TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Being in the CIA is hard on a marriage. You can't talk openly to your spouse about your work, and you're often far away from home. Robert and Dayna Baer learned that in their first marriages. They met when they both worked for the CIA and were on a mission in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia.
At the time they were each married to other people. It was only later, when Dayna and Robert were back at Langley, CIA headquarters, that they started seeing each other. They decided to quit the CIA and marry. Robert was a CIA operative who worked in the Middle East. His bestselling memoir, "See No Evil," inspired the film "Syriana," starring George Clooney.
Dayna was a deep-cover agent trained as a shooter and bodyguard. She served in some very dangerous places. Among the things she's not allowed to disclose is how many years she worked for the agency.
Robert and Dayna Baer have co-authored a memoir called "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story."
Dayna Baer, Robert Baer, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tell us how you met, while on assignment for the CIA in Sarajevo.
Ms. DAYNA BAER (Co-author, "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story"): I was actually assigned to work for Bob as part of a - I guess you could call it a support team, technical sorts of activities. And I think we met just as you usually sort of do in the CIA, just at some random restaurant next to the river in Sarajevo.
And he was sitting there smoking a cigar with a bunch of locals. And I came in and I was with another member of my team, and we sort of sat down, and that was sort of the beginning of it.
GROSS: What were your first impressions of each other?
Ms. BAER: Well, I can - I thought he was a little bit on the crazy side. First of all, you know, the last thing I would've done is gone and sit with locals. That was something sort of that - just not supposed to do. You're supposed to sort of stay anonymous and out of the way, and the fact that he was sitting over there chatting in a local language with the locals, yeah, it was - I just thought he was a little bit nutty.
Mr. ROBERT BAER (Co-author, "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story"): I was - when in Sarajevo, I sort of made up my cover as I went along, and I was posing as an arms dealer, and this wasn't approved by Washington, but it seemed to work in Sarajevo in the middle of a civil war.
GROSS: And that's why you were talking to the locals?
Mr. BAER: Yeah, yeah, I just talked to everybody. I used to go out with the politicians. I'd even pretended to, you know, to be looking for arms for them, for tanks and anti-aircraft guns, and I got along well with them.
In Sarajevo you'd start drinking about 11 in the morning, and you just went with the flow.
GROSS: What was the mission when you first met?
Mr. BAER: It was going after Hezbollah. They had targeted the chief of station in Sarajevo for assassination, and our team, Dayna and I, went in to go after them, to find out where their safehouses were, what they were up to, protect the embassy and the station.
Ms. BAER: And my job was sort of supposed to do the tracking of that, technical surveillance.
GROSS: And you say that the government in Bosnia was really a client of Iran?
Mr. BAER: Oh, absolutely. I mean they - the defense minister was an Iranian asset. And so he was essentially reporting to Hezbollah. I mean, we knew this for a fact.
I mean you have to keep in mind, in the early '90s it was the Iranians who were supplying the weapons to the Bosnian Muslims. So they were very much beholden to them.
GROSS: Now, Bob, I don't know how much of, like, an old-school male you are. But what was your reaction seeing Dayna, a woman, as one of the people who was going to be potentially a shooter or a bodyguard for you? Did you have any reservations about that?
Mr. BAER: Not at all. I mean, the CIA by, you know, we're talking the '90s, you know, it wasn't an all-male organization. And, you know, Dayna, she's very modest about it, but women are actually more inconspicuous. She can go into a restaurant, have a Glock in her purse. No one will notice her. If things go bad, she can pull it out and, you know, extract whoever's there or do whatever she has to. And it's harder for a single male to do that.
Dayna, you say once you've, like, shot the gun, once you've had to use a gun, basically the assignment is over. The CIA wants you to never have to use it, never leave any fingerprints...
Ms. BAER: Right, right.
GROSS: ...never use a gun. How often did you have to use a gun in your career?
Ms. BAER: You know, that's another thing I can't specifically say. I can...
GROSS: You mean because the CIA doesn't want you to say or because you lost count?
Ms. BAER: Right.
GROSS: The CIA doesn't want you to say it.
