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The thrilling, true-life account of the FBI s hunt for the ingenious traitor Brian Regan known as....


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The thrilling, true-life account of the FBI s hunt for the ingenious traitor Brian Regan known as....

30 review for The Spy Who Couldn't Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI's Hunt for America's Stolen Secrets

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jody McGrath

    This is the story of Brian Regan, an ex-military man working for the NRO, who decided to sell classified information to Libya, Iraq, Iran, and China. It is also the story of the joint effort of the FBI, CIA, NRO, NSA, and various other agencies who assisted in the capture and conviction of Regan, as well as the retrieval of all of the classified information which had been taken. This is a non-fiction story, but don't let that fool you into thinking it is going to be a dry telling of facts. This b This is the story of Brian Regan, an ex-military man working for the NRO, who decided to sell classified information to Libya, Iraq, Iran, and China. It is also the story of the joint effort of the FBI, CIA, NRO, NSA, and various other agencies who assisted in the capture and conviction of Regan, as well as the retrieval of all of the classified information which had been taken. This is a non-fiction story, but don't let that fool you into thinking it is going to be a dry telling of facts. This book read like a spy novel. It also reminded me of "Catch Me if You Can." It is riveting. It changes throughout the story to tell the story of Regan, and the story of the men and women tasked with catching him. It was riveting! There is a lot of information given in this book that could be difficult to understand, but Mr. Bhattacharjee gave the hard stuff to the reader in small easy to understand sections. He didn't attempt to dump it all on the reader at once, which made it much easier to follow. I highly recommend this book to fiction and nonfiction fans alike. Don't forget to read the acknowledgement at the end of the book. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking. * I voluntarily read an Advance Reader Copy of this book and have given an honest review *

  2. 5 out of 5

    Vikki

    This book should have been called Mr. 80% or The Spy Who Constantly Sabotaged Himself With His Own Ineptitude. This book detailed the life of a man who was constantly made fun of and considered stupid by his peers throughout his life so he tries to get himself out of debt and get back at everyone by stealing Top Secret information from the NRO and Interlink to sell to other countries. It does go into all the research he did on past spies and his gift for encryption and breaking codes which was r This book should have been called Mr. 80% or The Spy Who Constantly Sabotaged Himself With His Own Ineptitude. This book detailed the life of a man who was constantly made fun of and considered stupid by his peers throughout his life so he tries to get himself out of debt and get back at everyone by stealing Top Secret information from the NRO and Interlink to sell to other countries. It does go into all the research he did on past spies and his gift for encryption and breaking codes which was really interesting. Unfortunately he kept making thoughtless mistakes like leaving the Internet browser with embassy locations up on a public computer (and not clearing the browsing history) when he thought he was being followed by the FBI and leaving sticky notes with his name on them on the info he wanted to sell to foreign governments when he wanted to remain anonymous. This case should have made the government look at how easy it was to steal top secret government info and fix the loopholes in their security to prevent it from happening in the future but of course this did not happen. I received an advanced copy of this book from Penguin's First to Read Program with no requirement to review book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    martin eden

    I bought this book because of its cover! It is cleverly done even if I was not really aware of it when I bought it actually. I just thought that it was a beautiful, intriguing book cover. I will come to it later... So it's a book about Brian Regan, better known as the spy who couldn't spell because of his dyslexia. It covers three aspects: the investigation, how American secret organisations work, and Regan's life and personality and especially his dyslexia which was overwhelming. He actually bec I bought this book because of its cover! It is cleverly done even if I was not really aware of it when I bought it actually. I just thought that it was a beautiful, intriguing book cover. I will come to it later... So it's a book about Brian Regan, better known as the spy who couldn't spell because of his dyslexia. It covers three aspects: the investigation, how American secret organisations work, and Regan's life and personality and especially his dyslexia which was overwhelming. He actually became his dyslexia because of his parents, teachers, schoolmates and later his colleagues. Dyslexia is not only about speech and writing, it's also about organizing things, making things and thinking on a daily basis. So a real challenge! Yudhijit Bhattacharjee made a great job! It was fascinating! It is very well written: the three aspects are intermingled and so it's never boring. Even if we know Regan was arrested and condemned, we want to know how things happened. We are even torn between two feelings: wanting the FBI to catch Regan and decipher the codes and wanting Regan to be released (I was so sorry sometimes for him!). Chapters 3 and 4 are captivating because we dive into his life and character. I also liked reading about the codes. So the cover: it represents one sheet of paper with codes written by Brian Regan. The title, the subtitle and the author's name are highlighted with felt-tip markers. J'ai acheté ce livre à cause de sa couverture: j'étais intriguée et je la trouvais tout simplement belle, originale. C'est l'histoire de Brian Regan condamné pour espionnage, il a été surnommé "l'espion qui ne savait pas écrire" à cause de sa dyslexie. Le livre couvre trois aspects: l'enquête, les organisations secrètes américaines et la vie et la personnalité de Brian Regan. Nous apprenons donc qu'il était dyslexique, que cette particularité va lui pourrir la vie. Ses parents, sa famille, ses profs, ses camarades de classe puis ses collègues le considèrent tout simplement comme attardé. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee a fait un super travail: le livre est passionnant! C'est très bien écrit: les trois aspects s'entremêlent et on ne s'ennuie jamais. On connait la fin, on sait très bien que Regan a été arrêté et condamné mais on veut savoir comment les choses se sont déroulées. Et là où l'auteur est un génie, c'est qu'on se surprend à être partagé entre deux sentiments: vouloir que le FBI arrête Regan et décode ces documents et vouloir que Regan soit libéré. les chapitres 3 et 4 sont fascinants, nous plongeons dans la vie et le caractère de Regan. Les chapitres sur le décodage des documents sont aussi très intéressants! La couverture: je me suis rendue compte au cours de ma lecture qu'il s'agissait d'un document codé par Regan! Le titre, le sous-titre et le nom de l'auteur sont surlignés au marqueur fluo, comme dans les dossiers à étudier!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    4 Stars for The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell (audiobook) by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee read by Robert Fass. This was an interesting story. I especially liked some of the details about dyslexia. Who knew a bad speller could get in so much trouble. The narration was fine too.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marjorie

