The story of an Egyptian-born Muslim FBI agent’s undercover pursuit of Islamist extremists.
Elnoury—who co-wrote this book with Maurer, co-author of No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy Seal: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden (2012)—is clearly aware of the complexities of his life’s mission. Although he was always drawn to law enforcement, spending years in undercover narcotics work in New Jersey, he notes that “Islam was something I practiced privately.” He was understandably outraged on 9/11. “I was angry, embarrassed, and hurt,” he writes. “Some asshole in a cave turned me and my family into the enemy.” The author volunteered his services as a culturally attuned Arabic speaker, realizing that “the FBI was waking up to a new war….They had to adapt to meet a new enemy.” Still, it took years for the FBI to recruit him. “They wanted to see if I could come close to passing the FBI Undercover School,” he writes, and he credits this intensive training with protecting him during his high-risk infiltrations. He developed a “legend” (or cover identity) as a wealthy real estate speculator who’d drifted toward extremism, first ensnaring an Afghan al-Qaida supporter, whose “confession had led to [a] drone strike.” Elnoury then began an elaborate penetration of a small cell determined to commit mass-casualty attacks in the U.S. and Canada. This complex international operation, which makes up much of the narrative arc, resulted in several successful prosecutions. The author reflects compellingly on the challenges of being a Muslim patriot, and he closes with a plea to resist wholesale bigotry: “Banning Muslims from the United States throws gas on the myth that the United States is at war with Islam.” His tale of infiltration is exciting and clearly written, although since he blurs the specifics of actual undercover tradecraft, his reconstructed, dialogue-heavy encounters with jihadist suspects are occasionally repetitive.
A worthwhile, unique addition to the shelf of post–9/11 memoirs concerning the fight against terrorism.