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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Review Of "Secret Wars: An Espionage Story", by Joe Goldberg

Link: A. Link to "Secret Wars: An Espionage Story"
         B. "Secret Wars", by Joe Goldberg, Vimeo Clip

"It isn't the libraries that revolutionaries storm to get their message
out to the people when they are overthrowing a government; its the television studios and radio stations."

This comment, by Mike Garnett, the first character you meet in Joe Goldberg's soon-to-be released fiction novel "Secret Wars, An Espionage Story", brings into focus the character who serves as your guide into a world of espionage, politics, terrorism, and war.  I liked Garnett immediately, mostly because he wasn't James Bond or even Jason Bourne.  Garnett is real and it's likely he will remind you of someone you know.  Although the book is crammed full of all sorts of juicy details about espionage, Goldberg's characters live in the real world: our world, of pushy bosses, dozing students, and traffic jams.  I love this book because as fiction, Goldberg could have included absurd chase scenes, bizarre spy gadgets, and loads of gorgeous women on every page.  Instead, he creates his story in a true-to-life scenario, with real events as a backdrop.  After meeting CIA officer Judy, whose most prominent feature is a "unibrow", I smiled and settled down into what I discovered is an exciting, realistic and human story.  Joe Goldberg is a retired spy, and this is his first novel.

For fans of espionage, this book is right up your alley.  Goldberg's personal experiences in the world of spying must have come in handy, as each chapter unfolds with such detail that it could have been written only by someone with time "on the inside".  As a bit of background (I want to be very careful not to reveal too much of the plot),  Garnett is a veteran Intelligence Officer with the CIA, who is presently occupying a management level position in an Agency counter terrorist media/propaganda office.  He is very aware of the effectiveness of images in the framing of events.  Garnett realizes that any message can be interpreted differently just by changing the juxtaposition of the video presentation.  He has some difficulty influencing others with his perspective, as the Agency always has the
urge to default to "the old ways".  He finds himself involved in a potentially high-profile CIA operation to formally recruit the Libyan Foreign Minister right under the nose of Muammar Gaddafi.  The plot takes us on a tour of Europe, and introduces some very interesting, and surprisingly familiar characters.  Again, kudos to Goldberg for reminding us that the CIA (and the world of espionage in general) is made up of flawed, sometimes lustful, occasionally chunky, emotional human beings.  I found myself most interested in Abdallah Mukhtar and the subplot involving his son Tareq.  It is a very genuine story, which reminds us all that in the end love does conquer all (Insh'Allah).  Mukhtar is a survivor and I can say (without getting into trouble) that during my career I was fortunate enough to meet a few amazing people who manage to live in the heart of absolute darkness, keep their sanity, and occasionally assist the good guys.  I'm glad that Goldberg chose to locate so much of the early part of the book in Agency spaces.  Its important for the reader to move beyond the mystery of "Langley"; its just a building with lots of offices and cubicles.  And in those offices are grumpy folks dealing with computer troubles or an approaching deadline; the same scene which is repeated in countless offices around the world everyday.

As a retired Agency officer, I am under legal (and moral) obligation to carefully govern my choice of worlds and phrases when discussing anything related to my career.  This fact complicated the completion of this review, but I am determined to share my reading experience and opinion with my friends who visit this blog.  Joe has created an exciting, heart-wrenching, realistic and detail-oriented story about a CIA operation.  He starts at the beginning, and takes the reader through the operational process, all the while building a story that skips from location to location, and continent to continent.  Thankfully, Goldberg does not introduce his characters with a "data dump" of background information.  The audience learns about each character as the story evolves, and this effect in particular indicates the natural gifts of the writer.  Many of you remember the terrorist bombings in Rome and Vienna in 1985, and the subsequent action involving the bombing of Libya.  Using the actual events as a backdrop, Goldberg takes the audience on a bit of a detour from the historical record.  I haven't mentioned some of the more interesting characters, including a "bad guy" that would make James Bond think twice.  But my review is not an attempt to dissect "Secret Wars".  I want you to read this book.  Why?  Because I loved it, and I am convinced you will as well.  I want to read more novels that accurately present the experiences of CIA officers, and this is a great place to start.  Pick up this book and you will expand your knowledge of the CIA, the U.S. government, and Libya in general.  And you will thoroughly enjoy the instruction.

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