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

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

by Annie Jacobsen


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*The USA Today bestseller*

Surprise... your target.

Kill... your enemy.

Vanish... without a trace.

From Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen, the untold story of the CIA's secret paramilitary units.

When diplomacy fails, and war is unwise, the president calls on the CIA's Special Activities Division, a highly-classified branch of the CIA and the most effective, black operations force in the world.

Originally known as the president's guerrilla warfare corps, SAD conducts risky and ruthless operations that have evolved over time to defend America from its enemies. Almost every American president since World War II has asked the CIA to conduct sabotage, subversion and, yes, assassination.

With unprecedented access to forty-two men and women who proudly and secretly worked on CIA covert operations from the dawn of the Cold War to the present day, along with declassified documents and deep historical research, Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen unveils-like never before-a complex world of individuals working in treacherous environments populated with killers, connivers and saboteurs.

Despite Hollywood notions of off-book operations and external secret hires, covert action is actually one piece in a colossal foreign policy machine.

Written with the pacing of a thriller, SURPRISE, KILL, VANISH brings to vivid life the sheer pandemonium and chaos, as well as the unforgettable human will to survive and the intellectual challenge of not giving up hope that define paramilitary and intelligence work. Jacobsen's exclusive interviews-with members of the CIA's Senior Intelligence Service (equivalent to the Pentagon's generals), its counterterrorism chiefs, targeting officers, and Special Activities Division's Ground Branch operators who conduct today's close-quarters killing operations around the world-reveal,for the first time, the enormity of this shocking, controversial and morally complex terrain. Is the CIA's paramilitary army America's weaponized strength, or a liability to its principled standing in the world?

Every operation reported in this book, however unsettling, is legal.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316441438
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 05/14/2019
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 10,739
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Annie Jacobsen is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Area 51 and Operation Paperclip and the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Pentagon's Brain. She was a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine. A graduate of Princeton University, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.

Table of Contents

Author's Note on Sources xi

Prologue 3

Part I 1941

Chapter 1 An Office for Ungentlemanly Warfare 11

Chapter 2 Tertia Optio 30

Chapter 3 Surprise Attack in Korea 38

Chapter 4 Special Forces 57

Chapter 5 Ruin and Rule in Guatemala 65

Chapter 6 Kings, Shahs, Monarchs, and Madmen 79

Chapter 7 The KGB's Office of Liquid Affairs 93

Chapter 8 Green Light 102

Chapter 9 The Special Group 115

Part II 1961

Chapter 10 An Assassination Capability 131

Chapter 11 JFK, KIA 142

Chapter 12 The Studies and Observations Group 161

Chapter 13 Kill or Capture 173

Chapter 14 Green Berets 191

Chapter 15 Revenge 211

Chapter 16 Colonel Qaddafi's Libya 230

Part III 1981

Chapter 17 Reagan's Preemptive Neutralization 251

Chapter 18 Parachute Assassins, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden 274

Chapter 19 Operation Love Storm 292

Chapter 20 Carlos the Jackal 303

Chapter 21 The Engineer 317

Part IV 2001

Chapter 22 War in Afghanistan 341

Chapter 23 Poke the Bear 358

Chapter 24 War in Iraq 371

Chapter 25 Imad Mugniyah 389

Chapter 26 The Moral Twilight Zone 398

Chapter 27 Just War 417

Chapter 28 The Hidden Hand 433

Epilogue 451

Acknowledgments 455

Bibliography 459

Notes 477

Index 527

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Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Fascinating stories. Puts many of today's geopolitical issues into a different perspective.
Ranger_Reviews 11 months ago
A most readable history on a most fascinating topic. There are hundreds of books on America's secret armies, CIA hit men and clandestine operations but never one with a focus quite like this. Surprise, Kill, Vanish is journalist Annie Jacobsen's very people-oriented history of a most unlikely topic: America's conflicted attitude toward assassination as a policy option and/or military weapon for accomplishing national strategic goals. It traces the history of the CIA clandestine/paramilitary service back to familiar territory -- the WWII OSS and the establishment of the Green Berets in 1952. But then only follows those aspects related to the specific "assassination as national policy" issue and how US Presidents and their executive agents in the CIA and DoD addressed it. Issues both organizational and legal are covered. Two Green Berets, Billy Waugh and Lew Merletti, become unwitting pawns of this national confliction. Waugh, an early Green Beret, becomes one of the CIA clandestine service's most seasoned operators (and the oldest to deploy to Afghanistan post 9-11). Merletti, a Vietnam Era Green Beret, joins the Secret Service and his career path charts the difficult path of protecting US Presidents against foreign entities intent on employing assassination to further their own objectives. Eventually the book follows three trajectories -- one following the history of America's assassination policy in practice; one following the CIA Operator in implementing it; and one following the Secret Service Agent in protecting the President from the consequences of assassination used against the US. Along the way, many US operations in Central America, the Middle East and Africa get their due coverage. There are better and more detailed books on some of these operations but Jacobsen's forte is personalizing the story by following characters like Waugh and Merletti (among others); gleaning from her sources new, previously classified details; and then, by book's conclusion, interjecting herself into the story as she follows Billy Waugh to Vietnam and Cuba where he meets with the children of his former battlefield enemies, General Vo Nguyen Giap and Che Guevara. It's readable, entertaining history about a very serious and important topic. And through it all, Jacobsen maintains her trademark objectivity. As a know-it-all military guy, I did notice a few minor technical details that needed tweaking. But Jacobsen is a strong writer who knows how to get her subjects to open up and share with her. This might annoy those who prefer their history dry and "the facts only, ma'am" but that wouldn't be Annie Jacobsen. "Surprise, Kill, Vanish" is comparable to Ronan Bergman's "Rise and Kill First" in terms of content (there is even an overlapping story involving CIA and Mossad cooperation) but Bergman's book is far more bleak. "Surprise Kill, Vanish" is more upbeat. Assassination may be a necessary evil. But the people involved are not necessarily evil. They are simply willing to go to any length to protect America. Highly recommended. Especially for readers of intelligence operations, military history, 20th Century history, national policy matters and military personalities.
B-loNY 9 days ago