Working within a system that imposes rather arbitrary limits on speech, and where official explanations and opinions can shift with the desert sands, it’s often hard for the author to know exactly which bits of information can be published. Nor can he forget that his visa status hangs on the whims of security organizations and bureaucrats looking out for their own interests (and for bribes). He is detained briefly in several countries, beaten by a mob in Saudi Arabia, and nearly kidnapped. His photographers and drivers are hauled in for questioning and expelled. Yet MacFarquhar keeps asking questions, even if the answers aren’t always what we might want to hear.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.