Operation Shakespeare: The True Story of an Elite International Sting

John Shiffman. Simon & Schuster, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4516-5513-1

While contemporary notions of surveillance may conjure fears of domestic data mining, Shiffman investigates governmental efforts to use spying for international security. The eponymous sting operation was a mid-2000s attempt to apprehend arms dealers who specialized in running U.S.-made military technology, often “tiny, seemingly innocent items” that “could pose a threat to U.S. Forces.” These devices can have dual uses in, say, either advanced medical work or in illicit bomb building, and it is this ambiguous nature that enables the circumvention of the “ridiculously complex” import/export regulations, allowing malicious smugglers to claim ignorance of the laws. The elaborate sting operation required “subtlety, research, creativity, money, patience, and risk.” Shiffman describes a character-driven “symphony of moving parts,” with fascinating personalities on either side of the battle, contrasting the driven, deceptive American agents with their oblivious, business-oriented Iranian target. The book’s strengths are the humanizing portrayal of the agents and the captivating insights into the psychology of undercover work. Shiffman’s exciting and eye-opening look into the “tiny weapons of modern war” and the international machinations that control them will appeal to espionage junkies and the techno-thriller crowd. Agent: Larry Weissman. (July)