Review: Ghost. Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent – Fred Burton

Ghost Fred Burton4 of 5 stars

My version: Audiobook
Non Fiction Modern terrorism
Random House
StoryTel subscription

In this hard-hitting memoir, Fred Burton, a key figure in international counterterrorism and domestic spycraft, emerges from the shadows to reveal who he is, what he has accomplished, and the threats that lurk unseen except by an experienced, worldly-wise few. Plunging readers into the murky world of violent religious extremism that spans the streets of Middle Eastern cities and the informant-filled alleys of American slums, Burton takes us behind the scenes to reveal how the United States tracked Libya-linked master terrorist Abu Nidal; captured Ramzi Yusef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; and pursued the assassins of major figures including Yitzhak Rabin, Meir Kahane, and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the president of Pakistan–classic cases that have sobering new meaning in the treacherous years since 9/11. Here, too, is Burton’s advice on personal safety for today’s most powerful CEOs, gleaned from his experience at Stratfor, the private firm Barron’s calls “the shadow CIA.”

Told in a no-holds-barred, gripping, yet nuanced style that illuminates a complex and driven man, Ghost is both a riveting read and an illuminating look into the shadows of the most important struggle of our time.

Fred Burton 2010
Fred Burton in 2010

The reality of the book is perhaps a little less no-holds-barred than the hyperbole above would suggest. Non the less interesting, bordering on the fascinating, but not quite as ‘explosive’ as I’m sure his publishers wanted it to appear. If that was because he left stuff out, that’s certainly quite possible, or that’s because I’m just a modern cynic, I’m not really sure. Though, quite what I would expect to be told, to make me feel it was ‘no-holds-barred’ I can’t define either.

His writing style and presentation of his life in terrorist detection, is pretty matter of fact and restrained, as befits a man writing about his job, if you think about it. He certainly was involved in some pretty high-profile cases, and documents this formative period in world spying and terrorism – the change over from le Carré, to Bourne, as I found myself thinking while under way.

What I found most interesting, and affecting personally, was the matter-of-fact documentation of the tolls the work had on him as a person and his family – at the time and future. He kind of understates it, but you are allowed to form your own impression. I came away with the usual – for me at least – feeling of being thankful that there are people prepared to go the extra mile (even Americans) for the sake of us all.


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Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

American Assassin Black Paperback


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