Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, by Amaryllis Fox

"Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA," by Amaryllis Fox, (Alfred A. Knopf), $26.95 hardcover, 230 pages.

"Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA" is a memoir by news commentator and TV host Amaryllis Fox. The first 71 pages describe her growing up years around the globe and her college experiences at Oxford University. She applies to the CIA while she is in graduate school at Georgetown University. She developed an algorithm to predict areas where a terrorist cell would erupt, and it caught the CIA's attention.

When she is hired, she cannot tell anyone that she is a CIA employee, including her friends and family. The CIA prohibits her from telling her boyfriend, Anthony, a British citizen and classmate from Oxford, that she is an employee, unless they are married. So she gets married at age 24, immediately before going to “Undercover” school at “The Farm." When she returns home, Anthony has left and she gets their marriage annulled.

On her last day at The Farm, she meets another recruit, Dean Fox, who wasn’t in her group. Dean had previously worked as a photographer for National Geographic. They develop a friendship with benefits and meet up between assignments. Amaryllis’ cover is as an art dealer, and she goes to hot spots in the world to meet people connected to arms dealers. She gathers intelligence on arms dealers and people connected to terror cells, but isn’t involved in military operations. Dean, on the other hand, is trained for combat.

When she is 27 years old, Amaryllis is assigned to a duty station in Shanghai, China, for six years. According to the CIA the only way that she can stay in contact with Dean is to marry him, since he is assigned to Afghanistan. She discovers she is pregnant immediately before they move to Shanghai. They know that they are under constant surveillance by the Chinese government and pretend to act as art dealers. Dean spends a lot of his time playing pirated video games set in Afghanistan. She delivers a healthy baby girl, Zoe, and continues her undercover work, often taking the baby with her. When she meets Jakab, her terrorist contact, in Pakistan, she leaves Zoe with Dean.

The family returns to Washington so Dean can undergo more training. He is angry and becomes violent, although he never strikes his wife or child. Amaryllis decides not to accompany him when he is assigned to Afghanistan and starts the divorce process. She then makes the decision to leave the CIA after 10 years of service. She believes that the best way to conquer the enemy is by peacefully establishing rapport. She and Zoe move to California to live with her mother and stepfather, and she continues her work in the community with peacemaking and conflict resolution.

This book is interesting, and provides insight into the life of an undercover CIA agent. The introductory section wasn’t very interesting to me, but provided the needed background as to how such a young person was drafted into the CIA. Her memoir is full of details about how the CIA operates, and I’m amazed that the CIA approved the publication of this book.

The details about how undercover operations work and the spycraft trade make this book a must-read, especially for fans of suspense or thriller novels. The book contains a lot of information about the terrorist contact, Jakab, and her interactions with him over a period of years.

She bonded with a terrorist because his baby was asthmatic. Fox is open about the failure of her two marriages. She doesn’t mention that she has since married Bobby Kennedy III, grandson of the late U.S. attorney general.

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