maryllis Fox's eye-opening new book retells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the
CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists across 16 countries.
The following excerpt was made public by the publishers of “Life
Undercover, Coming of Age in the CIA” by Amaryllis Fox.
n the glass, I can see the man who’s
I first noticed him a few
turns back, his path-correlated with mine in the mess of Karachi back alleys.
Our reflection mingle in the tailor’s
He is horse-faced and tall.
His palms open and close as he walks.
“The security of the veil,” a poster reads
above burqas and hijabs.
Ahead of me, the bus I’d planned to board comes and goes,
covered in an ecstasy of pigment and pattern.
Every square inch is painted with bright shapes and swirls, intricate
and infinite, like a Mardi Gras parade float, a diesel temple to the pleasure
of the eye. It has the look of a free thing burdened, a slow-lumbering dragon,
weighed down by its own beauty and the commuters that hang from its belly and
They are my favorite thing about
Pakistan, these buses.
Against the dust
and the smog and the honking of horns, they are startling, like the discovery
of a kindred soul behind the otherwise dull face of a stranger.
It won’t delay me long, letting this one lumber by.
Another bus will come through in a few
minutes on its way to M.A. Jinnah Road.
Better not give Mr. Ed the impression that I’m trying to lose him.
Nothing raises suspicions more than shaking
It’s what always makes me
laugh about the CIA operatives in the movies.
All the roof gymnastics and juggling of Glocks.
In real life, one chase sequence through a
city center and my cover would be blown for life.
Better to lull them into a false sense of security.
Walk slowly enough for them to keep up.
Stop at yellow lights when driving.
Give them a good look each time I come and
In other words, bore them to tears.
Then slip out and save the James Bond
business for when they’ve been left to tranquil sleep.
Let’s call my tail, Mr. Ed.
I can see Mr. Ed fiddling with cooking utensils at a market stall while
It’s not clear which flavor of
surveillant he is. First, guess is usually the local service—a counterintelligence officer from the government of whatever country I’m in. But in this case, I’m not so sure. Pakistani intelligence operatives are good at what they do. Their surveillance teams are usually six or seven strong,,.so that they can swap out the guy who’s trailing me every few turns to minimize the chance that I’ll notice. This man seems to be alone. Not only that, but there’s a foreign angle to his face. Despite his traditional dress, the kameez worn long and loose over his trousers, he has the air of central Asia about him. A Kazakh, maybe, or an Uzbek. Most likely, he checking me out in preparation for tomorrow’s meeting. Al Qaida has had an influx of central Asian recruits of late. Putting newcomers to work as spotters is pretty typical. Gives them a chance to learn the city while the group’s recruiters size them up.
I watch him weave his way through the stalls that line the
side of Jodia Bazar.
He picks up part of
a carburetor and turns it around in his hands.
Something about the way he examines it makes me wonder whether maybe
he’s of the third variety—an aspiring arms broker who knows I work with Jakab,
the Hungarian purveyor of all things Soviet surplus.
Of course, there’s always the underwhelming
fourth possibility: he’s plain old would-be predator, eyeing a 28-year-old
American girl traipsing through foreign streets alone.
After all, there’s Occam’s razor to
The simplest explanation is
usually the right one.
Government or goon, any tail is cause to abort an
No sense meeting a source or
picking up dropped documents with an audience in tow.
Even harmless creeps can turn less harmless
when they think they’ve witnessed something worth telling.
Luckily, I’m not on my way to an operational
Not until tomorrow.
Today is pure reconnaissance.
Jakab told me the intersection of Abdullah Haroon and Sarwar
That was all he knew, he
He wasn’t even supposed to know
He’d probed his buyers for the
info, under the guise of selling them the right bomb for the job.
He’d need to understand the target, he told
them to be sure the material would be enough to register on a Geiger
Enough to win them the
attention they sought.
When the next bus arrives, I board slowly and easily, as if
I’m not headed to check out the target of a potential nuclear terror
Mr. Ed climbs up top, to sit on
the roof of the bus.
I take a seat in
the women’s compartment.
afternoon is fading into gloaming and the motorbikes begin to turn on their
There’s time, amid the crush of
evening traffic, to take in the buildings, most of them older than the country
itself, monuments to a time when Pakistan and India were one, the playthings of
colonists and kings. I feel the kinship of it, being a Yankee,
shrugging off of England’s yoke.
I can picture the men and women around me
tossing crates of tea into the harbor in their kameezes and shawls.
We are rebel lands, they and us.
