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Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins

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Annie Jacobsen

19 Hours 7 Minutes

Hachette Book Group USA

May 2019


Audio Book Summary

*The USA Today bestseller* Surprise... your target.

Kill... your enemy.

Vanish... without a trace.

From Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen, the untold story of the CIA's secret paramilitary units.
When diplomacy fails, and war is unwise, the president calls on the CIA's Special Activities Division, a highly-classified branch of the CIA and the most effective, black operations force in the world. Originally known as the president's guerrilla warfare corps, SAD conducts risky and ruthless operations that have evolved over time to defend America from its enemies. Almost every American president since World War II has asked the CIA to conduct sabotage, subversion and, yes, assassination.

With unprecedented access to forty-two men and women who proudly and secretly worked on CIA covert operations from the dawn of the Cold War to the present day, along with declassified documents and deep historical research, Pulitzer Prize finalist Annie Jacobsen unveils-like never before-a complex world of individuals working in treacherous environments populated with killers, connivers and saboteurs. Despite Hollywood notions of off-book operations and external secret hires, covert action is actually one piece in a colossal foreign policy machine.

Written with the pacing of a thriller, SURPRISE, KILL, VANISH brings to vivid life the sheer pandemonium and chaos, as well as the unforgettable human will to survive and the intellectual challenge of not giving up hope that define paramilitary and intelligence work. Jacobsen's exclusive interviews-with members of the CIA's Senior Intelligence Service (equivalent to the Pentagon's generals), its counterterrorism chiefs, targeting officers, and Special Activities Division's Ground Branch operators who conduct today's close-quarters killing operations around the world-reveal,for the first time, the enormity of this shocking, controversial and morally complex terrain. Is the CIA's paramilitary army America's weaponized strength, or a liability to its principled standing in the world? Every operation reported in this book, however unsettling, is legal.

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  • Anonymous

    fantastically well written and addictive

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  • Mark R.

    Insightful and not at all surprising. Enjoyed the book immensely. I’m interested in more audio books like this.

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  • James F.

    Excellent. Jacobson does more than merely string fascinating stories of covert operations. Sure, she tells some exciting stories, which were recently unclassified. But further, she uncovers the development of unconventional warfare and special ops and probes the ethical questions of assassination - without preaching her views. Overall, a thoroughly engaging book. The physical pace of narration is slow; I enjoyed the reading at 1.25x speed (which I have never chosen before).

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  • David F.

    Another mesmerizing revelation from the most revealing investigative journalists of the 21st Century. Ms. Jacobsen weaves the threads of our history into a very recognizable tapestry that helps make the checkered past of our governments darkest secrets come into the light.

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