Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interview: Ex-counterterrorism Agent Fred Burton

Chasing Shadows:
A Special Agent’s Lifelong Hunt To Bring A Cold War Assassin To Justice
By Mark Young
An assassin lurked in the shadows of a quiet Bethesda, Maryland neighborhood in the summer of 1973, patiently waiting for an Israeli air force colonel to return home from a late-night party. Several blocks away lived 16-year-old Fred Burton, whose neighborhood—until this moment—seemed safe and secure.

The gunman opened fire as Col. Joe Alon exited his car. Moments later, the Israeli war hero lay dead. It would be thirty-seven years later before Burton—a State Department counterterrorism agent and later vice president of a global intelligence company known as the ‘shadow CIA’— could finally offer closure to the surviving Alon family. Plagued by a plethora of unanswered questions, Burton and others attacked this case years later, running down leads across the globe that led to terrorist groups, spies and treachery. They would find that this victim was much more than just a gifted pilot.

Chasing Shadows is a true-case story that is more captivating than any fiction Hollywood might conjure up on the big screen. It was written by coauthors Fred Burton and John Bruning.

MARK: Fred, thanks for returning to Hook’em and Book’em for another look at global terrorism and a fascinating glimpse into a case that took you and others years to uncover. A very tenacious effort. Give our readers a little background about this incident and what it meant to you on a personal level.

FRED:  I tried to stay centered over the years by focusing on the murder, looking for facts and motive.  The FBI destroyed the physical evidence in the case for reasons that remain unclear.  Pretty much everyone connected to the original case was dead. 

We've been successful in getting a Hebrew edition published that I'm very proud of for the victims family.  There was also a short film that coincided with the book done by an Israeli film crew. 

MARK: You coauthored Chasing Shadows with writer and military historian John Bruning. How did the two of you work together to create this captivating book?

FRED:  John is a brilliant military historian that is laser focused on aviation.  I needed his expertise.  The victim was a decorated fighter pilot.

MARK: One of the fascinating parts of your book for me—a Vietnam veteran—was the difficulty the USAF faced with North Vietnamese fighter pilots. I found the behind-scenes relationship between the U.S and Israel equally fascinating. How did you and John acquire this information and tie it into your investigation of Alon’s murder?

FRED:  FBI FOIA reports and John's subject matter expertise on military aircraft.  The original FBI case agent also was extraordinarily helpful.  

MARK: Since we last communicated on this blog, much has happened in the Mideast and northern Africa—Egypt, Syria, Libya and other hot spots. Can you share with us some perspective as to what we might expect to see in the near future from organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood?

FRED:  I think the verdict remains out as groups jockey for power.  The events unfolding in Libya are amazing. 

MARK: Can you give us a little background about the Muslim Brotherhood?

FRED:  In the shifting sands of power in the Middle East, one needs to study the old groups, whether it be the MB, Hezbollah or Black September.     

MARK:  As the events of the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden (OBL) unfolded last spring, I couldn’t help but think about the case detailed in your first book, GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent concerning the capture of terrorist Ramzi Youseff in Pakistan. You made reference in GHOST about the political ramifications you and others faced for keeping the information close to your vest in order to have a chance to capture this man. What were you thoughts about related issues as you watched the OBL news unfold?

FRED:  Mixed emotions.  To be blunt, I would have preferred talking to OBL.  Operationally, I've also learned that one should never second guess the operators in the field.  DevGru (Navy Seal Team 6, official known as Special Warfare Development Group) did a fine job.  Thank goodness our nation has men like that.    I'm also not surprised in the least OBL was hiding in plain sight in Pakistan.  

MARK: I can only imagine what you get involved with as vice president for counterterrorism and corporate security at Statfor. Tells us a little about the services your company  offers.

FRED:  We are an intelligence company that publishes analysis of geo-political events.  I like to say we make sense of the world.  Many of our articles are free and can be found at www.stratfor.com

MARK: Can you tell us a few of the projects you have been involved with through Statfor?

FRED: I've done a great deal of work on cartel violence in Mexico recently, along with interviews for National Geographic TV and The History Channel.   I'm also in a few Gangland productions. 

MARK: Are you planning any more writing projects in the near future?

FRED:  Yes, I'm working on another book about terrorism and have been asked to write a college textbook.   Not sure I have time for the latter, but its humbling to have been asked.    

MARK:Where can readers go to purchase your latest book, CHASING SHADOWS?

FRED:  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any private book store. 

MARK: Thanks again for joining us. We wish you well in your effort with Statfor. Stay safe!

Fred Burton is one of the world’s foremost experts on security, terrorists, and terrorist organizations. He was deputy chief of the Counterterrorism Division of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and is currently a vice president at Stratfor, a global intelligence agency known as the “shadow CIA.” He is the author of GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent and has appeared on The Daily Show, Glenn Beck, Anderson Cooper 360, Fox, ABC, and CBS radio. He has also written for the Los Angeles Times, among others. He lives in Austin, Texas.

John Bruning is a military historian and the coauthor of House To House. He lives in Independence, Oregon.

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