pocket -- Nothing wounded moves uphill -- Get to it quickly.
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JK468.I6 B336 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
JK468.I6 B336 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
JK468.I6 B336 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
JK468.I6 B336 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
JK468.I6 B336 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
JK468.I6 B336 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
JK468.I6 B336 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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What is the definition of assassination? Robert B. Baer's boss at the CIA once told him, "It's a bullet with a man's name on it." Sometimes assassination is the senseless act of a psychotic, a bloodletting without social value. Other times, it can be the sanest and most humane way to change the course of conflict--one bullet, one death, case closed. Assassination has been dramatized by literature and politicized by infamous murders throughout history, and for Robert Baer, one of the most accomplished agents to ever work for the CIA, it's a source of endless fascination, speculation, and intrigue.

Over several decades, Baer served as an operative, from Iraq to New Delhi and beyond; notably, his career was the model for the acclaimed movie Syriana. In The Perfect Kill , he takes us on a serpentine adventure through the history of political murder; its connections to, and differences from, the ubiquitous use of drones in state-sponsored killing; his firsthand experience with political executions; and his decades-long cat-and-mouse hunt, across the Middle East and Europe, for the most effective and deadliest assassin of the modern age. A true maverick with an undeniably captivating personal story, Baer pulls back the curtain on the underbelly of world politics and the quiet murderers who operate on the fringe of our society.

Author Notes

ROBERT B. BAER is one of the most accomplished agents in CIA history, and a winner of the Career Intelligence Medal. He is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including See No Evil --the basis for the acclaimed film Syriana, which earned George Clooney an Oscar for his portrayal of Baer. He is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on the Middle East and frequently appears on all major news outlets. Baer writes regularly for and has contributed to Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal , and The Washington Post . He is the current national security affairs analyst for CNN.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The provocative title of this book by longtime CIA agent Baer is a grabber, but anyone thinking it's a how-to on assassination will be disappointed (which is probably a good thing). The text begins by declaring that assassination may be the act of a psychotic, or it may be more like tyrannicide, a necessary removal of a tyrant. Despite titles like Law #1: The Bastard Has to Deserve It, Baer focuses not on assassination in general but on the attempts by the CIA to find and kill Imad Mughniyeh (known as Hajj Radwan), the senior Hezbollah military commander believed to have masterminded various terrorist acts, including the attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983. Baer was in the front lines of trying to take out Radwan and came very close twice (Radwan was killed in a car bombing in 2008). Baer's account is done a disservice by those chapter headings and subheads, which have little or nothing to do with the actual contents, but beyond the slick packaging, this is a fascinating, up-close look at the hunt for Radwan, and it's packed with intriguing contemporary and historical details on the assassinations of tyrants.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Former CIA agent Baer (The Company We Keep) reveals the ins and outs of the politically charged notion of assassination, as experienced through his own eventful career. He recounts a decade spent tracking the Lebanese assassin known as Hajj Radwan, and distills his knowledge into 21 pithy laws, each of which gets its own chapter. As he takes the reader from #1 "The Bastard Has to Deserve It" to #21 "Get to It Quickly," Baer argues both for and against the necessity of assassination, noting his preference for the old-fashioned, more personal approach over modern drone warfare, which he compares to phone sex: " solve the immediate problem, but they leave you unsure of what you got out of it and hungry for more." His style is candid and accessible, with a little of the American cowboy in evidence. He seems to have admired Radwan, while simultaneously wanting him dead: "although I never laid eyes on him, we were the most intimate of enemies." While the material is dry at times, it still makes for a fascinating look at a nebulous and misunderstood topic. Agent: Luke Janklow and Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



Introduction Buttonwillow, California, Fourth of July weekend, 2011: It's not even eleven a.m., and already it's more than a hundred degrees. There's some pewter crap in the air draped over the Central Valley like a dirty sheet. With a lane of the I-5 closed for construction, traffic's moving at an infuriating crawl. To relieve the monotony, we pull off for coffee. While my wife and daughter order at Starbucks, I drive across the street to the Valero station. Waiting for a pump to free up, I check my cell phone to find a text message from a British journalist in Lebanon: "Congrats. U just featured on Al-Manar during Nasrallah's speech defending the indictments." I stare at my phone as if somehow the words are going to rearrange themselves so I don't figure into them. Getting mentioned in any context on Hezbollah's TV station is never a good thing. But "featured" on it can only spell some special doom. Until al-Qaeda, Hezbollah had more American blood on its hands than anyone outside traditional war. In the eighties, Hezbollah blew up two of our embassies in Beirut; murdered the CIA chief there; and truck-bombed the Marine barracks near the airport, killing 241. They spread mayhem around the rest of the world, from Bangkok to Buenos Aires, from Paris to Berlin. As for "Nasrallah," he's Hassan Nasrallah, the fierce, black-robed cleric who heads Hezbollah. He's a man as steeped in blood as any of his underlings. The "indictments" are no mystery either. They refer to news leaks that the special tribunal for Lebanon is about to name four Hezbollah members in the assassination of Rafic Hariri, the billionaire and former Lebanese prime minister. His end came on Valentine's Day 2005, when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-filled van into his convoy as it traveled through central Beirut, incinerating Hariri and twenty-one others. The business tycoon was a darling of the White House and Riyadh's royal palaces, and his murder rattled a lot of powerful people. Since then, Hezbollah has tried everything to erase its fingerprints from Hariri's assassination, from murdering key investigators to putting forward a patsy to falsely claim responsibility. So forget what the journalist just texted me: Nasrallah was damning those indictments, not "defending" them. It's a difference of only a few letters, but one with potentially lethal consequences. It's too late now, but the truth is I walked into this shitstorm on my own two feet and with eyes wide open. It was two years ago when The Hague called me out of the blue to pick my brain on Hariri's assassins. Finding I had a couple of ideas, they hired me as a consultant. They didn't seem to mind I was an ex--CIA operative with a murky past. But idiot me failed to foresee Hezbollah would find out and squeeze it for all it was worth. I call the British journalist in Lebanon, who gets right to it: Nasrallah railed against The Hague and everyone connected to it. He denied having anything to do with Hariri's murder, reassuring the flock that Hezbollah is the victim of a frame-up. I picture Nasrallah unloading on The Hague in all of his righteous fury and outrage, not to mention with the awesome authority of a descendant of the Prophet, which Nasrallah believes he is. He's a mousy man with a fat salt-and-pepper beard and fish-cold eyes swimming behind clunky glasses, but the faithful pay rapt attention when he speaks. The journalist says that halfway through the piece I make my appearance in the guise of a two-year-old TV clip. A voice-over narrator then comes on to accuse me of conspiring with The Hague to frame Hezbollah for Hariri. The motivation? We're both in it for Israel, the narrator says. Zionist lackeys. The Brit: "Listen to this." To make certain Al-Manar's viewers know that I'm not just any bastard CIA operative, the narrator "reveals for the first time" that I was behind an old CIA attempt on Lebanon's only ayatollah. Lest anyone forget that infamous moment, they run an archival clip of a neighborhood in flames, burning cars and bodies scattered everywhere. The car bomb missed the ayatollah but killed more than eighty people, women and children too. The ayatollah, in fact, died of natural causes just a couple of years ago, but even today he possesses a vast, devout following, including hundreds of thousands here in the United States. (For some bizarre reason, many of them supposedly work in the used-car business.) I'm about to plead that I had nothing to do with trying to murder the ayatollah, but now I consider the possibility some sort of jihad might have been declared on me. If so, the faithful won't slow down long enough to consider it might be me who's being framed in order for Hezbollah to divert attention from its own bloodletting. I swat away my rising paranoia