Robert Baer was known inside the CIA as perhaps the best operative working the Middle East. But if his career was all that a spy might aspire to, his personal life was a brutal illustration of everything a spy is asked to sacrifice.
Dayna Williamson thought of herself as just an ordinary California girl. But she was always looking to get closer to the edge. When she joined the CIA, she was initially tasked with Agency background checks, but she quickly distinguished herself as someone who could thrive in the field. Tapped to serve in some of the world’s most dangerous places, she discovered an inner strength and resourcefulness she’d never known—but she also came to see that the spy life exacts a heavy toll.
When Bob and Dayna met on a mission in Sarajevo, it wasn’t love at first sight. But there was something there, a spark. And as the danger escalated and their affection for each other grew, they realized it was time to leave “the Company,” to somehow rediscover the people they’d once been. As worldly as they both were, the couple didn’t realize at first that turning in their Agency ID cards would not be enough to put their covert past behind.
Everything I know I know about the CIA I learned from movies and TV shows so when I came across The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True Life Spy Story I was eager to find out how much truth there is to those fictionalized stories. Plus, there was no way I could resist the lure of a real-life spy romance told by CIA partners turned husband and wife
Robert (Bob) and Dayna Bear are both former CIA agents who fell-in love and got married while working together undercover for the CIA. In The Company We Keep Dayna and Bob takes turns describing their experiences working for the CIA, how they met and their decision to leave the CIA in order to build a family.
I found both Dayna and Bob’s accounts of their work for the CIA to be fascinating, though it was Dayna’s story that interested me in particular. While Bob ‘s narration leaned toward the political Dayna’s was more personal and humorous and I found myself tempted to skip Bob's chapters to get to hers (no offense Bob).
Dayan begins by describing the first time she met Bob, while working undercover in Sarajevo, and her surprise at his unconventional methods at tackling the job. Dayna then goes back to talk about how she got started in the secret service branch of the CIA and the detrimental effect that her job had on her marriage. She also discusses a bit of the training that she went through and some of her undercover jobs with different partners. I really enjoyed reading Dayna’s side of the story and just wished that there was more of it. I would have really liked to read more about Dayna's family, her experience as one of the few women in the CIA and about some of the struggles that she faced working her way up.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading Bob’s sections of the book as well, it was just that his style didn't appeal to me quite as much. Bob focuses a bit more on this political ramifications of his missions and some of the interesting characters that they involved, such as Arab princes and military leaders.
Bob doesn't let us get as close to him as Dayna does and his narration as a bit more distant and matter-of-fact, even when he talks about the romantic developments between him and Dayna. The one exception is when he talks about this mother. Bob recounts a humorous account of the time his mother came to visit him in Beirut, despite his protests that there wouldn’t be anything for her to do there. But upon arrival Bob’s mother processed to befriend everyone she came across, from the prostitutes in the bar to the government employee that Bob had been trying to get close to, without success. Sadly though, Bob later tells us that his mother has since cut him out of her life due to her belief that he was involved in some illegal business.
While Bob and Dayna confirm that the life of a CIA agent is certainly exciting, we can also see that it hasn’t come cheaply for either of them. Both of their first marriages fell apart because neither of them were around enough to make them work and their relationships with their parents and immediate family have suffered as well. To Dayna’s dismay, while she was off on missions for the CIA her father had taken to spending his free time with a woman from work who he calls his “other-daughter.” When Dayna expressed her hurt at this her father just shrugged and said that it was because she was never around. Bob’s children, who live with their mother, barely know their father and have little interest in spending time with him, and his mother is no longer interested in being part of his life. But happily, Bob and Dayna managed to find each other and their new relationship was important enough to both of them that were willing to give up working for the CIA in order to focus on it.
As I mentioned, I was a little disappointed that Dayna didn’t go a bit more into her decision to leave the CIA since it’s clear that it must have been a big sacrifice. Bob was already disenchanted with his work and had been considering leaving, after many years on the job, but I don’t think Dayna would have left if not for Bob. After their marriage the Bears decided to adopt a child from Pakistan, and they finish off their story with a description of the complicated adoption process they had to go through and the many close calls that nearly cost them their little girl. But in the end the adoption went through and the Bears were now a real family.
I really enjoyed reading The Company We Keep and the insight that it gave me into the life of real spies. I do hope, though, that someday Dayna Bear will write a memoir of her own because I'm sure there is a lot more to her story that wasn't included here, and which I would love to read about.