    This is a very interesting book about an American spy, Brian Regan, who was known as the Spy Who Couldn’t Spell. Regan wasn’t the typical spy. Most people thought of him as not being very intelligent, mostly due to his dyslexia. But he was able to amass an amazingly large bulk of highly sensitive intelligence and turned out to be a brilliant cryptologist. Steven Carr is the dedicated FBI agent hot on his trail. The book is written in a journalistic style and is very easy to read and understand. I This is a very interesting book about an American spy, Brian Regan, who was known as the Spy Who Couldn’t Spell. Regan wasn’t the typical spy. Most people thought of him as not being very intelligent, mostly due to his dyslexia. But he was able to amass an amazingly large bulk of highly sensitive intelligence and turned out to be a brilliant cryptologist. Steven Carr is the dedicated FBI agent hot on his trail. The book is written in a journalistic style and is very easy to read and understand. I found the spy hunt to be a fascinating one. I also enjoyed the author’s reconstruction of Regan’s childhood and upbringing in an effort to create an understanding of how a spy was born. Not quite as fascinating was the prosecution of Regan but it still kept me interested. This is not written as a thriller but is more a methodic, years long hunt for a spy. It’s well written and I found it quite frightening to see how easy it was for Regan to accumulate America’s secrets and how willing he was to sell those secrets to our enemies. I felt much anger at Regan and his desire to betray his country for money and found nothing in his history to give me any sympathy for him. Congratulations to all those who brought this ignoble spy down. This book was given to me by the publisher through First to Read in return for an honest review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ammar

