On April 18, 1983, the Hezbollah-led bombing of the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon killed 63 individuals, including eight Central Intelligence Agency officers, one of whom was the agency’s Director of the Office of Near East and South Asia Analysis Robert C. Ames. A CIA legend, Ames was known for having established remarkable back-channel connections with Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization when it was still banned as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
In a new book, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (Crown/Random House, 2014), Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and biographer Kai Bird explains how Ames was able to make these contacts, focusing in particular on Ames’ unique ability to develop friendships and ascertain shared values with a wide array of interlocutors. Bird chronicles also Ames’ rise within the CIA, his passion for the Middle East and the details of the fateful Beirut embassy bombing.
On May 22, the Brookings Intelligence Project hosted author Kai Bird to examine the life and death of Robert Ames, how relations between the Arab world and West might have been different had he lived and the lessons that can be learned from Ames’ personable, human approach toward intelligence and enduring foreign policy challenges. Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.