The Fourth Man: The Hunt for a KGB Spy at the Top of the CIA and the Rise of Putin's Russia
"part exposé, part spy thriller, both of them true stories, all the more exciting and horrific."
As an ex-CIA officer, Baer writes not only from insider knowledge of the agency and how it works (for better and for worse) but he also has personal acquaintance with many of the people populating these pages. He's exactly the right person to tell this story. He does so with dramatic flair, so the book is part exposé, part spy thriller, both of them true stories, all the more exciting and horrific.
His epilogue sums up the strengths of the book:
"The Fourth Man hunt is a spy story for the ages, perhaps one of the best the Cold War has to offer. But when we stand back, it's so much more. It's a story of how the CIA failed its principal mission, how self-serving bureaucrats chose survival over the truth, and how the United States forfeited any hope of understanding Russia at a pivotal moment in its history. It also goes a long way in explaining why the world so confounds America and why contemporary events so often take it by complete surprise."
Extra spice is added to this propulsive drama by the spy hunters themselves, a group of three women and one man. Perhaps if the team had been led by a man or been majority male, their findings would have been taken more seriously. Baer is candid about the risks this team ran and the uphill battle they fought.
"For Laine Bannerman, Diana Worthen, and Maryann Hough, the Fourth Man hunt was the culmination of several lifetimes devoted to counterintelligence and the CIA. They put their careers on the line for what they believed was the truth, and salvaged an institution they'd never lost faith in. Lofgren risked his career by throwing in his lot with hard-boiled spy catchers brazen enough to suggest one of the CIA's best and brightest could have been a mole."
Baer isn't shy about exposing the CIA's faults, its bureaucratic inertia, sexism, and favoring of agents from a comfortable, Ivy League background.
"This may come across as a bit cattish, but I'll say it anyhow. The CIA's a place where intelligence—in the sense of expertise and intellectual depth—is the enemy of ambition. Spend a career trying to master a place like Russia or the KGB, and said career is likely to fizzle. The same goes for spy catchers. . . . As my former colleague on the [Aldrich] Ames Damage Assessment Team put it to me, CIA management looks at its spy catchers as 'too paranoid and in love with detail' to be entirely trusted."
There are many complicated threads to follow, and Baer weaves them all expertly into a compelling picture of Russian spycraft and American complacency. He reminds us that the Russians aren't done and that Putin's Russia is just as dangerous as Krushchev's Soviet Union. Everyone at the CIA should read this book, as should every responsible citizen. Our country would be a lot safer if they did.