Author John Shiffman has written an exciting espionage thriller … no, wait a minute … this isn’t a work of fiction! This is a well-researched, thoroughly documented expose of a true international sting that reads like an espionage thriller!
First off, the title…. I’ll admit that I was, in part, interested in this based on the title as I have a passing interest in Shakespeare. But the ‘Shakespeare’ moniker is very misleading. It comes up maybe twice in the book, and while I got a real kick out of how the name for the operation came about, it has nothing to do with Shakespeare. No big deal…it’s still a great read…but be wary all you Shakespeare geeks.
I’m the sort of person who likes watching Cops because I like seeing the criminals get what’s coming to them. I like seeing that good will triumph over evil. And for that reason, I also enjoy reading this sort of book … where the criminal is caught, justice prevails, and the American way of life is preserved for another day. Author John Shiffman gives us that good-over-evil with the conclusion of a successful mission (I don’t think that’s a spoiler), but at the same time, reading through this, I couldn’t help but get a strong sense of frustration.
It becomes clear that this mission would never have gotten off the ground, never been followed through, and never would have reached a successful conclusion if it weren’t for the dedication of a few individuals who often had to fight against their own support groups to get what they needed. I also read in to this that it’s generally by great strokes of luck that our government is able to find and catch those who are stealing American military technology. If it weren’t for the hubris and general stupidity of the victim here, it’s likely that he never would have been caught, much less with his laptop computer containing a great deal of information.
What is also clear is that it is the greed of American corporations leads to much of this technology ‘theft’ (it isn’t theft if our companies sell it or give it away). The victim in this sting was successful for the Iranians partly because American companies are often willing to make a $ale to a questionable buyer. By convincing themselves (and the American government) that the item sold is for non-military purposes, they will gladly profit at the expense of American’ soldier’s lives. For instance… the book reports on the sale of triggered spark gap switches, ostensibly for medical purposes, sold to an Israeli in South African. Hospitals tend to only order a “handful” of the switches because, for medical purposes, they can be reused many times for the purposes of crushing kidney stones. However, those same switches are also used for making bombs, in which case they can be only used once and are ordered by the hundreds. (This same ‘buyer’ also helped to arrange for the sale of $1.3 million worth of oscilloscopes, again ostensibly for medical purposes, though the scopes have value to the nuclear weapons industry and the sale ultimately went through to a U.S. prohibited company in Pakistan.)
Shiffman sets up the book with the introduction of the major characters, and just like a good espionage novel, he slowly reveals how the players manage to come together in the sting. Unlike a typical espionage thriller, however, in which there would probably be a wake of bodies and a good foot-chase and shoot-out at the end, this book ends with a bit of a whimper (although the denouement is thrilling as it does look like it won’t come off due to bureaucratic in-action).
It’s great to see that sometimes our (American) action to stop the sale/theft of military technology actually works, but this book should also be a wake-up call to Americans (and our allies) everywhere that we need to be more diligent about calling for the safety of our citizens and soldiers. Greed should not cost lives. Making a sale of equipment that has military potential should not be the end of the story for any corporation. If items are sold over-seas, there needs to be follow-up, on the part of the companies involved, to ensure that the equipment is being used for non-military intents.
Looking for a good book? Operation Shakespeare is a great non-fiction espionage thriller.
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Operation Shakespeare: The True Story of an Elite International Sting
author: John Shiffman
publisher: Simon and Schuster
hardcover, 288 pages