Acerbic memoir of a truncated career at the CIA.
While he was pursuing a masters’ degree at George Washington University, a knowledgeable professor steered Kiriakou toward “the Company.” He joined the CIA in 1990 as a “leadership analyst” in the Directorate of Intelligence. After a few years he transferred into the Directorate of Operations, which necessitated a hair-raising training course at “the Farm.” Along the way, his marriage dissolved, resulting in many unpleasant disputes over the custody of his children. As the author notes, the trickiest part of being an operative is not the weapons training, nor the cloak-and-dagger tricks, but the subtle qualities that allow them to recruit and “run” agents in other countries. Kiriakou spent the first part of his clandestine career in Greece, where the radical group 17 November was still occasionally committing assassinations. He then became involved in training “officials and military officers of certain foreign countries in counterterror operations,” working at Langley. The author recounts a chilling anecdote from June 2001, when agency counterterrorism leader Cofer Black implored a visiting group of Middle Eastern military men, asking, “If you have any sources inside al-Qaeda, please work them now because whatever it is, we have to do everything we can to stop it.” Following 9/11, writes the author, many Agency personnel were clamoring for posts overseas. Due to his training in Arabic, he was sent to oversee counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan. He writes in detail about one of his crucial operations, the capture of notorious al-Qaeda chief Abu Zubaydah. Later he was given the opportunity to participate in the “enhanced interrogation” program, under which Zubaydah and many others were waterboarded. The author declined, and he writes forcefully that the United States must always avoid torture, no matter how demanding the circumstances.
Like most books on the CIA and other covert organizations, this one has been rigorously edited to avoid revealing sensitive details. But Kiriakou offers an original, boots-on-the-ground perspective on the war on terror.