Beirut Rules: The Murder of a CIA Station Chief and Hezbollah’s War Against America

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A blurb is a comment written for promotional purposes and is customarily found on the dust jacket. Unvaryingly positive, blurbs are easily overlooked by prospective readers. Those found on Beirut Rules are an exception. The highly regarded former chief of CIA counterintelligence, James Olson, compliments the quality of writing and research while praising the authors for telling an important story. Retired CIA case officer Milt Bearden echoes those thoughts while commending its depth of coverage and its value as a historical document. The late President George H. W. Bush added that the book will “show a new generation the value of a life well lived in the service of country.”

The subject of their praise is William Francis Buckley. Kidnapped by Hezbollah on 16 March 1984, while serving as chief of station Beirut, “he died in a south Beirut dungeon, alone, tortured, savaged, and neglected” 444 days later on 3 June 1985. (185)  Beirut Rules portrays the life stories of Buckley and his principal terrorist kidnapper as they are influenced by competing factions and intelligence services, in the turbulent Middle East.

William Buckley began his unusual government service career by enlisting in the Army, attending officer candidate school, and serving in Korea, where he earned a Silver Star. He then left the Army and attended Boston University. Graduating in 1955 with a degree in government and proficient in French, German and Russian, he was accepted soon after by the CIA. His initial assignments have not been revealed, but after a short period he left the agency to take a job as a librarian and pursue his interest in Revolutionary War history. He would later become a private investigator for F. Lee Bailey, before returning to the Army, where he joined the Special Forces and did a combat tour in Vietnam. There he received a second Silver Star. In 1965, he rejoined the CIA, while remaining in Vietnam until 1972.

The determinant event in Buckley’s CIA career was the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut where many of the 63 dead were CIA officers. A new chief of station was required. Buckley, then serving as deputy to Richard Holm, first chief of the Counter Terrorism Group, was selected, after securing Holm’s recommendation.

The risks associated with the assignment were well known, and Beirut Rules deals with them in depth. The authors also devote considerable space to acquainting the reader with the modus operandi of the terrorists, especially the Iranian backed Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad, led by Imad Mughniyeh. By the time of the kidnapping, efforts to track down Mughniyeh had been under way for years by various actors in the region including the Israelis. At the same time, other hostages held by Hezbollah placed demands on the same agencies.

In February 1985, the Hostage Location Task Force (HLTF) was formed under the auspices of the CIA’s now-Counterterrorism Center (CTC) with members from the FBI and DIA. Its sole mission was to find William Buckley, and it debriefed other hostages when released, looking for clues. Co-author Fred Burton, then serving in the State Department Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), was a member. But the terrorists’ security was effective and the former hostages could only confirm Buckley’s torture and eventual death, but not the location of his grave.

Then on October 5, 1985, the Islamic Jihad publicly announced Buckley’s death, but nothing more. It was not until December 1991, when the Islamic Jihad for its own reasons decided to cooperate, that his body was finally recovered and returned for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Beirut Rules describes the hunt for Imad Mughniyeh and his eventual assassination by unnamed forces, an event that may have brought closure to some, but was only a catalyst for continued terrorism for others.

William Buckley was honored with the 51st star on the Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters.