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Overworld de Larry J. Kolb
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Fast-paced, well-written autobiography. While you could learn a few trade-craft secrets reading the book, he focuses more on the social aspects of his life (and contacts) than anything else, and how life overlapped into a seeming part-time career in intelligence. He primarily filled the role of "agent" rather than "officer" although (by his own analysis) the former is much less desirable. ( )
A likeable memoir, sandwiched between a melodramatic preface and epilogue where we are repeatedly told the author is hiding out from the Indian government in a Florida beach house. His experiences with Muhammad Ali, Adnan Khashoggi, and learning tradecraft from Miles Copeland and other assorted intelleigence officers make for some good reading.
Finally, after about six months, I have finished reading Larry J. Kolb's 'Overworld'. This book is rather like the spy book I've always wanted to read but never quite thought would get written. It is, unlike every other book about espionage, written in a way that is in no way suffused with the deadening patriotic backstory that flattens so many other verisimilitudes. Real names, real places, real dates, real enough and yet fake enough - the truth about spying, indeed about human history is all metaphorically there.
Doc tells me, and Schneier proves, that it's very easy to come up with dastardly schemes to destroy and terrorize. But it's a lot tougher to actually do such acts. Penn & Teller tell us that every fire-eater runs the risk of liver disease because over the course of a lifetime of spitting kerosene, you eventually swallow a great deal. It is not that being a fireater is so horribly difficult, it's just that what separates the amateurs from the pros, is that the pros know they are killing themselves over a lifetime. Kolb shows that the very essence of spycraft is deception, and the greatest and most difficult aspect of it is that you are called to make confidences and then betray them. You ultimately kill some part of your ability to be trusted with humans if you put yourself in service to the Agency. Wasn't that the lesson of Titus Andronicus? Be very wary of selling your services to kings. You'll end up Doing.
Kolb sold his services to Adnan Khashoggi, who has at times been known as the world's wealthiest man. To be that kind of wealthy, one must have fingers in dozens of pies, one must have cash flows and therefore business flows of all kinds flowing. One gets to know the price of so many things. Bags of diamonds, secret Indian banks, aircraft of all sorts, and of course the kinds of dangerous ambitions attached to wealth, and ability.
The world Kolb describes is one of almost unimaginable ability. This is what's so striking about it. Somewhere on the planet are individuals who are extraordinarily clever, people who must keep things secret and yet known. People who must be able to do and yet deny doing. And I find something of a truism working on a third level. A friend told me that 50,000 is difficult to get because everybody knows what to do with it. Ten million is easier because it doesn't become cash, and relatively few people know what to do with it. Kolb's world starts around 100 million, which then becomes a beast of another sort, because now governmental and legal organizations try to track what happens with it forever. That kind of money changing hands for any unusual purposes is dangerous, because everybody wants to know who did what with it. And for knowing just how such things are facilitated, a million or two spent is well worth it. This is how you spell danger.
Once upon a time, I had an opportunity to hobnob with playboys. It was fun to hang out in Beverly Hills and tell jokes with the soft guys on the money side. A retired astronaut, a jazz muscian, an heir. Within their mini-mansions, they were safe, but they showed genuine fear of the Engines. The people who managed to corporations that generated the wealth, the Merovingian attorneys who crafted exquisite financial corsets, the back room dealers, the enforcers. These were the people they'd have as little as possible to do with. Every business isn't a dirty business until you go high enough. The consequences of every lie becomes more and more deadly, and everybody lies. I think I understand a bit more these days about the consequences of success and the reigns on ambition. It is very much like the quote from Akeelah and the Bee. We're afraid that we might be powerful, because on any given day, we might feel a little crazy, a little wreckless. Now imagine that people who are, and they get their backs in a corner.
Kolb's trade is knowledge. Knowledge of who can do what and what it takes to get them to do that thing, or perhaps undo another. As a messenger, he worked the interstices of networks of power. How do you get 2 pounds of substance X to destination Y without drawing too much attention? How do you get this story printed in that paper if it's as true as you think it might be? 'Overworld' illustrates how the messenger becomes the message because nobody really knows who is doing what. Do you remember terms like 'Country Two'? The webs of intrigue are always changing shape and yet with international matters, they have indelible effects.
