The Craft We Chose by Richard L. Holm

Richard L. Holm spent thirty-five years with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. During that time he worked undercover in seven countries as a paramilitary adviser, operations officer, senior manager, and station chief. Holm’s first two assignments consisted of leading paramilitary missions in Laos and Thailand from July 1962 to September 1964 during the United States’ so-called Secret War in Laos and just before the American massive troop build up in neighboring South Vietnam.

In his well-written memoir, The Craft We Chose: My Life in the CIA (Mountain Lake Press, 568 pp., $30), Holm gives plenty of details of those two-plus years. He spent a good deal of that time working closely with Lao tribesmen “monitoring and impeding—or at least harassing—efforts by the North Vietnamese to supply the [communist] Pathet Lao” along the ever-changing Ho Chi Minh Trail, a good deal of which wove through Laos.

Holm evokes his time in the jungles of Laos very well in this long book. He also includes details of how he later survived a horrific plane crash in Africa that left him temporarily blinded. After recovering, Holm went on to work clandestinely, recruiting agents to spy on China and the Soviet Union.

It “is imperative for Americans to understand and support what the CIA does,” Holm says. “To put it plainly, the agency needs a constituency. The more the public appreciates what we do, the stronger their support will be. In a nutshell, that’s why I wrote [a previous memoir] The American Agent in 2002 and The Craft We Chose.”

—Marc Leepson