Ms. BAER: The CIA doesn't want you to say. And, you know, I can say there was -there was plenty of times I was glad I had a weapon with me. But at the same time, it's really - you know, carrying a weapon is not - it's not a comfortable thing to do because you're constantly aware that you have it with you, and you're constantly worried that you might get stopped, or you might get searched, and anything like that can just stop your mission cold.
So you know, I carried it when it was required and when that's what the order said. But personally and most everybody I worked with, you'd prefer not to if you didn't have to.
Mr. BAER: Terry, look at this case. I'd like to just interject something. Look at this case in Pakistan where - you know, people are starting to turn against this guy, Ray Davis, who shot the two robbers.
You know, when you've got a Glock - and Dayna can tell you this better than I -you empty it in a second and a half. You don't have time to decide whether the guy's been hit, spun around. You don't - you want to knock the person down, and this is muscle memory. And so we sympathize with this guy in Pakistan in a large sense.
Ms. BAER: Yeah, your training is such that the second you see somebody else, as we've heard or on the news in regards to the Pakistan case, somebody else pointing a weapon at you, you're going to shoot back because it's basically you or them. And your training is so intense in that regard that you probably don't even have a chance to think about it.
So, you know, we have a lot of sympathy towards Ray Davis at this point.
GROSS: Well, since you brought him up, I mean he was contracted by the CIA, but I mean he worked for a private contractor. The CIA has been outsourcing some of its intelligence, and Ray Davis is an example of that. And what's your reaction to the outsourcing of intelligence by the CIA?
Pakistan is very upset about all of this because the CIA officially isn't supposed to be there because we're not officially at war with Pakistan. And also, I think they're upset at the idea of operatives who aren't even officially part of the CIA.
Mr. BAER: Well, you know, let me answer that one. I think this contracting thing is absolutely a catastrophe because the way these countries look at it is Ray Davis was a mercenary. He was working for money.
In their minds, they've got the shooting in Baghdad in which 17 Iraqis were shot down for no reason at all. We just have to get away from this - this insanity.
And so, you know, I can see it from the Pakistani side. If you've got these people making $1,000 a day running around Pakistan with weapons, shooting people, and it's difficult to get the facts out about what really happened in Lahore.
So they're absolutely right in that sense. You know, we've got to get over this. Dayna - I'll let her speak for herself - but you know, she was coming through a system where it was a mentoring system, where she was judged every day, where she'd spent her entire career inside the CIA. And the chances of an unnecessary shooting are much more remote than with a contractor, who will come in for a year or two.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Robert Baer and Dayna Baer. They're now husband and wife. They met when they were both with the CIA. They met in Sarajevo on assignment. And Bob Baer is the author of several bestsellers, including the book that the George Clooney movie "Syriana" was based on. He worked for the CIA from 1976 to 1997.
Dayna, who was trained as a shooter and bodyguard, was with the CIA for a bunch of years, but we can't say exactly from when to when because she's not supposed to say that. She was under deep cover, and I guess some of that deep cover remains in effect.
Now they've co-authored a new book called "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story."
So you met while on assignment in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. How long did it take until you actually started a relationship together?
Ms. BAER: Well, it was several months after we came back from Sarajevo. We ran into each other again at headquarters. It's - you know, the CIA is a huge, big place. And, you know, you're so - we were extremely busy while we were working. The operation sort of ended badly. You know, I just thought never - probably never see this guy again. He worked in a completely different area than I did. It was remote that we'd ever get, you know, by - just by - get sent to the same place again.
So we did run into each other, just walking down the hallway at headquarters several months after that and went to dinner and went on a ski trip to France, and that was about it. After that, we were together from then on.
GROSS: So you know, you were both separated when you met. How difficult is it to maintain a marriage when you're working for the CIA under cover, overseas, going from one assignment to another? When you do come home, you can't talk about your work with your spouse.
Ms. BAER: Oh, it's - you know, my - it's impossible. It's just really, really hard on marriages. In my case, I was on a schedule where I traveled about every - for six weeks I would be gone and then I would be home, if I was lucky, for a week or so. And this went on for years.
And it's just - if you can't - if you can barely tell your spouse where you've been or, you know, what you do or, you know, and you can't tell - the same thing with family. You can barely tell them who you work for. You just really lose that closeness, and it just - it makes it very, very difficult.
GROSS: Bob, you find the same thing?
