I need to preface this with, in the world of intelligence pundits, one often finds that folks are not who they claim to be (see Wayne Simmons). Folks often profess to be CIA officers because it is virtually impossible to conclusively disprove that they aren’t, and the Agency is notorious for refusing to comment. So when I heard about Alex Finley, and that she was writing a book on the Agency and the War on Terror, my first question was, is she legit? After reaching out to her, and playing the game of shared contacts and experiences that allows a real intel officer to suss out another in about 5 minutes, it was very clear she was genuine. Had I read her book first however, I would have also known she was a legit been there done that intel officer as no poser could ever replicate the inanity that is the Agency bureaucracy without having experienced it first-hand.
This book is wickedly funny! Sometimes gut bustingly so and at other times will have you groaning at the puns. Victor Cato (still not sure why she chose a male protagonist) is a case officer in the CYA (see what she did there?) working the CT target in Africa. As a mid-level officer, he is still young enough to hold out hope for his agency, but experienced enough to be a little jaded and know how to work the system to his benefit. Omar al-Suqqit is his foil, and the two are on a collision path with one another fully bound up in the red tape that is their bureaucratic lot. This is not really a book about terrorism and the folks who fight it. It is a book about the insanity of bureaucracy. The plot is fun, engaging and the writing well done.
I will note, its seems very clear to me that Alex has great respect for the men and women of the Agency fighting the good fight against various evils around the world. She is incredibly sympathetic to how they are hamstrung by their own admin people and leadership, who seem to create roadblocks rather than remove them. And it is equally clear she holds those who commit terror in utter disdain and slowly skewers them with her wit.
She captures the third world, and Africa, perfectly. Minutes after starting the book I was having my own flash backs to various hell holes and could literally smell the burning trash and coconut husks that seems to permeate those locales. The venality of third world corrupt officials, the inconsistency of the travel, the ridiculousness of having your chair determined by grade rank, all of this she captures perfectly.
If you have served in the trenches of the shadow world, and remain unsullied by promotions, 360 degree reviews and management speak, this book was written to honor you. If you like The Onion, Duffle Blog or The Office, you will love this book. If you’ve lived in the Third World, and hated it, and loved it once again after some time/distance from it, you will understand this book. If you are an SIS 3 on the 7th floor, who is 4 assignments past the real work of recruiting agents and thinks the PAR system is still a great management tool, then you will probably hate this book. And if you work for Director Brennan, well, get back to us in a year and lets us know how well the new directorate is doing because you probably don’t have time to read this book (but if you do you can get it in Kindle so no one will see you reading it).