    What a journey into the labyrinth of the NSA, NRO, the CIA , the FBI. The story of a loner, a lone wolf with the aid of technology was able to pull one of the largest solo operations in The history of modern espionage. It sucked that he couldn't spell...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    audiobook that tells the story of a disgruntled U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst who used his cipher skills to almost pull off an incredible intelligence theft and attempted sale of classified documents. The author discusses the spy’s background and details the tedious work of the FBI in tracking him down. It was an intelligence agency’s nightmare: having a mole in your own agency. The FBI received a package containing several letters in a sophisticated cipher but when deciphered were marked audiobook that tells the story of a disgruntled U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst who used his cipher skills to almost pull off an incredible intelligence theft and attempted sale of classified documents. The author discusses the spy’s background and details the tedious work of the FBI in tracking him down. It was an intelligence agency’s nightmare: having a mole in your own agency. The FBI received a package containing several letters in a sophisticated cipher but when deciphered were marked by numerous misspellings. Those errors proved to be Brian Regan’s undoing. The FBI agent who doggedly pursued him was Steven Carr, and the methods used to track him are straight out of the best espionage/police procedural novels. Regan was a retired Air Force Master Sergeant whose dyslexia and ineptitude with social skills made him an almost perfect spy and he was viewed as the least likely person to be involved in such a scheme. One of eight children, he had been bullied and mistreated most of his childhood, considered stupid by most of his teachers because of his dyslexia. Steven Carr, his FBI antagonist, was a devout Catholic who considered his mission to track down Regan as a spiritual assignment. Once they had identified their suspect, the FBI had to build a case, and here another of the ironies appeared. The agent who broke Regan’s ciphers had a disability himself, one that prevented him from doing arithmetic functions and math, a form of dyscalculia. He was really good at word problems but doing straight arithmetic and polynomial functions was very difficult. He was superb, however at pattern recognition and was discovered while taking a class from a postal inspector who told the clasExcellents to ignore some codes because they are insoluble. He took it as a challenge and deciphered the codes during class. First, though, to get into the FBI he had to get a college degree and it was only with the help of a very understanding math instructor (probably at a community college) that he managed to pass the math requirement. Something I have emphasized over and over to my friends is to never, ever, ever, put anything into a digital document or email you don’t want the world to see. In spite of Regan’s having formatted his HD and deleted documents, they were, of course, all recoverable, including multiple versions of letters he had written. (The only way to truly protect yourself -- short of using a hammer to smash and fire to melt -- is to use a program that writes over your HD with multiple passes using gibberish.) I love books about codes and ciphers so I liked the sections where Bhattacharjee discusses Regan’s system in some detail. Others may prefer the human aspects of the characters. For me it was a perfect mix and a very enjoyable book, difficult to put down. What was astonishing was how easy it was for Regan to steal highly classified material. Then again government has a tendency to over-classify material which perhaps leads people to be careless with the stuff. That he was discovered at all was a fluke, and the letters deciphered only because the letters happened to be delivered at the same time. Riveting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Redundant. It was researched in massive detail but poorly assembled, IMHO. Far more detail of excess information about the perp's character and personality, his pure greed- than about the whys of the incompetence of the FBI to unearth this kind of insider duplicity. The story needed better editing for the sharp continuity of the traitor's escalating progressions. This was an event type and a report for this perp that went quite under the radar for that 9/11 era. As opposed to 2015 or 2016 when le Redundant. It was researched in massive detail but poorly assembled, IMHO. Far more detail of excess information about the perp's character and personality, his pure greed- than about the whys of the incompetence of the FBI to unearth this kind of insider duplicity. The story needed better editing for the sharp continuity of the traitor's escalating progressions. This was an event type and a report for this perp that went quite under the radar for that 9/11 era. As opposed to 2015 or 2016 when leaking state secrets, tech- all kinds of informational materials in high USA governmental (FBI, CIA, State Dept.) have become common place incompetence displayed. And when caught or positioned with grave questions of obvious leakage, extremely little consequence. Seems to me, that the FBI especially, is far, far behind the times for skill sets. Frankly, I'm skeptical about most any "sure" information that they attest is one way known or in declaration of director in "truth". There are too many long term bureaucracy types in situational permanence to politico loyalties and agendas and the evidence is clear that the result of those associations have reversed reports. Up is often down, and vice versa. After the first facts of declaration. It's happened over and over. Not just redefining terms but situational "reality" in media reports. This case was interesting but this particular culprit self-defeating. I'm not so sure I believe he was all that to begin with. And the style of the telling lacks. Especially in logical time and continuance progressions.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell is a chronicle of the case of Brian Regan, a government employee who attempted to sell top secret information to other countries. Regan, who had run up thousands of dollars in credit card debt, had stolen over 800 pages of top secret classified information from various branches including the CIA and the U.S. Military. With a strong background in cryptology, Regan encoded all of his communications and was successful enough in his anonymity that when the FBI received on The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell is a chronicle of the case of Brian Regan, a government employee who attempted to sell top secret information to other countries. Regan, who had run up thousands of dollars in credit card debt, had stolen over 800 pages of top secret classified information from various branches including the CIA and the U.S. Military. With a strong background in cryptology, Regan encoded all of his communications and was successful enough in his anonymity that when the FBI received one of his packages from a source, a massive manhunt was conducted throughout the FBI, CIA, NSA and NRO to ascertain the leak of information. However the one thing that eventually led to Regan was the one thing he couldn’t plan for, his dyslexia. Author Yudhijit Bhattacharjee does a fantastic job of documenting this interesting case in a straightforward and highly readable way. Told from both the point of view of the FBI agents investigating it and Brian Regan, it reads like a real life spy hunt with all of its complexities, dead ends and unknowns. Bhattacharjee also provides an interesting history of the older cryptology that influenced Regan and then breaks down Regan’s highly complex code in laymen’s terms. A quick and enjoyably informative read. Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Penguin Random House through their First To Read Program in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Canaves