Mr. BAER: Oh, I found it possible. I mean, you know, I'll be frank. I lost my family, you know, my extended family because I was away so long. I was in alias, gone for years at a time. And they looked at it as in a sense a repudiation of them. They said: Why'd you get up and leave and never called home? And you come back, and they're just gone.
GROSS: So when you started seeing each other, and you were still employed by the CIA, were there certain - well, I mean, what are the CIA rules about agents, you know, having a relationship with each other?
Ms. BAER: You know, it's actually - in some ways it's encouraged because you -you have somebody you can talk to about what you do. You can share things with them. It's much easier to have a relationship with somebody that's inside the CIA versus outside.
GROSS: Well, how much can you talk to them? I mean, if - like you were both in the CIA. You'd worked on one mission together. But there were all these other missions you didn't work on together. Could you tell each other about those missions?
Ms. BAER: Yes, you can to some extent. You know, there's - you know, of course there's this need-to-know policy, where you don't - you're not going to share things that you know are specifically classified to the mission that you're working on.
But it's also just an understanding of what the other person goes through. And it's a shared - there's very much a culture in the CIA. And it's just when you share that with somebody and you know what they can or can't say. It's easier than somebody on the outside.
GROSS: Yeah, sometimes when people start seeing each other who work together, they try to keep it secret for a while because they don't want everybody in the office to know. Did you do that?
Ms. BAER: A little bit, to some extent.
Mr. BAER: We used good tradecraft.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAER: Car pickups, dead drops and the rest of it. You know, in the CIA they say if you can't carry on an affair in secret, you're not worth your salt.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Is it that common that there's sayings about it?
Ms. BAER: Yes.
Mr. BAER: Oh, absolutely.
Ms. BAER: Absolutely.
Mr. BAER: I mean the divorce rate there must be astronomical. You know, they won't - that's a secret too, but I'm sure it is.
GROSS: Dayna, I find the beginning of your life in the CIA very interesting, and I think you're able to write about that perhaps a little more openly than about some other things.
Ms. BAER: Yes.
GROSS: And you write about the training that you had for guns, because you were trained to be a shooter and a bodyguard. Had you ever held a gun before your CIA training?
Ms. BAER: Oh, gosh, I'd held a BB gun when I was a little kid, and that was it.
GROSS: So what was it like for you to get trained knowing someday you might have to use this and shoot somebody? Nothing in your life, I think, had actually prepared you for that?
Ms. BAER: No. No, nothing. But, you know, the training is really good. And you know, it's repetitive, and it takes place over months. And, you know, it wasn't anything I was ready for, but by the end of it, you're very, very comfortable carrying a weapon.
GROSS: So in your training to be a bodyguard, what did you learn to look for in other people?
Ms. BAER: You really learn to watch people's hands and watch people's eyes and watch, you know, people. It's sort of a little bit like you do see in the movies, watch people in the crowd, watch for anything unusual. It's really an observation game in a lot of ways.
GROSS: Before your training as a bodyguard and shooter, you were assigned to screen people who wanted to join the CIA. So you had to call previous employees and friends and family. But you said that the real gold mines were the ex-spouses and ex-lovers. Really? Were they...
Ms. BAER: Oh, they're always willing to spill everything. Yes. It's - you know, if you can find those people who are willing to talk, you really get a better idea of your subject, of who your subject is. And you can gain a lot more information about them and what their personality is like from those people that are really close to them.
GROSS: So you would call somebody up and say: So you were John Doe's girlfriend from 1990 to 1995. He's applied to be in the CIA. Tell us what kind of person he is. Is that how the calls were?
Ms. BAER: Yes, and it's not that you'd really say he's applied to be in the CIA, but he's being considered for a security clearance, which is essentially what your - what my investigation was about.
So yes, yeah, you'd say: What are they like? You know, would you - you'd ask them if they would recommend them to - for a position of trust with the U.S. government. You'd ask them for any derogatory information, any positive information. You just really try to get a complete picture of what the person's like.
GROSS: And people would tell you pretty nasty things?
Ms. BAER: Oh, yes...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BAER: You know, it depends on the person. But - but sure, you know, it's a skill to talk to people and see what they'll - what they'll tell you.