Kolb's narrative reads like an insider's view of history in the making, except it is a history that has no lessons nor national objectives. In many ways it is rather what I expected when I used to read Gore Vidal for the up close and personal view of the shaking and moving. Like Vidal, Kolb has had to suffer exile. They are men who know too much. Unlike Vidal, Kolb has not lost any sense of faith in mankind or his nation. He doesn't judge, rather he is observant and articulate, which is all you can hope for.
Overworld is appropriately redacted, because the right to know is never guaranteed. In a world of players as wiley as we have, secrets and lies are often one's only protection. And so Kolb teaches that coincidences aren't bloody likely. Whether we want to believe it or not, there are those capable of making a buck or gaining influence in a million ways, and whenever dots connect, somebody is a winner. These are not arbitrary occurences, everybody is watching, and somebody is playing. We are conspiratorial creatures.
Kolb has had to go to ground. His high flying career was put to an abrupt end after the election of VP Singh against whom his associates had him pushing press accounts that may or may not have been true. And so Kolb spent his time writing the book, which in many ways serves as an exculpatory device, while in exile somewhere in Florida. In moving from the overworld to the underworld he had to give up using his credit cards, or banking in the way most of us do. Such is a discipline I would like to learn. While we complain about identity theft, those of us who might have a petty identity worth stealing, there are methods of substantially protecting one's identity we are clueless about. At Cobb, as I investigate the process of emergence, I find these kinds of issues fascinating. What must be done to protect oneself in the world of smooth and tough operators? Kolb offers lessons.
What do you get in reading 'Overworld'? You get fascinating personal stories about Muhammad Ali and Daniel Ortega. You get an idea of what it's like to be in the sights of deadly political enemies. You reckon with the basics of spycraft. But I think Kolb's greatest contribution is to show how fundamental the issues of trust and matters of betrayal are at the heart of the motivations of man's affairs and how deeply the armatures of state & international power are implemented at the personal level. It is said that rights are a gift of the strong. Indeed there are moments when you recognize that one can become enmenshed in situations in which one needs very explicit permission to survive the next hour. Kolb describes the drama of being on an international flight which is diverted specifically to remove him from it. He survives and tells the tale, but he just as easily mightn't. It all depended on who knew what first, and who decided to make the right phone call.
Of course I recommend the book although it took me months to get through it, not any fault of the writing, but my own laziness. I recognize Larry as the kind of outsized and meticulous character I often aspire to be, one for whom an anchoring loyalty is absolutely necessary, until you realize you may never have had it. He has survived through wit and cant, if not purpose. Reading him is like watching the the head-cam of a man who just happens to be running with the bulls, who has another reason for being in Pamplona. I admire his frankness and his well-developed sense of understanding the delicacies of business, personal and political relationships. 'Overworld' might well be subtitled, 'The Way Things Work'. Thanks for the tour.
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Wikipedia en anglès (1)
A fascinating global journey through the corridors of power with one of the CIA's most trusted spies. This gripping memoir by a former American intelligence operative is a vivid portrait of a spy at every stage of his life and career.Raised in various countries around the world as the son of an American spymaster, Larry Kolb tells how his father taught him to think, look and listen like a spy, and how a friend and colleague of his father attempted to recruit him to the CIA. Kolb declined, choosing instead to become an international businessman. His early success - in his mid-twenties he became an agent for several professional athletes, including Muhammad Ali - brought him into contact with many of the world's wealthiest and most powerful men, making him irresistible to master spy and CIA co-founder, Miles Copeland. When Copeland later tried to recruit him, Kolb accepted, and soon he was involved in covert intrigues in Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Pakistan and India.Peopled by larger than life characters such as Adnan Khashoggi, Imelda Marcos, Rajiv Gandhi and Ronald Reagan, OVERWORLD is a real-life adventure story of the highest order which offers compelling insights into the danger, glamour and psychology of espionage - as well as an extraordinary glimpse into the real corridors of global power.
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Classificació Decimal de Dewey (DDC)327.1273Social sciences Political Science International Relations Foreign policy and specific topics in international relations Espionage and subversion North America United States
LCC (Clas. Bibl. Congrés EUA)
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