Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins

Little, Brown. May 2019. 560p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316441438. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780316441407. POL SCI
Similar to her previous treatments of the Pentagon's research division (The Pentagon's Brain) and paranormal activity (Phenomena), Jacobsen here presents a tour de force exploring the CIA's paramilitary activities. This subject requires a thoroughness to break through secrecy in order to create a masterful history. Using interviews and research, Jacobsen reveals little-known paramilitary operations and also does a brilliant job of describing how these operations fall under the law and how the executive branch can claim plausible deniability. The scope of these missions span the globe and eras, yet there are a couple of drawbacks. For example, Jacobsen follows the career of one of the former agents into the Secret Service, a tangential narrative that could have been pulled into its own book. The second drawback is the omission of the CIA's operations in Laos during the Vietnam War, which is nicely detailed in Joshua Kurlantzick's A Good Place To Have a War. Overall, though, this excellent work feels like uncovering the tip of the iceberg.
VERDICT Highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of American foreign policy in action.

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