Operation Shakespeare: The True Story of an Elite International Sting

Operation Shakespeare: The True Story of an Elite International Sting




I love reading about covert or undercover operations. It doesn’t matter if it is the FBI, CIA, Military, Homeland Security or even a local police force. I am fascinated by the amount of time, effort, risk and manpower that is involved in an attempt to foil the plots of someone else.
However, after reading ‘Operation Shakespeare’ I was a little depressed. I was left with one question that remains unanswered. Can we really succeed in keeping American technology out of the hands of our enemies?


In Operation Shakespeare, investigative journalist John Shiffman traces a high-risk undercover operation launched by an elite undercover Homeland Security unit created to stop the Iranians, Russians, Chinese, Pakistanis, and North Koreans from acquiring sophisticated American-made electronics capable of guiding missiles, jamming radar, and triggering countless weapons – from wireless IEDs to nuclear bombs. The U.S. agents must outwit not only enemy brokers but also American manufacturers and global bankers who are too willing to put profit over national security. The three-year sting climaxes when the U.S. agents lure the Iranian broker to a former Soviet republic with the promise of American-made radar, fighter-jet, and missile components, then secretly drag him back to the United States, where he is held in secret for two years. The laptop the Iranian carries into the sting provides the CIA with a virtual road map to Tehran’s clandestine effort to obtain U.S. military technology.
©2014 John Shiffman (P)2014 Tantor


‘Operation Shakespeare’ is the story of a sting operation to bring down an Iranian weapons broker. He uses the alias Alex Dave in his attempts to smuggle American weapons, parts and other technology into Iran. I love that he chose the name Alex Dave because it sounded American. I actually think it sounds more like a name that one of those Nigerian email scammers would pick. That comparison is not entirely unfair either because a lot of the emails that are in this book read a lot like those 419 scam emails that clog up your spam folder.
The book introduces the key players involved in the operation including the agents, prosecutor, some of the black market experts and Alex Dave himself. The prologue also introduces us to LT. Seth DVorin who was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated in Iraq while he was on patrol. This is an important part of the story because it turns out that a lot of the IEDs responsible for so many American soldier deaths in that conflict have been produced with American parts smuggled into Iraq and Iran.
Whenever a soldier dies in conflict it is tragic and there is naturally a period of morning and outrage. The outrage grows louder as the death toll climbs higher. But there should be a secondary level of outrage over the fact that American lives are being taken by what are essentially American weapons.
As we are introduced to the key players, Shiffman also explains just why it is so hard to keep these things out of unfriendly nations. The laws for exporting goods are complicated enough onw their own but to make matters worse a lot of the parts that can be used to make weapons are also useful in medical devices and other beneficial products. These are called “duel use products” and whether it is legal to export a part to some country may depend entirely on the intended use.
Once we are introduced to all of the key players, learn of their backgrounds and motivations, Shiffman tells the story of the actual sting. I found this interesting because the Iranian broker commits the same sin as a lot of movie villains. He is only too happy to spill the beans about all levels and methods involved in his operation. He doesn’t think for a second that he might be recorded. He was brought down by his own ego like so many others before and hopefully after him.
The aftermath of the operation deals with the legal issues involved. Our friend Alex Dave was charged with breaking the law of the United States even though he was actually never in the country and there was some question as to whether that was going to fly in our system of justice. He only got a few years in prison before he was deported back to Iran in 2012. The sad part is that he is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the number of people and number of countries trying to steal American technology for their own use.
When you factor in the bureaucracy, the companies just wanting to make a profit, the number of people who are simply more lazy than careful, the overseas banks all too happy to launder money and the complications of the law, stopping this kind of theft seems an impossible task. It is fitting that near the end of the book a comparison is made to the war on drugs which has also been more failure than triumph. The book concludes with a bit of information on those who took part in ‘Operation Shakespeare’ and where they are now.


John Shiffman is an author and veteran investigative reporter with reuters. While reading his website’s about page, I was reminded that this is not the first of his books I have read this year.
Shiffman co-wrote Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures with Robert Wittman. I enjoyed ‘Operation Shakespeare’ nearly as much as I did ‘Priceless’ which was quite a bit. Shiffman is able to cram a lot of information into a pretty quick running time.
I appreciate the fact that when Shiffman mentions a particular part that the Iranian is looking for, he explains what it is and how it might be used. This helps to keep the reader from getting lost in unfamiliar terminology. I know that seems like the obvious and right thing to do but I happen to believe you should give credit to people for doing the right thing, even when the choice seems obvious.
I would absolutely read another book from Shiffman in the same vain as ‘Priceless’ and ‘Operation Shakespeare’. He is able to let you get to know the people involved in a case like this without it feeling like a side trip away from the real story.


‘Operation Shakespeare’ is wonderfully narrated by David Drummond. I felt that Drummond’s voice was incredibly appropriate for the tone and subject matter of this book. He sounds exactly like a man you would expect to be briefing agents who are headed on their next assignment. Drummond uses effective accents when appropriate but he does not go so far as to give each character a distinct voice. I really enjoyed hearing him for those nine plus hours.


A crisp and clean audio track with no changes in audio levels or other glitches. There is no use of music or sound effects at any point. The copy I purchased from Tantor was divided into 25 files. Each chapter was confined to it’s own mp3 file and all were properly labeled including track and chapter numbers.


I mentioned in the introduction that I was a little depressed when I finished the book. This is because I realized just what a daunting task it is to keep American weapons, parts and technology out of the hands of those wishing to do our country harm. Everything from: government infighting, complicated laws, companies only interested in the bottom line, people who are just easily scammed and overseas banks willing to facilitate illegal transactions make the task monumental. In fact, I’m sure I’ve even left out a few other difficulties.
Even though the task seems like an impossible one, credit must be given to those people who make the effort. It is better to do anything you can to stem the tide than it is to do nothing at all.
If you have any interest in covert operations or undercover work or if you just want an example of why bureaucracy can create more problems than it solves, then I suggest you give ‘Operation Shakespeare’ a listen. It is both a thorough and compelling read.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Operation Shakespeare: The True Story of an Elite International Sting John Shiffman David Drummond Tantor Audio Government & Politics 07/15/2014 9 hours, 4 minutes 8.25/10


A copy of ‘Operation Shakespeare’ was purchased from Tantor.com for review.