GROSS: While we're talking about previous assignments, Robert Baer, one of your assignments in the CIA was to work with a group of people who were trying to overthrow Gadhafi. Tell us a little bit about the assignment, to the extent that you can, who you were working with, what year this was. I don't know if you could say any of that.
Mr. BAER: This was - yeah, I can. This - Terry, this was in the mid-'80s. I was assigned to Khartoum, Sudan, and I was told to take care of these people that were going to get rid of Gadhafi.
And I didn't know much about them. I'd just gotten to Khartoum, and it was one morning about 4 that there was pounding at my door, and my door was kicked down.
And it was these Libyans. They had beards and robes, and they were carrying Kalashnikovs, and they rushed into my apartment, said, Save us, Gadhafi's going to come murder us.
What had just happened was that their arms depot in Khartoum had been overrun. A couple Milan missiles were taken. So while we were figuring out what to do with these people, how to protect them, I sat with them all night, and what I realized by the morning was that the Reagan administration, which was behind this, was supporting the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood.
And these people described to me how they had tried to kill Gadhafi in 1984 at Aziziya barracks and that none of this was coordinated with the CIA, but what happened was that one morning they woke up and their leader said that he had been visited by Allah and now was the time to kill Gadhafi.
And they commandeered four or five trash trucks and were going to ram them through his front gate. They were so excited they jumped out of the trucks before they were through the gate and there was a battle in Tripoli, and most of them were killed.
And you know, it was funny because there's always been this accusation that we've supported the Muslim Brotherhood, and I'm sitting there listening to this. This conversation's all in Arabic, by the way, and I said: Oh my God, we are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
These are the same groups that are fighting and are in Benghazi right now and that are fighting Gadhafi. You know, this is 30 years later.
GROSS: Did you think that the coup was going to succeed then? I guess it had already failed by the time you got... yeah.
Mr. BAER: You know, I just found the Libyan exiles to be totally unreliable. We could never get any good intelligence out of them. They were - they were mystics as well. They used to boil pages from the Quran, you know, boil ink off and then drink it for inspiration. I mean it was that kind of, you know, weirdness that just wasn't good for - we had no idea whether they could even get to Gadhafi or the rest of it, and this was all politically driven by the White House.
GROSS: Did you ever expect, when you were with the CIA, that there would be a pro-democracy uprising in Egypt that would succeed in overthrowing Mubarak?
Mr. BAER: You want me to be frank?
Mr. BAER: Didn't have a clue.
Mr. BAER: And neither did my Arab friends that have business there, and Egyptians and the rest of it. I keep in good touch with them and this all came as a total surprise - Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, what's going to happen in Saudi Arabia, they all - these are people with investments that spend three or four months of the year in Cairo and Tripoli and it came as a total surprise.
So, you know, I figure if the leadership in these countries didn't see it coming, you know, we as Americans, why should we see it? So, you know, to blame the CIA or blame the Obama administration is just silly.
GROSS: How come the CIA didn't see it?
Mr. BAER: You can't collect intelligence on ephemera, of a Tunisian vendor lighting himself on fire and sparking a revolt. We were vaguely aware and have been aware for a long time that if food prices continue to go up, demographic problems and the rest of it, it's eventually going to crack. But, you know, the way it did crack and how quickly, you just - it's a matter of intuition and you cannot write up intuition and send it to the White House in intelligence reports. It just doesn't wash.
GROSS: Do you think that the CIA has good intelligence on the countries that have had uprisings? I know that you say it's hard to have information on ephemera, and like one-off events that you couldn't predict, but several former CIA agents have complained that we don't have enough on-the-ground operatives who speak the languages in these countries.
Mr. BAER: Well, let me put it this way, Egyptian Arabic is peculiar, a peculiar accent, and it's difficult to learn especially, you know, the familiar Arabic. And it would take an officer two years of studying Arabic, three years on the ground mastering Arabic, and about 10 years to get a grasp of a society like Egypt. That's ideally what happens. You know, it's very difficult for someone to devote a career of 20 years on a single country like Egypt, especially when you've got two wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has just sucked resources and people and - mainly in support of the military and these two countries. So the CIA is truly - the bench strength is very, very thin. And you can see what's happened that this expertise - it's just been drawn away by these two wars and, you know, how you get it back, it'll take years.
GROSS: So, we were talking earlier about how the CIA has a lot of, has outsourced a lot of intelligence to private contractors. In your opinion, is that making matters worse?
