Wednesday, August 16, 2017
The most interesting people are hyphenated, and we are fortunate that Fred Burton felt a calling to document his experience from his first days in the State Department's formative Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). This agent-historian witnessed an amazing, rapid-fire turn of events on a global scale from the climactic end game of the old Cold War to the increasingly far-reaching threats of the Islamic world.
While a capable guide for the Shadow World, Burton illuminates the characters working the U.S. side of the fence. His chronicling of the rapid evolution of his own counterterrorism office at DSS is a feature he's uniquely qualified to present.
The original, 1960s-era definition of "counterterrorism" as a state-sponsored terror activity against a hostile population isn't addressed here. He also skirts other controversial areas that are "above his pay grade." Burton does occasionally note the irony that unseen political machinations can produce, as in his having to safeguard notorious underworld figures on diplomatic visits.
Many of these issues, and individuals (most notably the current POTUS), are still vitally relevant in the world today. It's not surprising that the well-connected Burton is keeping an eye on things for the Strafor ("Strategic Forecasting") consultancy. He is very active on Twitter with a straight-shooting but well humored account, often peppered with the barbs and boasts of lingering interagency rivalries.
The title of this book sounds like the Russian word for guest (Гост, gost), which might make a good metaphor for someone who's toured the Shadow World and come back to a kind of postwar vision of America where truth and justice can be captured in black and white.
It's not a bad place to be. Despite the truly epic scale of Burton's journey, some of its biggest and best and most moving moments take place in the DMV suburbs. This is a well considered book that works on many levels: addressing contemporary security issues, unspooling some secret history, and delivering an emotional salute to the largely unseen souls who make it possible for us to sleep at night.
(c) 2017 Frederick C. Ingram