caInterviewing celebrities is cool. It’s fun to sit next to George Clooney or Matt Damon as they discuss their new film, Syriana (and
look for what they had to say later this week). But for me that’s
becoming old hat – I’ve interviewed plenty of actors and filmmakers.
What the Syriana junket offered that was quite unique was the opportunity to interview a real live spy.

Baer was in the CIA from 1976 to 1997. He served as a case officer in
the Directorate of Operations, working in places like Iraq, Khartoum
and Beirut. Seymour Hersh calls him "perhaps the best on-the-ground
field officer in the Middle East." After leaving the CIA, Baer wrote a
book called See No Evil that inspired part of the story of Syriana,
specifically George Clooney’s CIA agent. The book is a gripping
eyewitness account of the situation in the Middle East in the 80s and
90s as it boiled up until September 11th, and you can buy it from CHUD
by clicking here.

Bros saved Baer for the end of the press day, and many of the
journalists chose to leave rather than speak with him, but I couldn’t
imagine doing any such thing. This was a rare chance, and while
everyone had been interesting all day, I felt that it was likely that
Baer could be the most illuminating person to speak with.

Q: How real would you say the film is in how it portrays these situations?

I would say that the movie is absolutely authentic. I don’t usually
watch movies, and I would never, ever watch a spy movie. But this one –
it’s everybody I knew in this world. Oil traders… I spent a lot of time
with Islamic fundamentalists… it was totally authentic. It was based in

traveled with [director Stephen] Gaghan and every voice – he mixed up
voices and faces to do this. He spent three or four months getting
these people right. We were in Monte Carlo and spent the day with an
Arab prince who is just the complete opposite of the Hollywood cliché
of what an Arab prince is. He was classically educated at Oxford, a
polo rider. Absolutely a beautiful house, not in the least bit garish.
He knew history and American literature. He has just read
The Corrections.

Q: How complicated was it for you to write your book, to sit down and cover all those years?

It was complicated to make it readable because bureaucrats, CIA,
government officials don’t write like normal people do. To even
interest people in a very convoluted subject is hard. I think the
middle of the book gets dense, with the Iranian stuff. The only people
who really understand the middle part are the Israeli intelligence

Q: What was your most harrowing experience in the CIA?

I got shelled. I was being hunted by Iraqi helicopters. I was living in
a cave with Talibani, getting shelled for a week straight. There’s
nothing you can do when you’re getting shelled by 155s.

casQ: What a contrast that is to sitting in George Clooney’s house in Italy. How long did you visit him?

A week or so. We flew in and he couldn’t have been more gentlemanly. He
ran out and grabbed my suitcase out of the car. It’s hard for the CIA
to meet Hollywood. He was writing
Good Night, and Good Luck at
the time. I didn’t even know what he was talking about – how do you
take the Edward R Murrow story and put it on film. In black and white?
He didn’t get any suggestions from me on that.

talked a lot. I asked him questions, I’m a CIA officer. I asked him how
do you ever get married? You’re rich, you’re famous, you’ve got a nice
house, you’ve got a nice personality. How would you ever meet a girl
who you knew really loved you?

Q: What did he tell you?

Baer: He said he would never know.

Q: It must be hard being a CIA agent for similar reasons.

Baer: It’s
awful. That’s one of the reasons people get out of the CIA. If you’re a
woman and you’re a case officer, you’re going to work all day and all
night – what’s your husband going to do, sit home and watch videos when
you’re assigned to Rwanda for three years? What do you do with your
spouse? What do you do with your children and their education?

Q: How hard is it to get out of the CIA?

Baer: Me? I backed out firing two guns – metaphorically.

My impression – and a lot of people share this – is that the CIA is a
dangerous and possibly evil organization. At least that’s the emotional

Baer: That’s because you watch too many movies.

Q: Yeah, I was going to say, is there anything you can say to dissuade me from that?

