Review: The Sword of the Prophet

5 Star, America (Anti-America), Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page
5.0 out of 5 stars Much More Than a Novel, This Is the Real Deal
October 2, 2009
Phillip Oliver Otts
As a recovering spy who has published and agitated for intelligence reform over the years, I generally have little patience for spy novels less the George Smiley series by John Le Carre. Been there, done that. This book is nothing short of sensational, and at $9 a huge value.

This book is so very good that I am making it one of THREE books I recommend to future spies and those who wish to understand the human side of the spy world today (or course there are many others but this one is special). The other two are still:

1. The Craft of Intelligence: America's Legendary Spy Master on the Fundamentals of Intelligence Gathering for a Free World

2. Without Cloak or Dagger : The truth about the new espionage–

I liked this book on multiple levels. It does for the clandestine service, where we were obscenely proud of having the highest alcoholism, adultery, divorce, and suicide rates in the US Government, what James Webb did for the abuse of military forces by craven politicians in Fields of Fire.

There are several kinds of case officers (C/O), from the plodding clods to the shoot from the hip cowboys to the rare renaissance man (or woman, but they tend to be abused and stunted). The author is a renaissance man. He thinks, he feels, and this is the kind of person I admire. This book is a superb means of understanding the angst and self-doubt that torment good people asked to do bad things for the wrong reasons.

I like this book on so many levels, from the geopolitical to the weapons of mass deception to the ins and outs of clandestine tradecraft and human relations, that I truly believe it has earned its spot on my desk with the two books listed above.

The author has provided a glossary and a Cast of Characters at the end of the book that those unfamiliar with complex inter-locking themes might wish to consult first. I recommend this be moved to the front of the book, along with an approved bio of the author. This is real deal, and I am thrilled to see a fellow C/O do such justice to the craft and the angst of intelligence.

Treat this book as non-fiction. Here are core points that the author, who I really hope will be picked up by a major house to do for spying what John D. MacDonald did for private investigators:

1. “Global War on Terrorism” is a fraud and cannot be won because terrorism is a tactic; terrorism is a symptom, if we do not treat the underlying causes, we fail.

2. We fail first at home. We do not know ourselves, we earnestly do not realize that unilateral militarism, virtual colonialism, and predatory immoral capitalism (my turns of phrase) are infuriating and inciting the rest of the world against us. Cf. The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World and Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA as well as Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.

3. The powerful are oblivious. I have written on the gap between power and knowledge, and others on the gap between power and accountability. The author focuses on how the powerful can set in motion a chain of events that ruins millions of lives with an ignorance, an insouciance, which in any proper third world country with street justice would see them hung from the nearest tree for betraying the tribe with idiocy. See Norman Cousins in Pathology Of Power

4. Mental health matters on all levels. When an apathetic public elects a craven political class that sells out to Wall Street and betrays the public trust, then the society is criminally insane while the politicians are insanely criminal. I loved George Will's Statecraft as Soulcraft

On a more personal level, as distant as I have become from the clandestine service that I loved until I saw it lose its integrity entirely, this author restores my best memories, of really decent people trying to do the best they can in the context of leaders that have failed them at every level. He is one of the good guys, and I am truly glad to be able to recommend this book in the strongest possible terms.

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