    This read like a great spy novel/movie except it was true. In those parts where I was shaking my head thinking this is too unbelievable I was quickly reminded this happened. This takes you into the world of a man who spent his life feeling he had to prove his intelligence, so once he felt his life sinking, he decided to save himself by concocting a plot you'd only see in a spy movie. Unlike fiction you actually get to see the true process the FBI has to go through when they suspect a traitor amo This read like a great spy novel/movie except it was true. In those parts where I was shaking my head thinking this is too unbelievable I was quickly reminded this happened. This takes you into the world of a man who spent his life feeling he had to prove his intelligence, so once he felt his life sinking, he decided to save himself by concocting a plot you'd only see in a spy movie. Unlike fiction you actually get to see the true process the FBI has to go through when they suspect a traitor amongst them. And the history bits about codes, and the puzzle solving were really interesting. I recommend to both fiction/non-fiction readers--especially spy lovers, and anyone looking for a mystery without violence. --from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: Calling Veronica Mars Fans, Marcia Clark's New Series, And More Mystery/Thrillers

  11. 4 out of 5

    Zivile

    I received this book through Penguin's First to Read program. Never thought I would be so interested in such spy story. The difference is that it's a real story that happened so recently. It might scare you just the thought that there are people who might initiate a new war just because they need more money to support their lifestyles. Really makes you think more about the consumerism culture we are encouraging. And what makes this book a very interesting read is that you are filled in with vario I received this book through Penguin's First to Read program. Never thought I would be so interested in such spy story. The difference is that it's a real story that happened so recently. It might scare you just the thought that there are people who might initiate a new war just because they need more money to support their lifestyles. Really makes you think more about the consumerism culture we are encouraging. And what makes this book a very interesting read is that you are filled in with various interesting details about cryptology history, people's backgrounds, who were working on the case, even main antagonist's life was depicted from objective point of view.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    In the late 90s, a disgruntled U.S. intelligence analyst named Brian Regan decided to solve his financial problems by stealing reams of top secret information and selling it to Libya for millions. He was caught before any information could fall into non-American hands, and sentenced to life in prison. Regan's story has long been a footnote in stories about his more effective successors, Snowden and Manning, simply by virtue of the far larger quantity of materials that he stole. Yudhijit Bhattach In the late 90s, a disgruntled U.S. intelligence analyst named Brian Regan decided to solve his financial problems by stealing reams of top secret information and selling it to Libya for millions. He was caught before any information could fall into non-American hands, and sentenced to life in prison. Regan's story has long been a footnote in stories about his more effective successors, Snowden and Manning, simply by virtue of the far larger quantity of materials that he stole. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee thought him worthy of a story in his own right, and Regan's life and choices do have the makings of a good yarn. The son of a large, poor Irish immigrant family, Regan was mocked as a kid for his social awkwardness and his dyslexia, and physically abused by an alcoholic father. The army was Regan's way out of the working-class Long Island neighbourhood where he grew. He enlisted, found that his dyslexia gave him an advantage in pattern recognition work, and met and married a woman whom he met while stationed in Europe. Yet true success and promotion eluded him. His colleagues didn't respect him; he was a binge drinker and serial adulterer; he racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt but refused to stop spending. And so he began to download information from the intranet of America's intelligence agencies, and came up with an incredibly complex cipher in which to encode information that he offered up first to Gadaffi's regime. It's jaw-dropping how much information such a bumbler was able to make off with, and how close he came to success. It's also jaw-dropping to see just how poor the security is at the various U.S. national intelligence agencies, and the mistakes that they committed over and over again. Bhattacharjee tells his tale at a brisk pace with an eye for good detail, and The Spy Who Couldn't Spell is the kind of book you can easily down while travelling. Yet it could have been a better book if you didn't get the sense that Bhattacharjee felt he had to pull his punches when it came to criticising the FBI, whether because he didn't want to lose access to sources or out of political convictions. I couldn't quite work out if this passage, when the agents were trying to guess Regan's banking pass code: Given Regan's Irish background, Carr thought 3 was more likely [to be the numerical significance of the word 'stool']. The classic Irish milking stool—used for sitting down by a cow's udder to milk it—has three legs, not four. was testimony to poor and reductive phrasing on Bhattacharjee's part, or if it was actually representative of the kind of "logic" regularly employed on such investigations. If the latter, then let me say wow, and also, as an Irishwoman, the fuck? Regan was born in Queens. This stuff isn't genetic. Bhattacharjee also spends a lot of time on how Regan's admittedly awful upbringing primed him to commit this kind of act, but completely ignores any of the roles which gender expectations had to play—and if ever a man could be discussed under the rubric of "toxic masculinity", it's Brian Regan.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)

    Fascinating.....

