Know Thine Enemy
A Spy's Journey Into Revolutionary Iran
by Edward Shirley
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997. 247 pp. $24.
Reviewed by Kenneth R. Timmerman
Middle East Data Project
Middle East Quarterly
The pseudonymous Edward Shirley fulfills a long-held ambition in Know Thine Enemy, visiting for the first time the country he has spied on and whose countrymen he has enticed to betray secrets during his eight years as a case agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. For a former agent-runner stationed in Istanbul, entering Iran is an exploit; and therein lies the major flaw of Shirley's account. Gripped by paranoia, spending much of his journey in a specially rigged box inside a tractor trailer truck hiding from security patrols, Shirley sees very little of Iran during his five frantic days in the country, rarely venturing out and meeting ordinary Iranians.
Shirley reveals a need to prove his bravura; after a one-hour walk through the poor Azeri shantytowns south of Tehran (his only foray into the Iranian capital), he reflects: "I didn't feel like a total cheat anymore. I'd proved to myself some savoir faire, that years spent reading books about vanished Muslim dynasties had real-world value.... Once back in Turkey, I'd have the right to say a few words about Iran in the company of my Persian friends." The value of this book lies not in his personal story nor in his reflections on today's Iran—journalistic accounts convey a much better a feel for it—but in his inner journey away from the CIA and the revealing portrait he draws of the agency's Operations Directorate. He describes the sloth and corporatist culture of his colleagues, and their almost total lack of interest in the countries they spy on, then understatedly comments: "No one wanted to admit we were far from the Best and the Brightest."
Related Topics: Iran | Kenneth R. Timmerman | December 1997 MEQ
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