Mr. BAER: It makes matters a lot worse because the contractors' intelligence, you see created by them, is thin gruel.
GROSS: Is there any pulling back, once we've headed in that direction, of outsourcing intelligence?
Mr. BAER: We better pull it back or we could - corporatizing, you know, inherently civil service functions is an enormous error. You know, we sort of figured this out in the 19th century. I'm not sure why we can't figure it out now. Look, the CIA, you know, my years it worked absolutely brilliantly in several countries, in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon. I don't see that today. I talk a lot to government people and they are a bit more confused than they were back in those days. The CIA does work when it sticks to classical, you know, espionage with human sources combined with the National Security Agency intercepts and we can get a pretty good picture of what's happening. But if there's crises popping up all over the world and you're moving people around, you know, from South America to Kabul and to Hong Kong or to China, and no one speaks the language, we will be in a bubble that we're going to really pay for, simply not understanding the way the world works.
GROSS: Well, I just think of how overwhelming the job is for the CIA now. I mean there's uprisings in the Middle East. We're still at war in Afghanistan. We're not pulled out, yet, of Iraq. Iraq is still in chaos. Bin Laden is still at large; so is his, you know, his number two, al-Zawahiri. So there's trouble in so many places and so much to keep track of. I mean I know that's a very obvious statement.
Mr. BAER: I think, you know, we're just not, you know, the catch-up ball's not even the word and we're just so far behind understanding these countries and it's happening so fast. I mean you look at Lebanon, you know, it's owned by Hezbollah now. It's the de facto government there. I mean it's not an allied country any longer. You see the Iranians are benefiting this by default. The Sunni world is falling apart. The Saudi royal family is, in a couple weeks now, is going to really be under the gun in terms of street demonstrations, according to what were reading in Facebook. So, you know, it's going to take a big imagination to keep track of this.
GROSS: So, do you expect you're going to be surprised by Iran? And, you know, there was a huge pro-democracy uprising that got put down by the government. But now, you know, seeing the other uprisings; there might be another, do you think something like that stands a chance of ever succeeding in Iran?
Mr. BAER: I think now the street rising in Tehran is a neocon fantasy. I talked to people come of Tehran, it's not quite as bad as the exiles say. Yes, the regime has repressed the street and this Green Revolution, but I think what we're going to see in Iran is a much more stable state and we're going to see the Sunni elite as a failed ruling class and they're going to start collapsing in the Arab Peninsula. I mean they've already started obviously, if you look at Libya and what's happening in Yemen.
The Iranians are counting on the Sunni to fail, including Saudi Arabia. They don't intend to press their advantages. They're just going to wait and take and fill that vacuum, which is going to be, you know, because of the Sunni failure.
GROSS: So do you have divided enthusiasms now? Enthusiasm about pro-democracy movements, but a certain amount of skepticism that in the long run, this is going to make Iran stronger?
Mr. BAER: I'm for these movements. There's been so much oppression, so much corruption in the Middle East that I'm siding with the street, personally. I mean these people have been crushed for a long time. Let them get their chance. At the same time, you know, I'm optimistic. The Iranians, once they, they're feeling more confident about their position in the world, that - they will back away from their radicalism. They'll see that the terrorism of Osama bin Laden, and even Hezbollah's terrorism in the past, doesn't pay off, that they have to sit and wait and be patient. I still believe, and I wrote a book about this, they're going to come to the negotiating table stronger but more reasonable.
GROSS: We're approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and I'd like to hear if you're both thinking that there might be a big dramatic terrorist act planned because al-Qaida loves anniversaries, from what I understand.
Mr. BAER: I think, you know, Terry, that we're fighting the last war. We're fighting 9/11. While were looking for Osama bin Laden, this democratic uprising has taken place in the Middle East. I think, at the same time, that Osama bin Laden, or what's left of al-Qaida, would like to get back on the map, prove they're relevant. So there's always a good possibility. But I think we should all get over this, you know, telling people that al-Qaida's coming, make them afraid. At the end of the day, historically, it's an irrelevant movement, that its day is done. But, yes, you're right, I think they will try something at some point.
Ms. BAER: I agree. I just, I think we have to be vigilant and I just don't think you could realistically think that they won't try.