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    You might be amazed at the number of Americans who have been convicted of spying against the United States over the past century. I certainly was. Wikipedia catalogs a total of 67. Nearly half that number (32) had committed espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Another five spied for Russia, including former CIA officer Aldrich Ames and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. But when Americans think about treason, the names that are most likely to surface are Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Of You might be amazed at the number of Americans who have been convicted of spying against the United States over the past century. I certainly was. Wikipedia catalogs a total of 67. Nearly half that number (32) had committed espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Another five spied for Russia, including former CIA officer Aldrich Ames and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. But when Americans think about treason, the names that are most likely to surface are Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Of course, Snowden was never tried for any offense, and Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act by sharing classified and sensitive documents with WikiLeaks, not with any foreign power. The name Brian Patrick Regan is little remembered. Yet just after the turn of this century Regan "pulled off the biggest heist of classified information in the annals of American espionage" before Edward Snowden. He was "the first spy to exploit digital access to American defense secrets on a massive scale." Regan's theft of documents in 1999-2001 from the CIA, NSA, and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), his employers, represented a bigger threat to American security than anything that had occurred in the 20th century. (Some might argue that the theft of atomic secrets in the 1940s was more serious, but the Americans convicted of espionage for that crime were minor players compared to German physicist Klaus Fuchs, who was tried and convicted in Britain, not the US.) Journalist Yudhijit Bhattacharjee tells Regan's amazing story in a spellbinding book, The Spy Who Couldn't Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI's Hunt for America's Stolen Secrets.  Technically, Regan was convicted of attempted espionage, because he never succeeded in transferring any secret documents to the three countries he hoped would enrich him: Libya, Iraq, and China. He had downloaded and printed thousands of pages of documents and stolen top secret training videos. He had also pilfered a guide to all US surveillance satellites that alone could have compromised American security for decades. As Bhattacharjee so deftly illustrates, Regan failed to score the millions of dollars he sought because he simply wasn't as smart as he thought he was. The Spy Who Couldn't Spell is a blow-by-blow description of the frustrating and protracted investigation spearheaded by the FBI. The author enlivens his tale with colorful detail, not just from Regan's life but from that of several of the investigators at the FBI, the NSA, and the NRO. Ultimately, the key to their success was the elaborate cryptographic system Regan developed to hide his activities—a system that was so convoluted that Regan himself couldn't remember how to decode critical portions of it. Bhattacharjee relates the finely detailed technical work that lay at the center of the investigation, and he does so in a lively manner. The book reads much like a novel. The FBI's talent, dedication, and elbow grease notwithstanding, Regan was caught because the government got lucky. In his first effort to approach a foreign government, he had naively mailed several documents and a coded cover letter to the Libyan Embassy. An FBI informer snagged the package there and forwarded it to the Bureau. Otherwise, Regan's scheme might well have gone undetected. He later made other big mistakes. But it's highly unlikely the FBI would have become aware of them. That package intended for Muammar Gadaffi was his undoing.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scull17

    I received a copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways. A very engaging account of the FBI’s hunt for stolen government secrets. The thief, Brian Regan, was working with “Top Secret” clearance at the NRO (a US intelligence-gathering agency so secretive and shadowy, the American public did not know of its existence for decades) when he decided to sell classified intelligence to Libya, Iraq, Iran, and China: an act of treason that could have had a devastating and deadly impact on American military I received a copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways. A very engaging account of the FBI’s hunt for stolen government secrets. The thief, Brian Regan, was working with “Top Secret” clearance at the NRO (a US intelligence-gathering agency so secretive and shadowy, the American public did not know of its existence for decades) when he decided to sell classified intelligence to Libya, Iraq, Iran, and China: an act of treason that could have had a devastating and deadly impact on American military and compromised the security of the US itself. Bad as that was, his reasoning behind the crime he was committing was also misguided; unlike some spies who were motivated to become moles in the first place because of political or nebulous moral issue against the US, Regan was doing it solely for money. So why do I still feel sorry for this traitor? Perhaps it’s the underdog against The Man aspect of the book; perhaps it’s Regan’s unhappy childhood: the bullies, the abusive alcoholic father, the humiliations he suffered due to dyslexia (the stigma following him well into adulthood where coworkers brushed him off as stupid and slow) and his own efforts even as a child to compensate for the disorder; perhaps it’s his own lawyers’ decision to ironically use his learning disability as a defense during his trial: telling the jury their client is too stupid to possibly pull off a sophisticated and difficult espionage; perhaps it’s the harsh sentence in the end. Lastly, I recommend that people read the “Acknowledgments” section of this book; typically this part is just a whole bunch of names where authors thank everybody and their momma; it’s almost like actors when they win an Academy Award: they go up on stage, then subsequently go on and on and on about every person they’ve ever known since the day they were born. Anyway this is not that. We learn in this section the tragic yet inspiring fate of the lead investigator in the case against the spy who couldn’t spell.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Narumon

