Robert Booker "Bob" Baer (born July 1, 1952) is an American author and a former CIA case officer who was primarily assigned to the Middle East. He is Time's intelligence columnist and has contributed to Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Baer is a frequent commentator and author about issues related to international relations, espionage and U.S. foreign policy. Currently he is a reality television host on the History Channel's program "Hunting Hitler." He is an Intelligence and Security Analyst for CNN.
Baer was born in Los Angeles, raised in Aspen, Colorado, and aspired to become a professional skier. He spent many years of his childhood with his mother and cousin in Europe before returning to the US. After a fairly poor academic performance during his first year at high school, his mother sent him to Indiana's Culver Military Academy. In 1976 he graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service (where then-future CIA director George Tenet was a classmate). While a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, he applied to the CIA's Directorate of Operations (now the National Clandestine Service), originally as a prank. Upon admittance to the CIA after graduating, Baer engaged in a year's training, which included a four-month paramilitary course, parachute training, and several foreign language courses.
He is fluent in Arabic, Persian, French, German and his native English. He is also conversant in Russian, Tajik, and Baluch.
Baer worked field assignments, starting in Madras and New Delhi, India; and subsequently in Beirut, Lebanon; Khartoum, Sudan; Paris, France; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Morocco; the former republic of Yugoslavia, and Salah al-Din in Iraqi Kurdistan during his twenty-one years with the CIA. During the mid-1990s, Baer was sent to Iraq with the mission of organizing opposition to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein but was recalled and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly conspiring to assassinate the Iraqi leader. While in Salah al-Din, Baer unsuccessfully urged the Clinton administration to back an internal Iraqi attempt to overthrow Hussein (organized by a group of Sunni military officers, the Iraqi National Congress' Ahmad Chalabi, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's Jalal Talabani) in March 1995 with covert CIA assistance. Baer quit the Agency in 1997 and received the CIA's Career Intelligence Medal on March 11, 1998.
Baer wrote the book See No Evil documenting his experiences while working for the Agency. The C.I. Desk: FBI and CIA Counterintelligence As Seen From My Cubicle, by Christopher Lynch (Dog Ear Publishing), describes parts of the contentious CIA pre-publication review process for Baer's first book. In a blurb for See No Evil, Seymour Hersh said Baer "was considered perhaps the best on-the-ground field officer in the Middle East." In the book, Baer offers an analysis of the Middle East through the lens of his experiences as a CIA operative.
Through his years as a clandestine officer, he gained a very thorough knowledge of the Middle East, Arab world and former Republics of the Soviet Union. Over the years, Baer has become a strong advocate of the Agency's need to increase Human Intelligence (HUMINT) through the recruitment of agents.
In 2004, he told a reporter of the British political weekly New Statesman, regarding the way the CIA deals with terrorism suspects, "If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear - never to see them again - you send them to Egypt."
He retired to Silverton, Colorado.
September 2001 attacks
Baer wrote about the events of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in The Guardian "[D]id bin Laden act alone, through his own al-Qaida network, in launching the attacks? About that I'm far more certain and emphatic: no." He later stated, "For the record, I don't believe that the World Trade Center was brought down by our own explosives, or that a rocket, rather than an airliner, hit the Pentagon. I spent a career in the CIA trying to orchestrate plots, wasn't all that good at it, and certainly couldn't carry off 9/11. Nor could the real pros I had the pleasure to work with."
In June 2009, Baer commented on the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iranian President and the protests that accompanied it. "For too many years now, the Western media have looked at Iran through the narrow prism of Iran's liberal middle class—an intelligentsia that is addicted to the Internet and American music and is more ready to talk to the Western press, including people with money to buy tickets to Paris or Los Angeles; but do they represent the real Iran?"
Baer has long been a supporter of the theory that the PFLP-GC brought down Pan Am Flight 103. Later he began to promote the theory that Iran was behind the bombing.
On August 23, 2009, Baer claimed that the CIA had known from the start that the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 had been orchestrated by Iran, and that a secret dossier proving this was to be presented as evidence in the final appeal by convicted Libyan bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. According to Baer, this suggests that Megrahi's withdrawal of the appeal in return for a release on compassionate grounds was encouraged to prevent this information from being presented in court.
Following reports of an attempt by Iranian agents to assassinate the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, Baer told Die Zeit that he doubted that Iran was behind the attempt since there seemed no obvious motive and Iran had been more careful in past collaboration with terrorists.
Books and media
Baer's books See No Evil and Sleeping with the Devil were the basis for the 2005 Academy Award-winning Warner Brothers motion picture Syriana. The film's character Bob Barnes (played by George Clooney) is loosely based on Baer. For this role, Clooney won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. To better resemble Baer, Clooney gained weight. When Baer learned of this, he was inspired to get back into shape.
Robert Baer worked closely with the director Kevin Toolis and Many Rivers Films, a Channel 4 production company in the UK, to present four authoritative documentaries, beginning with the series, Cult of the Suicide Bomber I, The Cult of the Suicide Bomber II and Cult of the Suicide Bomber III on the origins of suicide bombing. Cult of the Suicide Bomber I was nominated for an Emmy in 2006. In 2008 Baer presented Car Bomb, a film history about car bombs.
Baer was interviewed in the Robert Greenwald documentary Uncovered: The War on Iraq. He was also one of the main participants in the 2009 documentary film Lockerbie Revisited by Dutch film director Gideon Levy.
Baer recently wrote an online foreword to Hoodwinked, by John Perkins, on Amazon.com.
Baer was a guest on the NPR program "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on January 10, 2015.
Baer is a frequent guest on both CNN's "Situation Room," hosted by Wolf Blitzer, and Pacifica Radio's "Background Briefing," hosted by Ian Masters (journalist). Baer provides commentary on military and intelligence issues from Telluride, Colorado.
- See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism, Crown Publishing Group, January 2002, ISBN 0-609-60987-4.
- Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, Crown Publishing Group, July 2003, ISBN 1-4000-5021-9.
- Blow the House Down: A Novel, Crown Publishing Group, 2006, ISBN 1-4000-9835-1.
- The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, Crown Publishing Group, September 2008 ISBN 0-307-40864-7
- The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story, Crown Publishing Group, March 8, 2011
- The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins, 2014
- The Cult of the Suicide Bomber
- Cult of the Suicide Bomber II
- Cult of the Suicide Bomber III
- Car Bomb
- Hunting Hitler, History Channel (2015)