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The Spy Who Couldn't Spell: A Dyslexic…

The Spy Who Couldn't Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code,… (2016)

by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

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This book could be subtitled, "The Spy Who Couldn't Read Straight." A government employee concocts a scheme to sell top secret data to governments who are enemies of the United States. Due to his dyslexia, the Feds have a difficult time untangling the codes and ciphers used to hide the stolen documents,and media. The story is told in a blow by blow recitation of each maneuver of Mr. Regan. The description of the breaking of his codes is very detailed as is the recounting of the his trial. The author has performed exhaustive research to chronicle this historical event. My thanks to him and the Penguin First to Read program for a complimentary copy. ( )
  musichick52 | May 27, 2017 |
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. ( )
  ecw0647 | Jan 2, 2017 |
Spies are everywhere, some spying to gain information to help the United States, some trying to sell information to help other countries against the United States, some just to cause damage of their own. Moles seem to be in every government agency, each with their own agenda and purpose. But when one of the agents that works for the United States government is found to be trying to sell sensitive information to other countries, it becomes a full-scale investigation to discover who the mole is and what information he has stolen to sell. And one major clue helps finger the spy this time: the fact that he is dyslexic. The letters he sent to Iran and Iraq were full of misspellings, and the code sheets he used to secure his messages also had errors. Once the investigation team figured out who they were searching for, they realized he had a top secret security clearance, with access to information about air defense systems, weapons depots, and other sensitive information; then they had to discover what his purpose was for espionage. The mole was certain he had gotten away with espionage, even though none of the countries he had solicited had responded. He was sure his own country would never figure out he was the one selling secrets. But he was wrong. While real spy work is not as exciting as they make it seem in the movies, this book was still very interesting. I have always thought being a spy would be fun (though not for the purpose of espionage), and that was part of the reason I picked up this book. The pace of the story was good, and kept me interested, though I am sure the reality of what was happening was tedious at times. Well-written and researched, a good read for those who enjoy the spy genre. ( )
  litgirl29 | Dec 31, 2016 |
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The classrooms and hallways of Farmingdale High in Long Island were deserted on the morning of Saturday, August 19, 2001, when a van pulled into the school's parking lot.
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"Before Edward Snowden's infamous data breach, the largest theft of government secrets was committed by an ingenious traitor whose intricate espionage scheme and complex system of coded messages were made even more baffling by his dyslexia. His name is Brian Regan, but he came to be known as the 'Spy Who Couldn't Spell' ... In this ... true-life spy thriller, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee reveals how the FBI unraveled Regan's strange web of codes to build a case against a man who nearly collapsed America's military security"--… (more)

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