by comforting myself with the thought that the Lebanese have a venerable history of smoothing over political violence by blaming it on hapless scapegoats, especially foreigners. But would they really bother with a doughy, has-been CIA agent driving to his in-laws' for the Fourth of July? As I'm about to point this out, the Brit chimes back in. "It gets worse." Accompanied by some bizarre mix of timpani and a seriously warped version of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture , the narrator's voice starts to quaver as he steadies himself to let viewers know that I once planned a crime even more heinous than the attempt on Lebanon's only ayatollah--assassinating Hezbollah's revered bang man. He was at the center of all of Hezbollah's mayhem-sowing: the Beirut embassy bombings, the Marines, the attacks in Buenos Aires and Bangkok. He captained the most ruthless guerrilla campaigns in modern history, obliging Israel to vacate Lebanon; it was the first time in that country's history that it gave up ground under fire. And by the way, in a fitting end, the man was assassinated in Damascus in 2008. It was a biblical setback for Hezbollah, sort of as if the Jews had lost Moses crossing the Red Sea. Which makes him Hezbollah's greatest "living martyr." Today his picture's up on giant placards all around Lebanon, his gravesite a shrine. They even built a museum dedicated to him. No one seemed to mind he was up to his lashes in blood, including Hariri's. The way these people look at him, he's their George Washington and Saint Francis all rolled into one, and that's damn well it. It takes me a beat, but it starts to dawn on me just how deeply I've waded into it now. I, indeed, had made a half-baked attempt on the man; I'd even alluded to it in one of my books. But come on, it was a lifetime ago, it failed miserably, and not a hair on the man's head got touched. Why would they resurrect it now? My thoughts by now are flapping around like trapped birds. Are they trying to pin his assassination on me? I sweep the Valero station, stupidly expecting to catch some Hezbollah cutthroat creeping up to righteously slit the throat of the evil CIA operative. I'm about to tell the Brit I had nothing to do with murdering the man, but the connection's gone scratchy. I want to reach down the line and grab him by the throat to get his attention, but I settle for yelling at my cell phone. "Nasrallah should think about it the next time he goes around murdering people. He's the assassin, not me." Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a bug-eyed man on the other side of the pump in a strawberry baseball cap and khaki shorts. He's stopped licking his ice cream cone to stare at me. The line's gone dead, but rather than call back, I finish filling up and drive back across the street to pick up my wife, my daughter, and my Frappuccino. As we pull back into traffic on the I-5, a trickle of sangfroid starts back through my veins, enough, at least, to think about assassination in generic terms. My old promise to myself to take a look into its dos and don'ts isn't going to let me be. By the way, it's the way things usually work with me, pestering me until I finally do something about it. I've been around enough political murder to know that with The Hague's Hariri probe I've been sucked down into a poisonous swamp. Operating off dark rules and a pitiless logic all its own, it's a place where the capable assassin does win with one swift, precise, and violent act. One scalp's enough to end any discussion. I could take a couple pages to list the political blank spots on the map where the rules still hold. But I wonder if it's not more instructive to take a run at answering my old question of why it is that most assassinations add up to nothing. Normally, I'd go home and dust off the standard references--some Clausewitz of assassination, say. But there isn't one. Nor are the historians much help either. They're more than happy to serve up long laundry lists of political murder, but they are too timid to include even the most deeply buried footnote about a set of possible tactics for assassination. Is it because assassination is still taboo? Then again, I suppose it's only the fool who puts on paper that there might be a science to culling out the bad apples. What I know for certain is that I'll have to hack assassination down to manageable proportions. Ignoring the legality or formal justification for the act is the easiest decision. Did Hariri's assassin care? Does any assassin care? Anyhow, that's someone else's book. The same holds for what Hunter S. Thompson called "celebrity assassinations"--a psychotic lone wolf with a gun. "Squeaky" Fromme's taking a potshot at Gerald Ford tells us nothing about political murder. Finally, assassinations tied up in armed mutinies, palace intrigue, dynastic struggles, and racial hatred aren't of much