In This Review

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames
By Kai Bird
Crown, 2014, 448 pp

Robert Ames was an influential CIA operative in the Middle East who was killed in the blast that leveled the U.S. embassy in Beirut in April 1983, which Washington has blamed on Hezbollah and Iran. Bird argues that for more than a decade, Ames was the sole U.S. conduit to Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Ames’ main connection to Arafat was Ali Hassan Salameh, a flamboyant Palestinian who was close to the PLO leader -- and whom the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, assassinated in 1979. The friction such actions led to between the cia and the Mossad emerge as a constant theme in the book. Bird also tells the lesser-known tale of how U.S. intelligence came close to abandoning the Hashemite monarchy of Jordan in 1970 after King Hussein drove the PLO from his country and into Lebanon, with terrible consequences. Bird narrates the bombing that killed Ames in gut-wrenching detail. Ames left behind six children and a widow and did not live to see Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shake hands on the White House lawn -- nor to witness the slow-motion collapse of the dream of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, in which Ames deeply believed.