    I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. This book was easy to read without going into a lot of details about anything. Given the subject matter the book deals with - espionage - it makes sense that Bhattacharjee would err on the side of caution and only write superficially about the most interesting bits of the story. However, the lack of details or in-depth analysis meant I felt very detached from what should be an exciting story. I'm still not quite sure if Bhattacharjee was able to in I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. This book was easy to read without going into a lot of details about anything. Given the subject matter the book deals with - espionage - it makes sense that Bhattacharjee would err on the side of caution and only write superficially about the most interesting bits of the story. However, the lack of details or in-depth analysis meant I felt very detached from what should be an exciting story. I'm still not quite sure if Bhattacharjee was able to interview Regan and tell the story from his POV, or if most of the book relied on case files and impressions of people around Regan. This meant that I was never as invested in any of the people in this story as I wanted to be and there was no in-depth discussion of either cryptology, the history of espionage, or an analysis of what would drive people like Regan to betray their country (aside from needing money and wanting to prove that he could). The book had the potential to be a wild ride with lots of opportunities to educate the public on cryptology, the social-political environment around 9/11, and even just what would drive someone to betray their country, but unfortunately the story fell short of it for me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    B. Factor

    An overly detailed description of how the FBI caught Brian Regan, an NRO employee/contractor who attempted to sell US secrets to Libya, Iraq, and China circa 2000. It's well written and explains Regan's motivations (primarily to get money to pay down his credit card debt). Despite their successful prosecution of Mr. Regan, I'm left with the impression that US counterintelligence is incompetent and the US intelligence community has no effective safeguards against the insider threat.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Somehow I wanted this book to be more sympathetic to Regan. It just seemed overly one-sided and I'm old enough to know that nothing is that simple, especially in criminal proceedings.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rick Brose

    This was a fascinating book. I enjoyed the insight into the investigation process the most. It was interesting to see the way the security agencies worked, and some of the personnel involved were impressive. I also liked that the book was told in a narrative style, making it feel less like a history lesson and more like a story. There was too much time spent on certain topics and the writing was a bit loose, but it was still a worthwhile read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This was a Great book! Fascinating, very well written. I could see it being made into a movie!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Simone

    This story was very interesting! I didn't know about this before the book. I'm a math person who studied very basic cryptography and there were times where the author would describe certain technical things that I found that to be dry. It didn't happen that often.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    The story of a dyslexic, office drone (in a spy agency) turned wannabe-foreign-spy is almost too ridiculous to believe. And yet parts of the book were so boring, I skimmed them. I don’t want the background of every single investigator in the case. I don’t want the history of cryptology and code-breaking. If you do want a deep dive into this unbelievable case and ALL of the players and ALL of the codes, I think you’ll love it. Clearly-explained , thoroughly-researched and fast-moving (when descri The story of a dyslexic, office drone (in a spy agency) turned wannabe-foreign-spy is almost too ridiculous to believe. And yet parts of the book were so boring, I skimmed them. I don’t want the background of every single investigator in the case. I don’t want the history of cryptology and code-breaking. If you do want a deep dive into this unbelievable case and ALL of the players and ALL of the codes, I think you’ll love it. Clearly-explained , thoroughly-researched and fast-moving (when describing the actual plot), this book was fun in parts. READ HARDER: A BOOK OF NONVIOLENT TRUE CRIME

  23. 4 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    This is a story that could not be fictionalized, no one would believe it. But as non-fiction, it's a great story, following the plotting and (almost) execution of a spy scheme, and then catching the would-be spy, making a solid court case for prosecution, and the aftermath of trying to tie up all the loose ends of classified materials that needed to be recovered. Lots of secret codes and Dan Brown-esque details.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    A very detailed account of the investigation to find the person who sent coded letters offering to sell high-level U. S. intelligence (military secrets) to foreign governments. Some of the book was very dry. It was based on interviews with a number of people in the intelligence community after the spy was captured. I learned a lot about code breaking -- sometimes in excruciating detail.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    Very interesting story I did not know about a guy who was charged with espionage around 2001. There are some fun cryptography bits in the book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jerrod

