The Fourth Man by Robert Baer

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Comparisons drawn between John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Fourth Man are to be expected but have little substance. The books belong to different genres and were written for two very different audiences. However, this rarely stops exciting comparisons being made, because here in real life is the chance for vicarious involvement in an exciting pursuit of a master spy. How often have fiction writers promoted the belief that a KGB mole has penetrated the highest ranks of the CIA? Imagine the effect of a former CIA operative telling just a story.

The Fourth Man presents such a scenario. Robert Baer was one of the most accomplished agents in CIA history. His area of operations included most of Iraq to New Delhi, a career that won him the prestigious Career Intelligence Medal. Later, his activities shifted from action in the field to intelligence and security analyst for the CNN network. He combines knowledge in the field with a high-level communications ability.

The book begins with an important Author’s Note. Baer makes the point that he has avoided deliberately the usual bureaucratic soup found in publications of this sort. Where he is not at liberty to name a source, he refrains from doing so, and has found at least two corroborating sources to affirm a point he has decided to make. The information in the book, no matter how bizarre, holds a high degree of truth.

The book opens with the CIA in active pursuit of Max i.e., Alexander Ivanovich Zaporozhsky, a gaunt, moustached Georgian who had made it his habit to drop intriguing hints about KGB double agents placed in American intelligence. A dialogue over dinner began a long association between Max and Mark Sparkman that morphed, after the fall of the Soviet Union, into conversations with the CIA resulting in the unearthing of three spies hidden in the CIA network. With these neutralised, Max made a more explosive claim viz., that a superspy, the Fourth Man, was loose in the field.

Baer tells the story of three female veterans who were appointed to identify who this superspy might be. They set about the task with steadfast determination but were not believed. This lack of acceptance had drastic consequences. Baer then proceeds to identify the Fourth Man. The evidence he presents makes a mystery of the reasons why the women’s findings were rejected.

The book cover sums up the situation. “In this gripping insider account, Baer tells a thrilling story of Russian espionage and American intelligence. With profound implications for the rise of Vladimir Putin and international relations with Russia, The Fourth Man is a real-life spy thriller with echoes of John le Carré”.

While Baer is qualified to tell this story of international intrigue, and can quote happenings from the stance of the firsthand observer, he is prepared to credit his source of information or simply credit it to ‘unknown’. For example, “as far as I know, there’s been no official determination whether…” (152) and “This leaves me with the observation that…” (156).  Such a practice contributes to the believability of the book. The author does not portray himself as all-seeing.

Such a book as this has its attraction in its believability. It comes highly recommended.

The Fourth Man


By Robert Baer

Hachette UK

ISBN: 978-1-80096-050-3

$32.99; 304 pp


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