The story of a millennial who became an informant for the FBI.
Jamali is straightforward in setting up his unusual tale: “For three nerve-wracking years, I spied on America for the Russians…[as] a double agent working closely with the FBI. The Cold War wasn’t really over. It had just gone high-tech.” After a brisk opening in which the author passes classified training manuals to a Russian military-intelligence officer, he settles into a long discussion of his second-generation immigrant upbringing and aimless 20s. Although his French and Pakistani academic parents thrived by operating a research clearinghouse service, Jamali lacked ambition, until 9/11 inspired in him the desire to become a naval intelligence officer. “I was eager to do something more meaningful than running the business,” he writes. Jamali found an opportunity to improve his prospects in Oleg, a U.N.–based Russian intelligence officer. His parents had updated the FBI on Russian purchases since the 1980s, but the author decided to accelerate the relationship. He sold himself to his parents’ FBI contacts as an asset, able to prod the Russians toward illicit pursuit of classified military documents. At first bemused by his go-getter attitude, the FBI soon encouraged him, giving him tradecraft tips and a watch with a hidden digital recorder. After a long series of gradually escalated handoffs to Oleg, the FBI abruptly wrapped up the operation by pretending to arrest Jamali in front of the diplomat (who walked away)—to Jamali’s dismay: “I thought we’d been aiming big and thinking long term.” Although Jamali received his naval commission and rare plaudits from the FBI, the narrative feels plodding, padded by such gambits as discussions of his love for spy movies and exotic cars. Prolific co-author Henican (Amish Confidential, 2015, etc.) gives the prose a slick feel, but he errs in not developing a fuller look at the wider geopolitical moment to which this youthful spy wannabe was responding.
An intriguing but minor testament to the persistence of old-school military espionage.