    While at times offering a bit too much detail (especially when it comes to explaining codes and ciphers), The Spy Who Couldn't Spell is a generally well-paced account of how a low level intelligence officer (Brian Regan) was able to breach security in a massive way. The thing that interest me most is the incompetence on both sides of the story (at least of the agencies' preventive measures). On the government side, those with access to Intelink could look at whatever they wanted (presumably up t While at times offering a bit too much detail (especially when it comes to explaining codes and ciphers), The Spy Who Couldn't Spell is a generally well-paced account of how a low level intelligence officer (Brian Regan) was able to breach security in a massive way. The thing that interest me most is the incompetence on both sides of the story (at least of the agencies' preventive measures). On the government side, those with access to Intelink could look at whatever they wanted (presumably up to and including their level of clearance). An organization as large as the US government might want to consider paying those with access to super sensitive information a little bit more. And the National Reconnaissance Office didn't have any safeguards on how much material an individual could print or save to a removable drive from Intelink. Regan was able to print out tons of pages and walk out the front door with the documents in his gym bag. Given the more recent security breaches with Snowden and Manning, it doesn't seem like the intelligence (what an ironic name) wing of the government has really gotten its act together. While the author seems to want to present Regan as being smarter than his peers took him for, I left with the sense that, in fact, Regan wasn't really that bright. Yes, he was able to devise various ciphers to encrypt the information he wanted to guard, (view spoiler)[but his ciphers proved overly complex (so much so that the FBI and NSA found it a bit difficult to decrypt the messages to the Libyan consulate even thought they had Regan's instructions on how to do it in their possession). We later find out that he forgot how to decipher his code on where to locate the hidden documents, and he even left a post-it note with his name on it attached to a hidden packet of documents. And in his instructions to the Libyans, he tells them to set up an 800 number (with certain characteristics) as a contact method, but when the FBI tries to set up its false flag operation to lure Regan out, they cannot even find an available number that meets Regan's critera. (hide spoiler)] Overall, I found Regan incredibly narcissistic and didn't have any sympathy for him. When it comes down to it though, he probably would have not have been so miserable (leading to the theft of classified documents) if he had just lived in northern VA (closer to his work) instead of Bowie, MD. I still want to know (view spoiler)[ why Regan never responded to the email the FBI (posing as the Libyan government) sent to his clandestine account. The author leaves us hanging on that subject. (hide spoiler)]

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    Brian Regan (b. 1962) was less a spy than a spy-wannabe, a mid-level employee of the National Reconnaissance Office (one of the big-five intelligence agencies of the U.S. government) which operates space reconnaissance systems in support of national security. Regan, a dyslexic, an atheist, and a serial adulterer who was deeply in debt, tried to learn spy craft by reading about it in books while downloading hundreds of pages of secret documents—unrelated to his job—from the intelligence agency’s Brian Regan (b. 1962) was less a spy than a spy-wannabe, a mid-level employee of the National Reconnaissance Office (one of the big-five intelligence agencies of the U.S. government) which operates space reconnaissance systems in support of national security. Regan, a dyslexic, an atheist, and a serial adulterer who was deeply in debt, tried to learn spy craft by reading about it in books while downloading hundreds of pages of secret documents—unrelated to his job—from the intelligence agency’s intranet and walking them out the door in his gym bag. Nothing about his character or behavior seems to have rung bells in the intelligence bureaucracy. Bhattacharjee argues that Regan was not as dumb as his school mates thought he was, but the author provides enough contrary evidence for readers to reach other conclusions. While it is true that Regan exhibited a certain cunning in trying to monetize his treason, the attempted execution of his plan to sell American secrets to Islamic governments was completely catawampus. He had no clue how to approach foreign intelligence services, and he was unlucky enough to make the attempt during the 9/11 era. (The Justice Department authorized prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for espionage, the first time since the Rosenberg case of 1953.) Regan enjoyed making and breaking codes, but the ones he devised for his project were unnecessarily complex, so much so that after his conviction even he had difficulty helping the FBI find the “stolen secrets” (some of them extremely sensitive) that he had buried around Virginia state parks. Regan had also apparently not thought through the likelihood that the documents might deteriorate while in the ground; some of the packages were waterlogged when finally recovered. One had a post-it note with his name on it, a glaring example (among many) of his ineptitude. Bhattacharjee writes in a decent journalistic style, but nothing more. (It’s a bad sign when my eye hovers over a sentence, and I can immediately see how it might be improved.) The book is easy reading except for a bit of the discussion about cryptography, but there is no in-depth analysis of Regan as an individual, modern cryptography as a science, or the attempts of intelligence agencies to protect American secrets. The book is simply a decent true-crime story focused on a hopeless doofus.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kazen