Baer: It’s
a bureaucracy. But the movie is looking at the evil side, which is that
they’ve taken bad information to target someone overseas and kill him.
The CIA does kill people, you have what is called lethal findings, in
spite of 12333 Executive Order. You have the case of Khaddafi, you have
the case in Yemen where they fired a missile into a car with 6 people
and killed them all, they’re trying to kill bin Laden with Predators.
It does happen.

experience has been that the CIA gets into a bad position and does the
wrong thing when it’s politicized. Look at the Bay of Pigs. If you look
at the history of that, it wasn’t the CIA’s idea, it was Kennedy’s
idea. It started with Eisenhower, he did it, he forced it through. It
was done against the advice of the analysts on Cuba. Iraq – I know the
name of every source they had on Iraq, and I know what they said. I
knew before going into this war that that information was crap. They
were using the National Intelligence Estimate from October 2002 – I
knew it. I knew that Chalabi and his sources were lying and making this
stuff up. I knew that the Germans didn’t know, the French didn’t know.
It was a supposition that he had weapons of mass destruction. That’s
what should have been in the National Intelligence Estimate. You should
have had some psychiatrist saying, ‘Well, knowing as much as we know
about how Saddam thinks, I’ll bet he kept some weapons.’ That’s all it
should have said, because we had no evidence. But the fact is that
Cheny went to the CIA until he got what he wanted. It’s the
politicization of the CIA.

the CIA you’ve got basically liberal people – Democrats or moderate
Republicans – that don’t like torture, they don’t putting lies on
reports, and they don’t like subverting governments. It’s called action
but neither is it covert nor is it action. It’s just a way to fill up
space in the newspaper because it always gets leaked.

Q: So what do you think of Porter Goss?

Total politicization. He was sent to the CIA to keep its estimations
from getting out. The chief of station in Baghdad, who wrote in October
2003 that we can’t win the war and never could, was fired basically. He
was shunted off and he knew he had to leave. He is studying for a PhD
now, and he’s totally disgusted. I got calls from four or five CIA
today disgusted with the place. They don’t like the torture, they don’t
like the politicization, all they care about is putting their kids
through college.

Q: But how does this movie fit into the public perception of the CIA?

It’s going to make it worse. This is a story based on a certain degree
of truth that goes beyond my book. There was a prince in the Gulf who I
was dealing with who was targeted through a couple of private entities
because he was talking about unitizing fields in the Gulf, which would
be to the detriment of the oil companies. He was eventually kidnapped.

based on bad intelligence and a CIA that’s been politicized, and it’s
true. But I blame official Washington, I don’t blame the CIA. I have no
problem with the CIA’s counter-intelligence program, which looks for
spies and works great. We do great on countries where there’s no
political interest.

Q: So this starts in the White House.

Baer: White House and Congress.

Q: Speaking of politicization, can you talk about the Valerie Plame leak? Does that, to you, rise to treason?

Yeah. They didn’t know what kind of cover she was under. And the fact
that they bandied her name – my name was leaked in the campaign finance
hearings of 97. They didn’t care. Democrats leaked it. There wasn’t a
Justice referral. But it’s that kind of politicization that goes all
through the White House.

nonsense that Iran is going to become democratic and Westernized is
total fantasy. These people are operating in a bubble. We can see with
the current president that totally the opposite has happened. All you
have to do is go to Iran this year and ask people what they think – in
southern Tehran, ask the people who vote. You have the American
Enterprise Institute saying, ‘Don’t worry, Iran’s coming around, this
is the end of the Babylonian captivity’ – it’s just drivel.

Q: How do you get someone like the head of Hezzbollah to be a friend?

Hezzbollah is the most sophisticated political party in the Middle
East. Why they would sit down – they sat down with Gaghan. I
interviewed, for ABC, Fadlallah. They’re sophisticated. They know I’m
out of the CIA. They Google my name and see I’m independent, I say
anything I want – for them or against them.

Q: How about the Israelis?

They’re great. You spend a week with Shin Bet, who know the
Palestinians, or you spend a week with the army – I spent a week in
Hebron – and they say, ‘Let’s get out of the West Bank. It’s a waste of
military, it’s dividing Israeli society, it’s not what the army is
for.’ The only answer is [UN resolution] 242. The crazy settlers – I
just avoided talking to them. They denied that the Hebron Massacre even
occurred. Of course that’s the beginning of suicide bombings, 40 days
after the Hebron Massacre. Those people deny it but they’re religious
fanatics who the Israelis are more distrustful than anybody.