interest either. They're more about prejudice, greed, and personal ambition than genuine politics. What intrigues me more are political murders that truly alter history, for better or worse. For instance, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's. Two bullets put an end to the best chance of a Middle East peace we'll have for who knows how long. But what makes his any different from the rivers of blood that have drowned the Middle East all these centuries? Long ago, the ancients decided that the most efficient way to put an end to an intolerable tyranny is tyrannicide. It beats war and civil war hands down. No one since has seriously argued against it. Which makes me wonder why I can't borrow the same measuring stick for modern political murder. If a murder reduces violence or moves history in the right direction, it's an acceptable social bargain. If it doesn't, it isn't. Going by this standard, very few assassinations would make the cut. But of those that do, surely there have to be lessons attached. Since assassination, even pared down, is a big, unwieldy subject, I've decided to take as a guide someone who followed the rules and made it work. Namely, Hariri's assassin. In one flick of a switch he decapitated his main enemy (Lebanon's Sunni Muslims), leaving them fragmented and rudderless. With Hariri out of the picture, he and his side (Hezbollah) inexorably tightened its grip on Lebanon, and in the bargain brought a sort of peace to that troubled nation. If it hadn't been for the Arab Spring, Hezbollah's authority until this day would be effectively uncontested. (I'll get serious pushback on this, but let me develop the argument as I go.) And Hariri wasn't a one-off either. I was pretty much there at his assassin's coming-out--Lebanon in the early eighties. I watched as he rose from its smoldering civil war like Venus from the half shell, fluently conversant in the fine and shifting relationship between violence and power. He instinctively understood how symbolic murder and blind slaughter get the assassin nothing. How with each bloodletting, the assassin needs to measurably augment his power. How assassination is a conservative force designed to preserve force and postpone war. How, at bottom, it's a detour around war and civil war. Like the young Buddha, Hariri's assassin learned the plumbing at an early age--his bombs always went off, he never killed the wrong person, he didn't get caught (or, at least, until Hariri). When you put him down on the examining table with other modern assassins, with all of the dumb blood they've splattered the world with, he was the Leonardo da Vinci of political murder. Even his most implacable enemies conceded him that honor. Or as Hariri's assassin would tell us if he were still alive, either get the basics right or don't touch it. I understand that borrowing the eyes of a dead, cold-blooded murderer to examine anything isn't everyone's idea of stretching out on a hammock for a pleasant summer's read. (Nor will it be a particular recommendation that the author once plotted his protagonist's murder.) But it's drone strikes, not me, that have turned political murder into a fixed instrument of statecraft. In the primal ooze, as anyone who's been there will tell you, one takes one's lessons where one finds them. And there was never anyone better at it than the man we knew best as Hajj Radwan, roughly the "Delightful One," a nickname not without a little irony. I spent my best years on the bastard's trail, and although I never laid eyes on him, we were the most intimate of enemies. His rules, as I understand them, follow. So does his life, because he lived the rules. So does mine, because for so long I lived in a world of his invention. Excerpted from The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins by Robert B. Baer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. ix
Introductionp. xi
The Assassin's Catechismp. xix
Law #1 The Bastard Has to Deserve Itp. 1
Law #2 Make It Countp. 12
Law #3 Placate the Edifice Until It's Time to Blow It Upp. 26
Law #4 Every Act a Bullet or a Shieldp. 42
Law #5 Always Have a Backup for Everythingp. 58
Law #6 Tend Your Reputation Like a Rare Orchidp. 69
Law #7 Rent the Gun, Buy the Bulletp. 84
Law #8 Vet Your Proxies in Bloodp. 95
Law #9 Don't Shoot Everyone in the Roomp. 107
Law #10 Never Cede Tactical Controlp. 125
Law #11 Own the Geographyp. 140
Law #12 Make it Personalp. 157
Law #13 No Dancing with the Feathersp. 170
Law #14 Don't Get Caught in Flagrante Delictop. 186
Law #15 Don't Missp. 201
Law #16 If You Can't Control the Kill, Control the Aftermathp. 215
Law #17 He Who Laughs Last Shoots Firstp. 234
Law #18 Like a Bolt of Lightning Out of a Clear Blue Skyp. 247
Law #19 Always Have an Encore In Your Pocketp. 264
Law #20 Nothing Wounded Moves Uphillp. 278
Law #21 Get to it Quicklyp. 296
Chronologyp. 311
Acknowledgmentsp. 312