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Surprise, Kill, Vanish

The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins
Written by: Annie Jacobsen
Narrated by: Annie Jacobsen
Length: 19 hrs and 5 mins
5 out of 5 stars (70 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 42 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 audiobook, however unsettling, is legal.  

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2019 Annie Jacobsen (P)2019 Hachette Audio

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating!

I couldn't stop listening. Fascinating subject and really quite riveting. Author is an excellent narrator.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent book.

Intriging from start to finish. I've never read a book that has peaked my interest as much as this one has.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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decent listen

good book kept me listening even when her voice started to get to me. would recommend

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Amazing

Enthralling, the author tells you how world politics actually function behind the mass media narrative

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fantastic

Had me gripped from the beginning.

A must read for anyone interested in American military history and the use of clandestine services

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing, insightful, well researched.

This I would guess to be only a sliver of the truth. But its a good one.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Steve M
  • 2019-05-24

Lots of facts, offset by too much fiction

Good book; excellent subject; needs additional substantiation.

Having spent 40+ years in the military and intelligence community, I was looking forward to reading (listening to) this book. This is my first opportunity to enjoy this author and, based on her comments in the prologue, I was encouraged by the evident thorough research and numerous credible references.

Unfortunately, I believe she put a bit too much trust into the veracity of one or two of her first-hand-account sources. For example:
- Reference to assistance from "Lieutenant Colonel John F. Kennedy" during WW II. Assistance from Kennedy is believable, but he was never a LtCol (he was in the Navy).
- So-and-so armed and relying on his '.375' caliber pistol. There is no such thing. Perhaps a mere typo for .357?
- "Each man carried 25 magazines of .223 caliber ammunition and each soldier had 25 grenades of various types." I call 'no-way' on this. As a retired Marine Corps careerist, I've carried M-16 magazines and grenades. 25 of each may be POSSIBLE to pick up, but not possible to maneuver and fight with.
- Numerous references to "RPG tracers" and one subject being "struck in the knee by an RPG." RPGs don't have or produce tracer identities and being struck in the leg with one would unquestionably take that leg clean off.

Trivial observations and unwarranted criticism? Perhaps. However I believe additional research into simple terms, concepts, and historical facts, as well as verifying the credulity of evident military "sea stories," would have moved this book from a 3-star to a 5-star review.

65 of 68 people found this review helpful

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  • mic.pa.dre
  • 2019-05-25

A lot of mistakes

Jacobsen gets some things right and some things obviously wrong, everything in between is interesting but its veracity is suspect. She gets unit names and call signs wrong with surprising frequency.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • M-Theory517
  • 2019-07-07

Sources vetted?? Come on...

I was seriously looking forward to this book. My excitement suffered an excruciating death before I made it to Chapter 1. In the intro, one of the author's main sources visits her and her sons at her home. He has with him a challenge coin from our embassy in Kabul (whoopty f'ing do). She says, "he didn't say what he did over there and I knew better than to ask". Seriously??? This is your source and you didn't bother asking him what he actually did over there? By the way - we give out those challenge coins to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that walks through the compound. If you're just delivering food or taking away dirty water, you too can get a challenge coin. Post One even sells them if you're too lazy to earn one. It gets better. This Barney of a source apparently carries 3 cases around with him everywhere he goes. He keeps guns in the first two, and a large, serrated knife in the 3rd. Yes, serrated (you're about to read why this is laughable). Upon seeing the knife, she continues, "'What's that for?' I ask, almost immediately recognizing my mistake." He responds, "Sometimes a job requires quiet." He then closes the case.

Shaking my damn head. I just paid $21 for that garbage?? If I had a dime for every wannabe who came through Baghdad or Kabul as a contractor and then went on to tell EVERYONE how they were Agency black ops, I would have been able to retire 5 years ago. But hey, special props to this Rambo black ops assassin who works quietly with his serrated knife. "Damn thing is stuck again."

Yes. It is THAT bad.

Folks, if you want a book about real deal black ops (albeit Israeli Mossad), read Rise and Kill First by Ronen Bergman.


11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Richard Davis
  • 2019-05-28

More fiction than truth

This book just screams fake from the very beginning and doesn't get any better. It was hard to get past the big knife in the gun case that her first "source" showed her. She might be able to be fooled but anyone that has gotten past Rambo will not.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • matthew berghuis
  • 2019-05-24

Good material, too many typos and too much opinion

There is a lot of good material in this book, however there are a noticeable amount of typos and opinion as well. It falls into the category of historical non-fiction and reads like a spy thriller. After finishing it I am left doubting several of the authors points and would not use this book as a reference in any scholarly work.
That said, there are some real interesting stories reiterated in this book.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Assets Frozen in Rancho by 45
  • 2019-07-31

awful

honestly these books literally put me to sleep better than 10 Klonopin but this book was hands-down the worst I've ever heard

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • jenny hankins
  • 2019-07-23

Small inaccuracies

This book has many small errors that undermine is credibility. Stuff like JFK’s military rank... he was in the Navy and the book says he was a Lt Col... not a rank used in the Navy. Also referenced Vietnam scene where Billy Waugh is hit by a “tracer RPG”. It was a bullet not an RPG... just finished his book. Editing should catch this stuff

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Zach
  • 2019-06-19

It's well-narrated trash and that's okay I guess?

The book starts out okay but, quickly devolves into a breathlessly enthusiastic account of CIA exploits after the Vietnam war. The author styles the book as a case study of whether the US president's "third option" of targeted killing through the CIA is justified but, kind of gives up on exploring this premise halfway through the book (HUGE subtext that the CIA is just the coolest!). There are some pretty glaring historical inaccuracies and it was so underwhelming that I'd really recommend people spend their money elsewhere.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous
  • 2019-06-06

Interesting but not what I expected

The author clearly has no background in this subject. She gets quite a few things wrong simply because she doesn’t know what she’s describing. Nothing catastrophic though. It sort of awkwardly stumbles through the history of the CIA but mostly follows a few individuals personal tales ( as relayed to her by them ). For some reason she also tell Lou Merletti’s tales from Vietnam and the Secret Service. Great stories on him and Billy Waugh to be honest. Billy really deserves a book of his own. Dudes a legend.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • DRF
  • 2019-08-05

Lots of info, but not organized very well

There is a great deal of information here and the author did a lot of research using Freedom of Information sources and many personal interviews, as she never tires of telling us. It gets a bit confusing when she jumps from one vignette to another with reckless abandon. The book is organized according to decades, but the episodes she chooses to highlight seem all over the map (literally). The whole thing could benefit from a good outline.

I was disappointed that she didn't spend more time on the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, since she emphasized that this was actually a CIA-lead operation and not a Navy SEAL one. The raid got passed over in a few sentences. I also could not tell whether she was horrified of the covert kill operations or if she was fascinated by the people and technologies. At times it seemed a good deal of both.

Finally, this is what happens when you narrate your own material and don't do enough research as to how to pronounce specialized words. She was shockingly bad in areas with which I am familiar (medicine, photography), so who knows what she was mangling in other categories. "Thor-ACK-tomy" for thoracotomy," "fee-moral" for femoral artery (should be pronounced with a short "e"), "Kway-star" for Questar (pronounced "quest-star") for the telephoto lens brand.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful