Reviews of
America at Night


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New York Times
January 25, 2007


Returning to the Spy World to Uncover a Political Plot
Reviewed by Janet Maslin

In his first book, “Overworld,” Larry J. Kolb told a dizzying, spy-studded story of his lifelong adventures as the son of a senior United States intelligence official. It was an amazing account, almost too much so, filled with events far too strange for fiction. And it was packed with guest stars, from Muhammad Ali to Ronald Reagan. For a man who had lived so much of his life in the shadows, Mr. Kolb used this book to cast an improbably bright light.

“Overworld” came out in 2004. According to Mr. Kolb’s sketchier but equally lively second book, “America at Night,” its publication greatly changed his fortunes. By then he was no longer in his James Bond phase; this was not “one of the decades in which I lived in suits and ties, especially if tuxedos count as suits,” he writes in the new book. But thanks to the exposure that “Overworld” brought him, he says, life became newly glamorous. He was in Los Angeles, headed for a meeting about a movie deal and possibly to a party full of supermodels when duty called and threw him into a new set of adventures.

“It’s an ugly story, except for the girl,” he writes. Nice line. Too bad there isn’t really a girl in this story, unless you count one who is spotted on the street wearing gold lamé genie’s shoes, or another who tries to make him part of a Nielsen television survey.
That noir, hard-boiled style is better suited to someone writing in the spirit of James Ellroy (Mr. Ellroy expressed great admiration for “Overworld”) than to a data-oriented member of the espionage community. And one of the lessons he learned from his father, Mr. Kolb says, is that dreary, dogged research is a big part of penetrating the secrets of the espionage bureaucracy or, as he calls it, the “espiocracy.”

His close familiarity with the histories of two veteran con men, Mr. Kolb says, is what drew him into the events that “America at Night” describes. The more visible of the two is Robert M. Sensi, who “could go into a revolving door behind you and come out ahead of you.” Mr. Sensi has served time for embezzlement and fraud and has been a C.I.A. operative.

Although Mr. Sensi has also been involved with the Bush family and the Republican National Committee, Mr. Kolb contends that there is no political animus at work in his pursuit of Mr. Sensi. And he points out that he voted for President Reagan. Instead of having a partisan agenda, he says, he helped the Department of Homeland Security pursue two men who might have no qualms about helping terrorists, since they had no apparent qualms about anything else.

Mr. Kolb was also asked to find information about a lawyer named Richard Marshall Hirschfeld. As “Overworld” explains, they originally crossed paths when both traveled to Beirut with Mr. Ali — or, as his name is best dropped here, Muhammad. It was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

According to the very tall Mr. Kolb, the very short Mr. Hirschfeld was “packaged and produced by the same studio that gave you the midlife Mickey Rooney." He adds that Mr. Hirschfeld was someone who “could sell fried snowballs to the great chefs of Europe.”
Among Mr. Hirschfeld’s claims to fame, as stated here, were a fraudulent effort to market “the world’s only known cure for herpes,” maneuvers to help wealthy foreign criminals enter the United States and a parole scam (after Mr. Hirschfeld went to prison) involving Habitat for Humanity. The Washington Post described him as a “flashy fugitive” after he fled the United States.

At the start of “America at Night,” with its title referring to the generally murky atmosphere in which such individuals operate, Mr. Kolb is asked to help identify “Richard Marshall,” a lawyer who may be abetting terrorists. Since all photographs of Mr. Marshall have conveniently vanished, Mr. Kolb must find other ways to pursue his hunch that Mr. Marshall and Mr. Hirschfeld are one and the same.

This leads him on a twisted path, and quite an entertaining one. It draws him into the kind of story about which fiction writers can only dream. One of its minor figures got rich selling shoes to the Turkish army, for example. This man’s son ran a hugely profitable mail-order contact lens company from prison while doing time on charges involving cocaine. “And you should see the guy’s wife!” a C.I.A. official tells Mr. Kolb.

In the course of “America at Night,” the author uncovers a potential dirty trick that may influence the 2004 presidential election. It is a link between John Kerry's unwitting campaign treasurer, Robert Farmer, and money laundering for Al Qaeda, but it turns out to be only one piece of this book’s larger puzzle. In breathless, overcrowded fashion, “America at Night” looks under a rock and finds a staggering array of crooked, ruthless activities attributable to Mr. Sensi and Mr. Hirschfeld — and, by implication, their friends in the world of politics.

“How high up do you think this goes?” someone asks Mr. Kolb. It goes as high up as reading “All the President’s Men.” But this book, for all its wild and entertaining cloak-and-dagger crime stories, can’t otherwise compare with that one.


St. Petersburg Times
February 22, 2007

In from the cold, a spy foils the plot
Reviewed by John Freeman, Special to the Times

In his 2004 memoir Overworld, Larry J. Kolb spun the kind of life story it seemed only existed in Tom Clancy novels. Raised by a spy, trained by the great CIA spymaster Miles Copeland, Kolb had participated in all kinds of covert shenanigans, from the Iran-Contra deal to hostage negotiation in Lebanon.

But it was all true, and in America at Night, the retired spy recounts another caper: In early 2004, he learned of a plot to fix the upcoming presidential election and decided it was his responsibility to stop it.

Before signing on for this adventure, there are a few things one has to accept about Kolb. He is a nervy, energetic writer, and he likes to set a scene. There are a lot of glamorous locations and supermodels and fast cars.

News of this presidential election plot comes to Kolb at a swank restaurant in Los Angeles. A bon vivant and fixer on his way to Libya for business drops it into conversation. Kolb, retired to an anonymous life on a Florida beach, is intrigued.

Using just his files, an Internet connection, a vast Rolodex and a telephone, he tracks down the two men at the heart of the plot faster than the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the CIA combined.

Along the way, Kolb instructs readers in tricks and tools of the trade, from "elicitation" - how to extract information from people without their knowing - to mundane details of file keeping.

He also provides a damning look at the intelligence system and how agencies involved don't share information. In some cases, he writes, they don't even have access to the Internet.

Besides his modem, Kolb had another jump on his own government. He had crossed paths in the Middle East with the two suspects, Robert Sensi and Robert Hirschfield, when they were employees of the CIA under close direction, he says, of then-Vice President George Bush.

Sensi was introduced to Kolb as the chairman of the Ambassador's Club of Republicans Abroad. Kolb met Hirschfield in 1985 during the Lebanese civil war.

Kolb always figured the Republicans Abroad job was just Sensi's CIA cover, but the job title would later tell him a lot about what kept Sensi and Hirschfield in business when they crossed back over to the criminal side.

As Kolb discovers, before (and perhaps during) the time Sensi and Hirschfield were working for the CIA, they were also involved in serious crime. Hirschfield's past was littered with imploded bank schemes, bankruptcy, SEC filings and a mysterious death or two.
Sensi was no angel either, and Kolb learns his latest employment (before disappearing) was arranging safe passage, visas, sometimes even passports for dubious sorts who needed to get in and out of the United States.

In one breathtaking story, Kolb describes how a Russian aluminum magnate was given a vivid demonstration of Sensi's pull. The man was flown into Washington on a private jet, quickly processed through immigration and taken to the White House, where he shook the hand of President George W. Bush.

Kolb is quick to point out that Bush may not have known whom he was meeting, but there is a trail of evidence linking America's most powerful political family and these two con men, from the lawyers who bail them out when they get in trouble to the access they get to top level legislators to the contracts they get to do business in Iraq.

In the end, Kolb learns they have an explosive plan to "swift-boat" John Kerry in his run for the presidency by tying his campaign manager to Al-Qaeda. Their mark is a successful Turkish businessman in Miami, whose phone-card empire they infiltrate to make it look like he was working for terrorists. They then very quietly - while tipping off the CIA - sign up one of Kerry's campaign treasurers to be chairman of the company's board.

Kolb is a cinematic writer, and much of this book seems too wild to be true. But he has produced a mountain of evidence - much of it available on his Web site, larryjkolb.com - and 30-some pages of footnotes. This kind of documentation makes this exciting read also a bracing one. It also goes to show maybe the shenanigans of Watergate aren't behind us: They've just gone freelance.

John Freeman is president of the National Book Critics Circle.




Kirkus Reviews

The Republicans wouldn't really try to steal an election, would they? According to former CIA operative Kolb, you bet they would.
A story that's murky but exciting from beginning to end, Kolb's narrative opens with a hushed inquiry in a Hollywood restaurant, where an attorney with deep connections to the shadow world asks what he knows of a man named Robert Sensi, chairman of Republicans Abroad. Well, Kolb answers, he worked for the CIA, with close ties to Bill Casey and George H.W. Bush, and he went bad. A strange picture forms: Sensi and an ally, Richard Hirschfeld, have arranged for a Turkish entrepreneur with connections to bin Laden and company to make a contribution to John Kerry's 2004 campaign, with the idea of then exposing it as terrorist money. It's circumstantial, but Kolb knows what buttons to push: Given that Karl Rove was a disciple of Donald Segretti, chief of dirty tricks in the Watergate affair, "would Rove balk if Hirschfeld or an intermediary approached him with a scheme to link Kerry with Al Qaeda? Read Rove's record, and you decide." It gets murkier when Kolb takes the evidence he's accumulated to Kerry's camp, where it's immediately leaked to the Bush people, and Kolb is running for his life. Along the way, he lends credence to the notion that Casey engineered the October surprise by which the Iran hostages were freed to influence the election of Ronald Reagan ("A very dirty trick, if it was true. And without quite saying it, Sensi seemed to be telling me it was true"); casts serious doubt on the efficacy and morality of the drug war; and gives good reason to doubt everyone with an ounce of political power. "Like so much of the rest of the true story of my life . . . it's preposterous," Kolb says in passing. Look at the record, and you decide.




Publishers Weekly


After 20 years of CIA covert operations, Kolb looked forward to retirement and the obligatory memoir (Overworld, 2004), when he discovered the wildly sinister plot recounted in this engaging book. As a favor to the Department of Homeland Security, he consulted colleagues, his files and the Internet for information on Robert Sensi and Richard Hirschfeld, once vaguely
CIA-connected but now wanted by the FBI for numerous financial scams. The avalanche of data he unearthed makes the inability of the FBI, CIA and DHS to gather information very disturbing. Specifically, Kolb discovered the pair had placed the treasurer of Sen. John Kerry's campaign committee on the board of a company that (perhaps inadvertently) sold supplies to al-Qaeda—a
revelation that would have devastated Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. Kolb also recounts details of his subjects' long career of fraud and extortion, often with cooperation from prominent Washington figures. Stories of powerful men behaving badly have irresistible appeal, and Kolb relates them in prose far more lively than the average bureaucrat's, while backing his story with footnotes, Internet addresses and quotes from named sources.