    The story Bhattacharjee covers is fascinating - in December of 2000 an FBI agent got a hold of coded letters sent to the Libyan consulate. They were sent by a CIA analyst and offered to sell classified material to the foreign power at the price of millions to be wired to a Swiss bank account. As proof of his access the writer included several top secret documents and promised information about US reconnaissance satellites, defense systems, and more. It's information that could put the US militar The story Bhattacharjee covers is fascinating - in December of 2000 an FBI agent got a hold of coded letters sent to the Libyan consulate. They were sent by a CIA analyst and offered to sell classified material to the foreign power at the price of millions to be wired to a Swiss bank account. As proof of his access the writer included several top secret documents and promised information about US reconnaissance satellites, defense systems, and more. It's information that could put the US military and security in grave danger, not to mention kick strategy back a decade or two if it falls into the wrong hands. I was excited to dig in - a whodunit, yea! ...except that we learn who the culprit is early on. Heck, his name is in the first few lines of the jacket copy. From there we could have gone down one of several paths - a why-dun-it, a how-dun-it, or a how-they-caught-him-...it. But instead of picking one and committing Bhattacharjee gives us a little of each, and that lack of a single driving force made the read fall a bit flat for me overall. Listening to the audiobook didn't help, either, as alphanumeric code gibberish doesn't translate well to the spoken word. I got the sense that if the ciphers were laid out on a page it would all come together but in my ears it remained largely incomprehensible. So... 'Danger tonight' would be enciphered as four dot one dot fourteen dot seven dot five dot eighteen star twenty dot fifteen dot fourteen dot nine dot seven dot eight dot twenty. @[email protected] Not the narrator's fault, not anyone's fault, but it did make some parts tough going. Overall the story is interesting and at 1.8 speed it's a quick and fun listen, but while serviceable it didn't tip over into awesome. If you're into codes or espionage you'll want to give The Spy Who Couldn't Spell a go, but do yourself a favor and stay away from the audiobook.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    A true crime novel about a wannabe spy who just couldn't get things right, including getting a foreign nation to accept his offer of precious secrets. The story begins when the FBI is made aware of a mysterious letter delivered to the Libyan embassy : someone in the intelligence community is offering to sell secrets to Khadaffi. The package is remarkable for two reasons. First of all, the cover letter is full of misspellings. Second, it contains a couple of coded pages. And so a two-fold hunt ens A true crime novel about a wannabe spy who just couldn't get things right, including getting a foreign nation to accept his offer of precious secrets. The story begins when the FBI is made aware of a mysterious letter delivered to the Libyan embassy : someone in the intelligence community is offering to sell secrets to Khadaffi. The package is remarkable for two reasons. First of all, the cover letter is full of misspellings. Second, it contains a couple of coded pages. And so a two-fold hunt ensues. First and foremost, the FBI wants to find out the identity of the wannabe spy. This is done by verifying who had access to the secrets the spy claims to possess. Some clever computer forensics eventually point to Brian Regan, an employee of the little-known government agency charged with satellite reconnaissance. After some classic countersurveillance work involving cloak-and-dagger stuff, he is arrested before he can leave the country on another trip to Europe, where -so it is suspected- he would do the rounds of the foreign embassies to peddle the secrets that so far he just hadn't yet found a taker for. The second part is about the home-grown codes that Brian Regan had used to record where in the woods around DC he had buried the prinouts of the secret documents he'd downloaded. This proved quite challenging, not least because the spy, now in prison, had forgotten the key to his own codes. There was some fun amateur cryptography here. I enjoyed the book a lot, partially because I know a couple of people who, just like Brian Regan, spend their time complicating some aspects of the job at hand (his double, triple codes) while failing to see the forest for the trees. Since no secrets actually changed hands, the book doesn't have the impact that stories about, say, the Cambridge spies, might have. As such, I think it will have only a limited readership.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    You can’t make this stuff up This is one of the more fascinating non-fiction books that I have ever read. I finished it over the course of two days because it was hard to put down. Both the story and the writing kept me hooked. This is both the story of the spy and the FBI agents who tracked him. In the late 1990’s, disgruntled government employee Brian Regan hatches a convoluted plan to sell classified intelligence information to the Libyans and some other foreign governments. Except he misspelle You can’t make this stuff up This is one of the more fascinating non-fiction books that I have ever read. I finished it over the course of two days because it was hard to put down. Both the story and the writing kept me hooked. This is both the story of the spy and the FBI agents who tracked him. In the late 1990’s, disgruntled government employee Brian Regan hatches a convoluted plan to sell classified intelligence information to the Libyans and some other foreign governments. Except he misspelled Libya! Plus a lot of other words. Brian Regan has dyslexia and was picked on and bullied in school. He manages to get into the Air Force where he learns coding and cryptography. After service, he is hired by the clandestine National Reconnaissance Office. There, he has much too easy access to classified and top secret documents. As an adult, he continues to feel under appreciated and disliked by his coworkers. He is also in serious financial debt and his marriage and family life is stressful. He develops an incredibly elaborate scheme to steal and then hide thousands of pages of classified material. Luckily, his letter to the Libyan embassy is intercepted by the FBI. But his elaborate and detailed plan is also full of small errors and oversights. The FBI, lead by agent Steven Carr, quickly uncover the identity of the spy. Gathering the evidence and catching him is much less simple. I found this book to be absolutely riveting. It reads like a novel, but it is a detailed and well researched piece of journalism. There is a good amount of background about Brian Regan, which helps you to understand his motivations, his psychology, and his ultimate undoing. The inside look into the work of the FBI is fascinating. If you enjoy spy stories, and even if you don’t, this is an excellent book. I highly recommend this.

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