GROSS: As we were discussing earlier, you met on a mission in Sarajevo. You started a relationship with each other once you got back to CIA headquarters in Langley, and you left the CIA.
Ms. BAER: Yes, we both did.
GROSS: You left the CIA at about the time that you started your relationship, right?
Ms. BAER: Yes. That's correct.
GROSS: How hard is it to move on? For example, Bob, you write: in this business we lie all the time, live with false identities. We suck the lifeblood out of our sources, pillage our contacts. Every arrangement has a twist. Every favor comes with an IOU.
So when you're used to operating with those kinds of ground rules and now you're trying to, like, leave the CIA and start a real commitment to each other - how can you leave a behavior behind like that?
Mr. BAER: Well, you know...
Ms. BAER: It's hard.
Mr. BAER: ...it was, you know, first of all, writing this book is a purgative of, you know, it was great. I mean, you're just telling it like it is, you know? You know, we'd simply have to come out and say, you know, we worked in the CIA, this is what we did, and we don't do it anymore and we don't use people anymore, and we don't have to worry about surveillance or ramming the car in front of us. You have to deprogram yourself. You have to get out of the, you know, get out of that cult.
Ms. BAER: At the same time, that becomes hard, because especially - well, first of all, we moved to Beirut right after we left the CIA, and especially in that part of the world, there's that feeling of, you know, once in the CIA always in. So it's hard to, although you might try to move on yourself, it's the other people that are around you that still think you, you know, wondering about your motivations and what you're doing and why you're in their country. And, you know, Bob kept a lot of contacts all over the world and I think, still to this day, there's people that doubt that we're not still working for the CIA.
Mr. BAER: You wouldn't believe the people that call me up. The king of Bahrain used to call us in Silverton, Colorado looking for advice. We had the head of the Bonanno family in Canada called me up.
GROSS: The crime family?
Mr. BAER: Yes, the crime family, because he was about ready to go to jail for this murder in New York and he thought maybe I had a good idea to keep him out. We had Sly Stallone call us up...
GROSS: And what did you tell him? Wait. Wait.
Mr. BAER: Right.
GROSS: What did you tell Bonanno?
Mr. BAER: I told him there was nothing I could do for him.
Mr. BAER: I mean he'd killed three people in a social club in New York and was being indicted for conspiracy. I mean, he wanted to go to the CIA and tell them listen, if I don't go to jail, I can tell you all sorts of thing about the way the world works and I've got contacts. You know, who knows what he was going to give up not to go to jail. But it just, they couldn't believe that I wasn't, you know, sort of in contact with the director, could call him up and say hey, I've got a deal for you. You know, once you're out of the CIA they, you know, especially me, they don't want to hear from me at all.
Ms. BAER: Yeah. That is another, it's a difficulty about moving on because you're basically, you're in the CIA and it does become your family and you're traveling with people and you're closer to people because, like we talked about before, you can talk about what you do and where you work and where you go. But once you're out, you really lose that and it's cold turkey, because, you know, nobody can talk to you anymore - nobody that's inside can talk to you anymore.
GROSS: Well, at least you had each other, so that must have made it a lot easier.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAER: That's the only thing got us through. Otherwise you feel orphaned. You really do.
GROSS: Sure. So was it hard to stop lying? Was it hard to tell people who you really were? And Dayna, was it hard to stop looking at people's hands to see if they had a gun or a knife or, you know, about to attack?
Ms. BAER: Yes, it's hard, you know, old habits die hard. You really find yourself stuck in those - a lot of those little idiosyncrasies like, you know, sitting in the back of a restaurant so you can watch the door. And we had an incident where somebody called - somebody out of the blue called Bob and wanted to come and visit him in Silverton and I didn't want - we didn't know who this person was and I didn't want to meet him - for Bob to meet this person alone and so I made them meet in a crowded restaurant and I, you know, clandestinely put myself behind the bar so I could keep an eye on it. It's just those little things that you, you know, they become habit.
Mr. BAER: Or well, when we drive, if somebody stops abruptly in front of us, I always look for where I'm going to ram the car, especially if they start to get out of their car, you know.
Ms. BAER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
GROSS: You've never actually done it, have you?
Ms. BAER: Or you make sure...
