Monday, October 17, 2016


The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIAThe Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this was pretty much like watching Zero Dark Thirty. It's about the man who blew himself up in 2009 at the CIA base Camp Chapman at Khost in eastern Afghanistan.

Seven American CIA officers and contractors, an officer of Jordan's intelligence service, and an Afghan working for the CIA were killed when al-Balawi detonated a bomb sewn into a vest he was wearing. Six other American CIA officers were wounded. The bombing was the most lethal attack against the CIA in more than 25 years. - Wikipedia

"Al-Balawi" refers to Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi a doctor, who spent much of his free time using an alias to write fanatical diatribes for fundamentalist Islamic sites online. Jordanian agents got ahold of him, thought the converted him into a mole and sent him off to supposedly infiltrate al-Qaeda leadership. It appeared he had.

Appearances deceived.

Balawi went to al-Qaeda and they turned him into one of their most successful weapons. A video surfaced of Balawi with the radical Islamist group's number three man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It appeared Balawi was treating the ailing Zawahiri. Balawi's intimate knowledge of these ailments, which were known in detail by the CIA and Jordanian agents, seemed to lend credibility to his claims of infiltration. Relating such details gave the pro-western forces hope that they had themselves a reliable mole.

Not all were convinced. But U.S. pressure for results rashly hastened as face-to-face meeting with their relatively new supposed double agent. And then the shit hit the fan.

The title, The Triple Agent, might be technically correct, but its validity is tenuous at best. I believe it's used to titillate and entice. When thinking of a "triple" agent, one imagines an intelligence officer of brilliant cunning and possessing the wherewithal to lie convincing while maintaining the appearance of cooperation. Balawi may have been smart, but it seems he had little need to display cunning. After he was sent off to join al-Qaeda as a double agent, the CIA/Jordanians had very little contact with him. It doesn't take a hardened veteran of spycraft to keep the sort of cover Balawi had to keep. He just didn't make himself available and said next to nothing until the CIA literally opened their gates and gave him free access without the usual checks and precautions.

The book mostly stays on topic, veering off only to give background to an event, idea or person in order to infuse the whole with a greater understanding. The Triple Agent is only as long as it ought to be and that's a big plus.

Don't let the 3 stars fool you. This was quite good, imo, and I really enjoyed it. Perhaps I'm unfairly docking it a star for its subject matter. I already knew the basics of the story, a story without much depth. Man hates western ideals, man blows self up and takes western agents with him. It's fascinating, emotional, and horrible and it's over quite quick.

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Poetry or just religion re-write?

The ProphetThe Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kahlil Gibran is a name that's been revolving around the fringes of my to-read possibilities. As one of the most widely read writers in the world, how could he not?

The Prophet combines faith and philosophy in a series of questions and answers on life and death and all the big topics in between, all delivered in a style similar to the Socratic Method...except that it's not really promoting any kind of critical thinking. Yes, there are some fundamental truths to be gleaned herein, same as you'd find in the Bible for example. But then there are passages that essentially say: don't bother learning, you know it all already. I guess you just have to coax it out of yourself by yourself. Or just listen to God. Have faith and you'll know all you need to know. Oh, and don't bother talking. Gibran says talking murders thought. Certainly it's tough to get any thinking done while someone is talking to you, but is really does help your thoughts to evolve when you talk things over with others with experience and wisdom.

Poetry isn't my thing anymore, so I was hesitant to read The Prophet. Luckily it's not poetry. Well, it's "prose poetry". But to me this sort of writing has very little resemblance to poetry...which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. However, many of the lines do have a certain poetic flair. There is a melodic flow and it is a pleasure to read, especially when one of Gibran's philosophical tidbits rings true.

I'm not surprised this saw a resurgence in popularity with the counterculture of the 1960s. This offers up the sort of loose philosophy that would attract those in search of something to believe in outside of organized religion. There was some good to be found within the pages of The Prophet. There was also some good within The Bible. I'd rather read this again though. It's a lot shorter.

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