I don’t want to give anything away, but in the film there’s an
assassination. Could that kind of operation, as shown, be carried out

Why not? They’re assassinating people all the time in Iraq today. The
tribal chief that helped Gaghan understand the politics of Iraq, I was
supposed to go stay with him in the war. His house was hit by 6
missiles, JDAMs they’re called. Missiles as long as this room. Killed
him and everybody in his family.

fabulous technology. These satellites and Predators are great. You just
sit there with a camera and it’s all remote. You could be watching
everybody in this room – you just need the right angle.

what good does technology do to fight the resistance in Iraq? Yeah, you
can kill people, but their relatives come after you like in Jordan.
You’re just causing more problems. [Jordan happened] because we went
into Fallujah. You can’t go into Fallujah and kill Bedouins, who do
have blood feuds, and not get payback.

Q: Do you think there will be payback against the Sh’ia who did it?

We’re going to. We’re going to arrest family members, but that just
makes it worse. It’s a cycle of violence you can’t win. The only time I
have seen anyone win the cycle of violence was the Syrians, in Hama, in
1982. I was in Hama right afterwards, and they flattened the town. I
don’t think that’s a good idea for the West to do, but that’s your

Q: Gaghan was
saying that when you were showing him around the Middle East, you
weren’t just showing him around, you were looking for the people
responsible for the murder of Daniel Pearl. Can you talk about that?

I’m a trained intelligence officer and ask questions. I go to Hollywood
and ask questions. I was just at FX, which is over the Warner Bros lot,
and I said, ‘Hey you guys have great line of sight.’ They asked what
that means, and I said, ‘For audio. You can find out what Warner Bros
is doing.’ It was a joke of course.

I keep on asking questions about the Middle East. It’s a fascinating
place and I want to know what makes it tick. Everybody has something
new to say. So while Gaghan was doing whatever he was doing, taking
notes, I was asking questions.

Q: He feels that you may feel some personal responsibility in the Pearl case.

I saw Danny Pearl a lot before 9/11. After 9/11 he emailed me from
India, he was in Bombay at the time. I still have the emails. He said,
‘Who did it?’ I said that the last guy I knew who was planning to run
planes into American buildings was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. I had tapes
from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed talking about this. Clandestine tapes I
tried to send to the CIA, but they didn’t want to hear about it.

Q: Why didn’t they want to hear?

Baer: Because once you’re out of the CIA, you’re out for good. They don’t like people, especially like me, because I yap my mouth.

Q: Again, Gaghan felt that you feel guilt about it all.

I do feel guilt because he was in Karachi asking about Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed. It was probably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who killed Pearl.

Q: What are you doing next?

Baer: I wrote a novel called Blow the House Down.
I was so tired of people asking me if 9/11 was a conspiracy so I drew
up the perfect conspiracy, which you can’t disprove. It was done from
the inside.

Q: When is that coming out?

Baer: May.

Q: Can you explain more about the conspiracy?

People say, ‘How did they know the World Trade Center would collapse?’
I know there’s a formula that you can put into jet fuel that makes it
burn at a much higher rate once it implodes into a building. I took
elements and real people – the last American who was with bin Laden was
a friend of mine, he was Porter Goss’ staff director, and he was found
with his head blown off in a motel room in Virginia.

Q: Did you meet Osama?

Baer: No.

Q: Clooney’s not playing you, but he’s playing a character sort of based on you.

Clooney’s perfect. He’s a burnt out guy at the end of his career and
he’s got nowhere to go. He’s offered the chance to get ahead finally.
He’s been out in the field, out in the trenches, for years, and he
doesn’t really know how Washington works. He grabs at the chance.
Everybody in the film makes compromises. I’ve certainly been offered
compromises, as everybody in the CIA has at one point, to betray a

Q: What do think the CIA is going to think of the movie?

What do you think Tenet’s going to think about it? They’re going to
hate it. They have a whole office in the CIA that works with Hollywood
that tries to make favorable movies. They were clichés, they were crap,
these movies.