If only all that rebellion didn’t spill quite
so much blood.
I can see the intersection emerge from the traffic and the
donkey carts, up beyond the faded tarps, strung taut between buildings to lend
shelter from the now-set sun.
side is the National Bank of Pakistan, a reasonable guess at their objective, I
After all, the mullahs cleared
the twin towers as legitimate military targets, claiming that America kills
Muslims as much by impoverishing the innocent as it does by tank treads on the
But the building doesn’t feel
right to me.
It’s concrete and
uninspiring, postwar brutalism at its most scathingly bare.
It doesn’t exactly scream Western excess.
I wait until the driver slows and jump back into the dust of
Mr. Ed lands softly on the far
side of the bus.
I cross Abdullah Haroon
Road (nee: Victoria Road) slowly enough for him to follow, and then it dawns on
me as I reach the other side.
of me, set back slightly behind chained gates, is what looks to be a miniature
castle, a tiny stone fortress amid the rickshaws and pigeons.
It’s the Karachi Press Club, the bastion of
free speech and independent journalism, famed home to protest, debate, and the
only bar serving alcohol in the country.
Dollars to doughnuts, this is their target.
Nothing like getting bombed to get you bombed in this town.
|Karachi Press Club was ransacked by armed intruders in November 2018|
From what Jakab said, this attack would be intended as a
warning—a shot across the bow of any country where the press flows as freely as
Clean up Pakistan first, then
turn attention to the infidel.
elegant positioning, but the truth is that it’s a lot easier to plan and
execute an attack here than in Times Square.
Al Qaida has been working toward a nuclear capability since at least
1992, when Usama bin Laden sent his first envoys to Chechnya in search of
fissile material lost in the crumbling Soviet shuffle.
But washed up nukes are elusive, expensive,
and highly temperamental.
they’d aim for a dry run close to home.
That means I’m looking at two scenes simultaneously: first,
the potential attack in front of me and, second, the implications for a
follow-up attack on U.S. soil.
and thinkers from across the world come to speak at the Karachi Press Club,
nuclear weapon would vaporize every building and every person I can see for
half a mile.
Detonated outside the New
York Times building in midtown Manhattan, the same device would incinerate
Times Square, Penn Station, Bryant Park, and the New York Public Library, plus
countless condos, apartments, bodegas, preschools, and taxicabs in a blast burning hotter than the sun.
Because light travels faster than sound, the
half-million or so people in that first radius would turn to vapor before they
even heard a boom.
For another half-mile
in every direction, radiation would kill most people within days.
Cancer would ravage their outer neighbors for
years yet to come.
Terrorism is a psychological game of escalation.
It’s not the last attack that scares
It’s the next one.
Think it’s frightening to see our embassies hit overseas, as
they were in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998?
Try watching a fortified destroyer blown up on active duty, as our USS
Cole was in the Gulf of Aden two years later.
Think a strike on our military is scary?
How about a mass-casualty attack on our
homeland, like the one we watched unfold in horror on a cloudless Tuesday
morning the following September.
The question of Al Qaida since 9/11 has been where to go
What could offer more
haunting imagery than jetliners plowing into skyscrapers?
What could be more destructive than killing
3,000 people on a random weekday morning?
Eventually, the only thing left is a mushroom-shaped cloud.
Eventually the only viable escalation is a blast so bright, the few surviving witnesses will see its image burned on their
retinas for the remainder of their lives.
Mr. Ed is watching a woman walk through the Karachi Press
Her head is covered with a
1970s Pucci-style scarf.
The bottom of
her kameez is patched with flowers.
whole look is demure and Islamic with a joyful Partridge Family wink.
Beside the gates, a man sells flowers, cut and
He shouts discounted prices at
On the sidewalk behind
him, there’s a sign for a children’s dentist.
I feel the horror of it froth inside me.
The hideous, useless waste of potential.
I want to run at the horse-faced man, want to
rush him and shake him and ask him how he can consider killing a woman who sews
flowers onto her clothes.
How can he
consider killing half a million like her?
But for all I know, he's a run-of-the-mill street stalker.
I’ll have my chance tomorrow.
One shot to tell al Quida why they shouldn’t
detonate a nuclear weapon in a major city center.
One opportunity, face-to-face with the group
that wants to bring this country to its knees.
Leave the man alone, I figure.
Then he takes out a mobile phone and makes eye contact with
me as he dials.
Note: Amaryllis Fox’s
book “Life Undercover, Coming of Age in the CIA” is available in bookstores and