Friday, 18 September 2020
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counterterrorism

Reviewed by Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Between 1986 and 1998 STRATFOR'S Fred Burton was at the forefront of the United States' counterterrorism efforts. As part of the relatively low-profile Diplomatic Security Service's (DSS) Counterterrorism Branch, Burton gained first experience of religious terrorism and extremism. 'Ghost' is his attempt to take the reader into his and the West's struggle against terrorist atrocities. This is a journey into what Burton calls the 'Dark World' and as such throws light on the response to terrorism that is seen by all but a few.

Ghost is divided into three sections, each reflecting stages of Burton's career with the DSS and also developments within the international system. Part 1 details Burton's transition from a beat cop into a counterterrorism professional. It also covers the Beirut hostage crisis and the beginnings of Libya's support for Middle East terrorism. From the outset it is absolutely staggering just how inadequately prepared the United States was for international terrorism. Initially, the Counterterrorism Branch was comprised of just three federal officers. There were no set guidelines or standard procedures and you get the sense that Burton and the team truly made it up as they went along.

To begin, Burton applies a beat cop mentality to the task at hand. At times part 1 reads a little bit like a counterterrorism manual. It is full of anecdotes about lessons learned, advice to take out into the field and 'do's and don'ts'. Part 1 also provides the reader with the side of intelligence and counterterrorism that is regularly played out in Hollywood movies. Burton introduces us to the FOGHORN messenger facilities, the standard uniform and accessories of a federal agent and the near constant stream of intelligence that needs to be sifted and made sense of quickly. There is also a sense that because the Counterterrorism Branch was so small and compartmentalised they were a breed apart from Washington's other federal agencies. Yet all this is forgotten when it is discovered that they have lost one of their own.

As hostages are gradually released in Lebanon it becomes clear that William Buckley, the former CIA Bureau Chief in Beirut, died in captivity. Burton's memoirs capture the overall despair that all federal agencies felt in not saving the life of a colleague. Indeed the death of Buckley is one of many acts of extremism that Burton and his own take very personally. In doing so the Counterterrorism Branch shifts from being a regular place of work to almost the cornerstone of Burton's very existence. Holidays are lost, family commitments are overlooked and weekends merge into the working week.

A further demonstration of how all consuming counterterrorism became to Burton is his 'hit-list' of terrorists. For twelve years, Burton did not rest in his attempts to bring each and every name on that list to justice. Indeed many names were added to the list throughout his career. The bombing of the TWA Flight over Greece, the Lockerbie disaster and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre all bring the same heartfelt response from Burton. They also take him to the safe-houses and the back streets of the world in his attempts to capture those responsible. When Burton slips off the scene almost entirely, the reader joins him on a journey into the murkiest parts of the 'Dark World'.

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