For decades, Fred Burton, a key figure in international counterterrorism and domestic spycraft, has secretly been on the front lines in the fight to keep Americans safe around the world. Now, in this hard-hitting memoir, Burton emerges from the shadows to reveal who he is, what he has accomplished, and the threats that lurk unseen except by an experienced, world-wise few. In the mid-eighties, the idea of defending Americans against terrorism was still new. But a trio of suicide bombings in Beirut–including one that killed 241 marines and forced our exit from Lebanon–had changed the mindset and mission of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the arm of the State Department that protects U.S. embassy officials across the globe. Burton, a member of DSS’s tiny but elite Counterterrorism Division, was plunged into a murky world of violent religious extremism spanning the streets of Middle Eastern cities and the informant-filled alleys of American slums. From battling Libyan terrorists and their Palestinian surrogates to having facing down hijackers, hostages, and Hezbollah double agents, Burton found himself on the front lines of America’s first campaign against Terror.
With spy thriller suspense and the clarity of a police report, former special agent Burton's State Department saga reads like a brewing-storm prequel to the current "war on terror." Working for the tiny, newly created counterterrorism division of the Diplomatic Security Service in the mid-1980s, Burton liaisons among the FBI, the CIA, and a network of covert informants "to find out the how" of terrorist attacks, and prevent repeat events. This snapshot of his career reveals "the foundations for the chaos we face today: a cold war between superpowers overlayed atop a growing struggle between the Christian world and radical Islam." Of obvious interest to anyone with an eye on world affairs, Burton's assets will draw in even casual counterterrorism fans: the spook can actually write. His first hook is a Dashiell Hammett-esque preface about his hand-written list of targeted terrorist masterminds, which he keeps on his person at all times and "as current as today's headlines." From there he takes readers through the crimes and captures of a few, along with the formation and administration of the first State Department unit of its kind. Most striking is the material's relevance twenty years later; Burton's clashes with Hezbollah in Beirut and prickly diplomacy with Iran could almost be pulled from present-day newspapers.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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June 02, 2008
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Excerpt from Ghost by Fred Burton
The Buried Bodies
February 10, 1986
On my morning run through February's chilly darkness, my chocolate Lab, Tyler Beauregard, sets the pace. This is our routine together, though we always vary our route now. At agent training, which I just completed, they drilled into us the notion that in our new lives, routines will get us killed. When you join the Dark World, you must become unpredictable. Erratic. We must strip away all the conventions of our old lives and fade into the background. We've been trained. We've practiced. Today, I begin my life as a ghost.
These morning runs will be my one tip to the old life I'm leaving behind. Still, today I take new precautions, such as the snubby Smith & Wesson Model 60 .38-caliber revolver tucked away under my belt.
I love these morning runs with Tyler. She is a remarkable animal, my familiar, a canine that intuits more about loyalty and honor than most of the people I encountered as a police officer in Montgomery County, Maryland. She pads along, tongue lolling, breathing steady. She's a pro. She could run marathons of her own.
My footfalls echo across the empty Bethesda neighborhood. The tidy brick houses and apartments are dark. In my new life, I'll be spending a lot of time in darkness. I've learned to be paranoid. I've learned to look around corners and watch my back. Our instructors warned us that the KGB opens a file on every one of us new agents as soon as we graduate. Then they probe our lives and backgrounds in search of weaknesses, skeletons, or any sort of leverage by which to exploit or co-opt us. Sooner or later, they will make contact with an offer. Or a threat.
I glance behind me, half expecting to see some Eastern Bloc thug in a trench coat shadowing me. But all I see is a thin layer of fog and an empty suburban block.
I look behind me a lot these days. It goes with the job. Situational awareness is essential if we are to stay alive. I don't run with a Walkman banging out Springsteen's Born to Run anymore. My ears are unbound and tuned to the street. Every little sound, every shuffle or distant downshift of an automobile on MacArthur Boulevard registers with me. I file each new noise away in my mind, cataloging it so I'll notice anything out of the ordinary. I've been trained to be an observer. Since I started my training last November, I hone and refine this skill on every morning run.
Tyler picks up the pace. She's taking me toward Glen Echo, a small town on the Potomac. We reach a little jogging trail that runs along Reservoir Road. Here, we escape the suburbs and plunge into the woods. Just before we enter the tree line, I steal a sidelong glance behind me again. I practice this move every day; it is something we learned in training. The trick is to be unobtrusive, to not reveal that you're clearing your six. It has become automatic for me now.
No tails. We're not being followed.
Today my life changes forever. I have no idea what is in store for us new guys. I just know that a year ago, I was a Maryland cop. I protected my community. I loved law enforcement, but I wanted something more. So I applied for federal service, and the Diplomatic Security Service offered me a job. Until last fall, I'd never even heard of the DSS.
I started my training in November 1985, just a few weeks after terrorists hijacked the cruise liner Achille Lauro and executed Leon Klinghoffer for the crime of being an American citizen-and a Jew. They shot him then dumped him overboard in his wheelchair.
The world needs more cops.
Only three out of every hundred who start the training get to the finish line. I felt lucky just to be there. After the ceremony, we stood in alphabetically arranged lines waiting to receive our first assignments. Our class coordinator, Special Agent Phil Whitney, began reading off our names and telling us what we'd be doing for the next phase of our lives. Some of us picked up overseas assignments in our embassy field offices. Some landed protective security tours, guarding our diplomats and the secretary of state. Whitney told a few they'd be assigned as diplomatic couriers, where they would carry our nation's most-guarded secrets from one place to another all around the globe.
When he got to me, Whitney paused. He stared at his clipboard for a moment before saying, "Burton, Counterterrorism Branch."
I'd had no idea what that was. When Whitney reached the middle of the alphabet he called out, "Mullen, Counterterrorism Branch."
I looked down the rows of agents to John Mullen. His flaming red hair was easy to spot. I could see him searching me out. We were the only two to be sent to this puzzling assignment. We exchanged confused glances. What had we gotten into?
At least I'd be going into it with a rock-steady veteran. Before he joined the DSS,