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Book Review: Thwarting Enemies At Home and Abroad: How to Be a Counterintelligence Officer by William R Johnson

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William R Johnson is a former CIA officer who wrote CIA’s classified counterintelligence (CI) training manual. Who better to write a similar book for the rest of us? Johnson’s expertise is conveyed in everyday, plain speech with a minimum of acronyms or other spookspeak. It’s a primer for all facets of the tradecraft involved in becoming a successful CI operator (aka Dirty Tricks). If you have any designs on becoming an intelligence officer, or are simply interested in what intelligence officers do, or how they work, you should start with the book written by the man who wrote the bible on it. Literally. Choosing to read this beak is a no-brainer, and reading it won’t take much more than a couple of hours, while comprehension of its contents is enough to keep your brain working until it ceases to function.

Thwarting Enemies At Home and Abroad is written in the style of short descriptions on all aspects of the CI business, from what it is and what its operators do, to examples and tips on particular aspects of tradecraft. It’s a rather short book, but bear in mind, it’s a primer, not a detailed casebook. Most of the sections are kept quite short, giving just enough information for the neophyte to learn the procedures and vernacular involved in the craft. In a chapter titled “The Support Apparatus,” Johnson speaks of “the roof and the walls” as well as “the plumbing.” Translated, this means an overview of the entire operation, from basic tenets to the nuts and bolts, of CI. The plumbing (think of the Watergate burglars) is the internal workings that make the whole thing function, including the not so pretty or pleasant aspects.

The book’s chapters are broken down further into the sub-categories of the craft, such as under “The Support Apparatus,” he includes “Surveillance Teams,” “The Forgery Shop,” “Drops,” “Weapons,” etc. Other chapters cover interrogation, physical surveillance, double agents, moles, and defectors. This book is the source for most of your questions about this misunderstood and least understood branch of intelligence, from start to beginning operations.

This wonderful little book is also very useful for parents of teenagers. Think of how your typical conversation with your teenager goes.
Q. Where are you going? A. Out.
Q. What are you going to do? A. Nothin’.

Q. Who are you going with? A. Some guys (Some girls).
Q. What time will you be home? A. Later.

A veritable encyclopedia of knowledge, isn’t it? If you’re satisfied with those answers, you don’t need this book.

Thwarting Enemies At Home and Abroad is a valuable addition to even a seasoned veteran’s bookshelf. It was originally published in 1987, and it gives us glimpses of what’s been schemed and thwarted since man discovered he wasn’t the only being on the planet. Punishment and torture do not get results. Knowing how to phrase questions and which ones to pursue and how, and understanding how your adversary typically thinks, does.

You won’t find much in the line of working tips and actual procedures in this primer, but you’ll walk away with an encyclopedic general knowledge of “The Great Game.”

Also, if you’re interested in further study of this fascinating subject, Georgetown University Press is a great place to start. What better place to learn about it than the place where many of our top intelligence and CIA operators learned, and even teach, their craft?

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About Lou Novacheck