The Spy Who Knew Everything

By Roug, Louise | Newsweek, February 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Spy Who Knew Everything


Roug, Louise, Newsweek


Byline: Louise Roug

The most important skill that a CIA officer can have is the ability to be at the right place at the right time--and to recognize the moment. By that taxing measure, Bruce Riedel has been extraordinarily successful.

His first country assignment for the agency was the Iran desk, where he arrived in 1978 during the twilight of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's reign. The Iranian revolution the following year irrevocably changed how the United States could operate in the Middle East--a reality borne out by the 444-day hostage crisis that followed.

Riedel then became the CIA desk officer for Egypt, authoring an intelligence report in the fall of 1981 that warned of the high risk of Anwar Sadat's assassination following the peace treaty with Israel. The briefing, in which Riedel predicted the rise of then-vice president Hosni Mubarak, proved stunningly prescient: during an Oct. 6 military parade that year, a group of soldiers, for whom peace with Israel was anathema, assassinated the Egyptian president.

"That was one hell of a day," Riedel recalls in a NEWSWEEK interview, during a week when an uprising in Egypt has once more thrown the region into turmoil.

Serving four successive presidents, Riedel went on to work at the Pentagon, the White House, and at CIA headquarters in Langley, getting to know the most important players in Washington and the Middle East. But it is his last assignment--Pakistan--that keeps him awake at night.

"In Pakistan, we now have, for the first time, the possibility of a jihadist state emerging," Riedel tells NEWSWEEK. "And a jihadist state in Pakistan would be America's worst nightmare in the 21st century."

His book Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad is being published this week by the Brookings Institution Press. Intended as a primer on Pakistan's turbulent history, the book sets out to explain, as he writes, "why successive U.S. administrations have undermined civil government in Pakistan, aided military dictators, and encouraged the rise of extremist Islamic movements that now threaten the United States at home and abroad."

Riedel describes the original democratic vision of Pakistan's engaging founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah--a dapper, chain-smoking, British-educated lawyer with a fondness for cocktails--and, at a brisk pace, takes readers on an excursion from the nation's birth in 1947, through the India-Pakistan wars and the military dictatorships that followed.

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