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Book Review: Beirut Rules

Beirut Rules. By Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz. ​Berkley Publishing;; 400 pages; $28.​

An attentive security professional will discern some useful pieces of information in Beirut Rules​; however, no security professional should read this book looking for a fulsome discussion of security principles. 

Beirut Rules is a historical account of challenging security and intelligence missions made worse by a culture of bureaucratic inertia, with a focus on the kidnapping of William F. Buckley, the CIA’s Beirut station chief. The authors have a wealth of experience but demonstrate obvious biases that undermine the book’s value as a balanced historical account. More disturbing is the authors’ moral equivocation: Western hostages are rightly described as being subjected to torture, while an Arab prisoner of Israeli security forces is subjected to “physical pressure.”

Two challenges that security professionals could learn from stand out in this story. One is the threat of vehicle-borne attacks, particularly VBIEDs in 1980s Beirut, and the other is the threat of kidnapping. Any security professional who has studied executive protection or crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) will recognize mistakes made by individuals and organizations that created vulnerabilities that were exploited by threat actors to deadly effect. Organizational and individual lessons were surely learned from these mistakes, but the reader will have to infer them, because security education is not the book’s focus.

The book suffers from the authors’ bizarre decision to “redact” portions of their own writing. They claim that some information remains too sensitive to publish. If that is indeed the case, why would they include it in the manuscript at all? If they are aware of classified information, it is irresponsible to hint at it and then redact it, inviting further investigation by threat actors and thus jeopardizing the sources genuine redaction is meant to protect. Even some endnotes are redacted, undermining the credibility of the associated text. 

The book does not need the redaction gimmick to be compelling. The story of military, intelligence, and security professionals struggling to achieve their missions in an irredeemably hostile environment is impactful and moving. Beirut Rules is an interesting read tarnished by the authors’ distracting literary parlor tricks.

Reviewer: Robert Shepherd, CPP, is a former Royal Canadian Navy Reserve officer with 10 years’ experience in intelligence. He is currently a security compliance inspection officer with a Canadian federal regulator.