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A True-Life Love Story Between Spies

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A True-Life Love Story Between Spies

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A True-Life Love Story Between Spies

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

CIA agent Dayna Baer was supposed to be going undercover in war-torn Sarajevo, so she was a little surprised when her contact picked her up at the airport in a lime-green station wagon.

Ms. DAYNA BAER (Co-Author, "The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True-Life Spy Story"): (Reading) I think Bob's joking when he points at the station wagon parked out in front of Split Airport, the one we're about to drive into Sarajevo. It's lime green with a tangerine Orangina painted down the side. What's worse, it's right-hand drive, a British box hall(ph). Bosnia, Croatia, everywhere in the Balkans is left-hand drive. It just makes no sense to me, driving a billboard on wheels into a city the Serbs had been pounding with artillery and sniping at since the civil war started in 1992. Does he want to give them something to shoot at?

RAZ: Not the most inconspicuous car for a couple of undercover CIA agents, but Robert and Dayna made it to their safe house intact. And over the next few years, their professional relationship grew into something much, much closer.

Robert and Dayna Baer write about those experiences in their new book. It's called "The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True-Life Spy Story." And they join me now from our studios at NPR West.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. BAER: Thank you.

Mr. ROBERT BAER (Co-Author, "The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True-Life Spy Story"): Great to be here.

RAZ: Let me first make it clear that you were not married to each other; you were married to other people when you first met at the CIA, right?

Ms. BAER: That's correct.

Mr. BAER: It happens so often.

RAZ: And - which we'll talk about. But you guys were at very different points in your careers that day in Sarajevo that we just heard about. Dayna, you were an up-and-coming field agent. Bob, this was almost sort of towards the end of your career. You went to the former Yugoslavia as a kind of a last hurrah.

Mr. BAER: Yes. I had a cloud over my head. I was in - sort of in hiding even within the CIA because I had attempted to assassinate Saddam Hussein in 1995. And I knew that was a cloud that wasn't going to go away.

RAZ: This was an authorized program, but then you were investigated for it.

Mr. BAER: It was absolutely authorized. I mean, I was missing one piece of paper. It was called a memorandum and notification. But that aside, that was a policy, and I tried to conduct an assassination and it was, you know, they stopped it at the last moment.

RAZ: So you went to Yugoslavia. You knew your career was coming to an end because of this investigation. You were eventually cleared, but what were you doing there?

Mr. BAER: We were going after Hezbollah. Hezbollah had attempted to murder the chief in Sarajevo. He was pulled out in the middle of the night.

RAZ: The CIA station chief.

Mr. BAER: The CIA station chief. And we were sent in to go after these guys.

RAZ: This is during the early part of the Bosnian War, right?

Mr. BAER: It was during the civil war, yes.

RAZ: Dayna, what did you make of Bob when you first arrived to Sarajevo? I mean, he was your contact. He was the guy that you were sent to hook up with when you got there.

Ms. BAER: Right. And I, you know, I was actually sent sort of in a support mission, to support whatever his operation was there. And you know, I was new, I was young. He seemed to do everything just contrary to how I was trained.

Mr. BAER: You know, my attitude toward operations, it's the purloin letter: You drive a lime-green car, carry a gun around, you act like a fool, if you want, and people look at you and say, that couldn't possibly be a CIA spy - you know.

RAZ: One of the things in this book that is just amazing is how unplanned your lives are. You're given an assignment, and you go. Both of you had families. Dayna, your husband was in L.A.; Bob, your wife and children were in France. They can't say - they can't ask you how long are you going to be gone, because you can't really give them an answer, right?

Mr. BAER: No. You can't give them an answer. They don't - you'd come home and they wouldn't recognize you. You know, they would sort of run to their mother and say, you know, who is this guy and why is he back and why is he disturbing the equanimity of this family? And you become an outsider. You live in this parallel universe and you come home, and it's tough.

Ms. BAER: Most of the time, in my case, you can't say where you've been or what you're doing. And it really takes the closeness out of a relationship.

RAZ: So much of what you guys did, seems like you had to have kind of a blind faith. Bob, you describe having to cross the border from Syria into Lebanon to meet with some people. You get into a car; you're driven, your contact drives you to the border - over the border. You get out of the car in the middle of the night, there's another car waiting for you; somebody else drives you somewhere else, drops you off somewhere else. I mean, huge risks that you just have to hope everything works out, right?

Mr. BAER: You'd better become fatalistic. You know, you put your life in their hands. You assume that you know which way the politics are going. You have a certain intuitive sense for what's happening politically, and if you don't, you die. Anyhow, I thought I knew what I was doing. And you know, the Syrians took good care of me. They never said a word to me, by the way. Never introduced, never a name, nothing. Old Mercedes, drive the confrontation lines, get picked up by a local militia, driven across Beirut in the middle of shelling, show up at this leader's - and, you know, pass the message to him, which couldn't be done over a phone. And two weeks later, there was a coup.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Robert and Dayna Baer, former CIA agents, and they've written about their experiences in a new book. It's called "The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True-Life Spy Story."

Let me ask you about your work in Iraq, Bob. After - you've been there before, with the CIA. But then you went back, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. You went there as a consultant for ABC News. What happened when you got there?

Mr. BAER: ABC called us up about a couple of weeks before the war started and said, we want to send you into Iraq to contact the Sunni tribes. You're close to them; you've been for years.

RAZ: This is the Dulaim tribe?

Mr. BAER: The Dulaim tribe. And we're going to send a cameraman with you and we're going to photograph this as it happens, as the Americans pass through Iraq. Good plan, but no cameraman with ABC News would go with me, so I turned to Dayna. I said, oh, Dayna's great at cameras.

And we went there. And the last thing we, you know, we were in Amman. And Dayna said: Is this safe, crossing the border - because we had found a Bedouin who was going trade us for 100 sheep to bring us across the border clandestinely into Saddam's Iraq. And I said, it's absolutely safe. I trust these people.

And Jordanian intelligence thought it was a dumb idea and stopped us...

Ms. BAER: Fortunately.

Mr. BAER: ...crossing - yeah, fortunately, because the following night - in fact, I can remember the day; it was 11th of April - the U.S. Air Force hit the house we were supposed to stay in with the Dulaim, killed our hosts, all of our friends. And that was our near-miss in the Iraq War.

RAZ: They thought Saddam Hussein was there.

Mr. BAER: Yes.

RAZ: One of the things you guys talk about is this life in the shadows, that you never get any credit for what you do. I mean, even when you die, chances are no one's ever going to know who you were. Did you ever - Bob or Dayna, did you guys ever do work that you thought eventually contributed to the capture or the killing of a dangerous person?

Ms. BAER: Honestly, I never knew, although there were instances of other people that I worked with that would sort of work in a country for a while, you know, targeting some specific terrorist, and then be asked to leave the country - and you know, several weeks or a month later would hear on the news that the person they were tracking had been captured. So you really are a small spoke in the big wheel of things.

RAZ: Bob?

Mr. BAER: I don't know. It's a good question. I don't know if I contributed anything. I think if you sit back and look at this book, it's a little bit melancholy because you don't really have, you know, the product of your work in front of you. It's not - you're not a craftsman. It's just - you are in the -living with a piece of the truth, and you don't know whether you've really made a difference.

RAZ: That's former CIA Agent Robert Baer and his wife, Dayna. Their new book is called "The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True-Life Spy Story." You can read an excerpt from it at our website, npr.org.

Bob, Dayna, thank you.

Mr. BAER: Thank you.

Ms. BAER: Thank you.

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