GROSS: Has that gone too far?
Mr. BAER: Oh, well, they trained us. You know, car starts abruptly...
GROSS: Oh boy.
Mr. BAER: ...you hit the bumper in a certain place, you wait until people put their feet on the ground so they get knocked down. I could see that's going to happen to me one day with the police, you know, an unmarked car is going to stop in front of me and there goes Bob Baer to jail.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAER: Those are the kinds of habits you can't give up.
GROSS: Right. Now you had all these like underworld contacts and terrorist contacts and so on. So did any of them try to make deals with you when you got out of the CIA - business deals or any other kinds of deals?
Mr. BAER: All the time, and we don't have a clue how to make money and we don't know what they're talking about.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAER: And billionaires come to us and they've got some wild proposal and it makes no sense at all. Because we were civil servants. We worked for the American people. We got a fixed salary and that's the way the world looked, you know, you got whatever, $1,200 every two weeks, you know, and that's all we could understand.
Ms. BAER: I think that works different in other countries, too, because they see - other countries see their own government employees as the ones that actually go out and make big business deals after they leave their governments and...
Mr. BAER: Or while they're in.
Ms. BAER: Right. So they look at us like, you know, what do you mean you can't, you know, get us a deal with Lockheed or something like that? They think we're a lot more connected than we are.
Mr. BAER: Yeah, Or there are other people - what normally happens is they call us because they want us to be involved in some coup d'etat...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAER: ...you know, Equatorial Guinea, or - just crazy stuff.
Ms. BAER: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: Like you'd be really helpful to them with that.
Mr. BAER: Exactly. You know, we would assure that it would go wrong.
GROSS: So, I want to bring up the fact that you've - you adopted a baby a couple of years ago.
Ms. BAER: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And you knew that you wanted to try to adopt a baby from the part of the world that you worked in. Yes?
Ms. BAER: Mm-hmm. Yes. Yes.
GROSS: So how did you go about it? I mean adopting a baby is always hard.
Ms. BAER: Oh, exactly. It's hard and it's difficult and it's only getting more so. We, you know, it was basically a lot of research into where could we adopt from? Where could we adopt from? We, like you said, we wanted to do it from someplace we've been to and someplace that we'd hoped we'd go back to eventually. And so it's a matter of, you know, where can you do it? We also wanted to do it independently without an agency, because maybe naively, we thought we had enough contacts that it wouldn't be that difficult.
Ms. BAER: So it was just a lot of research into where could it be done, first of all.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. So what's it like for you to be the mother of a young daughter? Your daughter is two or three now, I think?
Ms. BAER: She's three and a half. Mm-hmm.
Ms. BAER: You know, I can - it's just wonderful. It's joyous. It's wonderful. She's just a delight. It's strange to become a family, become three of us, because Bob and I were together for quite a while, just the two of us. It's hard at the same time to be a mom, an older mom, you know, but I can't say enough good things about it.
GROSS: Bob, you had three children with your first, your first wife.
Mr. BAER: I had three children.
GROSS: And you were gone most of that time because you were on assignment for the CIA.
Mr. BAER: I was gone the entire time. I was in Beirut. I was in Khartoum. I was in Iraq. I was gone. It was convenient to say that I was doing something very important and they would understand one day, and I probably wasn't doing all that much that made a difference, but the way they looked at it, they just, they don't forgive you.
GROSS: So is this like a second chance for you to be a father?
Mr. BAER: Absolutely a second chance.
Mr. BAER: Yeah. And I was worrying about myself, but now it's working.
GROSS: Do you still have a certain yearning for adventure that you have to fulfill in your daily life?
Ms. BAER: I think so. It's sort of grabs a hold of you. I, you know, we ski, we do a lot of backcountry skiing and we took up ice hockey and Bob does some ice climbing. And yes, yes, you...
Mr. BAER: We race avalanches in the winter.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.
Mr. BAER: Thanks. It was great.
Ms. BAER: Thank you.
GROSS: Robert and Dayna Baer wrote the new book "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story." You can read a excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.
Coming up, John Powers reviews a digitally restored DVD and Blu-ray edition of the 1957 film "Sweet Smell of Success," starring Burt Lancaster as a corrupt gossip columnist and Tony Curtis as a press agent.
This is FRESH AIR.