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Surprise, Kill, Vanish

The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins
Narrated by: Annie Jacobsen
Length: 19 hrs and 5 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (625 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
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Steve M
  • McLean, VA United States
  • 05-24-19

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.

39 of 42 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Historical Account

A good historical recap of covert operations from WWII to current. I wish more info was provided regarding current operations.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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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.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great Book !!!

One Criticism....Surprise Kill Vanish. ... Audible Version, Chapter 1, 2 min 15 sec into chapter 1.... I think there is an error. You say that Pearl Harbor Attacks America, I did not want to post this publicly. I have all your books and gave them all a 5 star rating. Great Author !!!! Hopefully Hachette Audio will fix this.
Thank You
Bob Cahill

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Inaccurate garbage, the worst limited hangout.

Mostly factually incorrect and poorly researched and plain incorrect information, fictional fantasy posing as history. unimaginatively written and poorly delivered.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Kenton
  • Highland Park, IL, United States
  • 06-02-19

Another Jacobsen Hit

I LOVE Annie Jacobsen. So before reading on, know that my review is probably tainted, because I go into her books with the attitude of she can do no wrong.

But again, she takes a cloudy subject rife with conspiracy theory and sheds light on the facts through FOI research, face to face interviews with the people involved, and travel to the places where the events happened.

On top of it all, she paces the information and storytelling so it’s a very entertaining read and not just a dry documentary.

Now I will say that while I do enjoy author-narrated books, Annie would benefit from a pronunciation and technical detail editor. She often gets words from the industries and groups she writes about wrong - for example, pronouncing the helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky “SY-korskee” when anyone somewhat familiar with aviation would know it’s “s-KOR-skee.” Or referring to a “.375 Magnum” handgun, when it’s obviously supposed to be the very common “.357 Magnum.” Not huge things, but little slips like that - and there quite a few - tend to degrade the readers’ perception of her obviously rich command of the subject. Her cadence tends to get really slow, too. In fact I play her books back at 1.25x to bring her up to a fairly normal speaking cadence. These are the only reasons I took down the performance score from 5stars.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Excellent book

If you enjoy the history of clandestine operations you will enjoy this book. I can’t recommend this enough.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great listen

details, personal accounts, and drama are very good in this story. makes you feel the horror of war, the grit of past and present men and women, that only few may know.