The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee. November 1, 2016. Berkley, 304 p. ISBN: 9781592409006. Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 1200.
The thrilling, true-life account of the FBI’s hunt for the ingenious traitor Brian Regan—known as the Spy Who Couldn’t Spell.
Before Edward Snowden’s infamous data breach, the largest theft of government secrets was committed by an ingenious traitor whose intricate espionage scheme and complex system of coded messages were made even more baffling by his dyslexia. His name is Brian Regan, but he came to be known as The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell.
In December of 2000, FBI Special Agent Steven Carr of the bureau’s Washington, D.C., office received a package from FBI New York: a series of coded letters from an anonymous sender to the Libyan consulate, offering to sell classified United States intelligence. The offer, and the threat, were all too real. A self-proclaimed CIA analyst with top secret clearance had information about U.S. reconnaissance satellites, air defense systems, weapons depots, munitions factories, and underground bunkers throughout the Middle East.
Rooting out the traitor would not be easy, but certain clues suggested a government agent with a military background, a family, and a dire need for money. Leading a diligent team of investigators and code breakers, Carr spent years hunting down a dangerous spy and his cache of stolen secrets.
In this fast-paced true-life spy thriller, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee reveals how the FBI unraveled Regan’s strange web of codes to build a case against a man who nearly collapsed America’s military security.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language
Booklist (September 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 2))
In his first book, Bhattacharjee, who writes for Science, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, will leave readers wondering whether classified information from the U.S. government is always vulnerable to being sold, for the right price. Before Edward Snowden’s data breaching or Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, Brian Regan, a former American intelligence specialist, committed one of the most massive acts of espionage in American history, by selling U.S. classified and secret information to foreign governments. But, because Regan was arrested shortly before September 11, 2001, Bhattacharjee argues, his extraordinary story has never fully been told. Bhattacharjee now writes the true tale of the dyslexic man who became known as “the spy who couldn’t spell” and the FBI special agent who, along with a team of experts, identified Regan’s illegal activities, tracked his steps, and broke into his coded messages and letters (which were often riddled with misspellings). Readers interested in spy thrillers, cybercryptology, and the history of U.S. espionage will find this book to be both entertaining and helpful in understanding today’s complex landscape of leaked classified information.
Publishers Weekly (September 19, 2016)
Journalist Bhattacharjee skillfully touches all the bases in recounting the story of Brian Regan, who pilfered reams of top secret information from his job at the National Reconnaissance Office and offered to sell them to foreign governments. Regan stole more secrets than Edward Snowden would over a decade later, but few have heard of him because he was quickly caught and imprisoned. Bhattacharjee covers Regan’s unsatisfactory life. He was mired in debt and unpopular at the NRO. In 1999, after studying the techniques of other spies, Regan concocted a bizarre scheme. The result: in 2000 the Libyan consulate received three separate letters containing a sample of secret documents and pages of codes that, when deciphered, described his offer. Sadly for Regan, an informant forwarded them to the FBI, who soon identified him through bad spelling and several clumsy errors. Regan’s arrest was straightforward. Far more difficult was recovering his immense buried cache of documents and other materials, because he had forgotten many of the complex codes needed to locate them. Readers may skim the explanations of Regan’s codes, but they will thoroughly enjoy this fast-moving account of a failed spy who, despite his incompetence, easily filched thousands of secrets.
About the Author
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is an award-winning writer whose features and essays on espionage, cybercrime, science and medicine have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Wired and other U.S. magazines. Yudhijit spent 11 years as a staff writer at the weekly journal Science, writing about neuroscience, astronomy and a variety of other topics in research and science policy. His work has been anthologized in the Best American Science and Nature Writing series. Yudhijit has an undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and a master’s in journalism from The Ohio State University. He lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with his wife, his two children and a big red dog.
His website is www.yudhijit.com.
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