Life Undercover, Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox
In this factual account of her life as a CIA operative, Amaryllis Fox provides the reader with some interesting insight into one of the most controversial organisations on the planet. This is not a James Bond story, but it is much closer to the truth about what it means to work for one of the largest spy outfits around today, and one of the most deadly.
Born in the US, where she lived until she was seven, Amaryllis was a fairly normal child. With just one older sibling, her brother Ben, and a much younger sister, Antonia, she had a reasonably idyllic upbringing, at least to a point. Her father worked overseas a lot, including in the Soviet Union, advising corporations and governments alike. The reader is never entirely sure of what Fox’s father did exactly, or who for. He is portrayed as rarely seen, emotionally unreliable and perhaps a tad shady. He could be described as immoral, becoming an adviser to Thatcher’s UK government, always an immoral endeavour. It was this job that brought Amaryllis (born Amaryllis Damerell Thornber) to England where she stayed, attending Oxford university before deferring her studies to visit Myanmar to help with the resistance movement there as an eighteen yer old in 1998. It makes for an interesting episode in her life and one which shapes her decisions later.
Upon returning intact from Myanmar, she finishes her degree and then heads back to the USA to undertake a Masters in International Security. It was her misfortune to be there when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers murdering thousands of civilians. This horrific attack was the catalyst that prompted Amaryllis to apply to join the CIA, an organisation that had already shown an interest in her during her time in England. She had also developed an algorithm that could be used to predict terrorist activity based upon certain social indicators. Amaryllis was a budding star before she even joined the shady firm.
Needles to say, she was accepted onto the training program. Her first role was as an analyst based at Langley. In this position, Amaryllis was responsible for sifting through data sent from overseas, deciding what was relevant and what wasn’t. She felt the huge pressure of perhaps making a wrong call and allowing important details to fall through the cracks thereby failing to stop so-called terrorist attacks (terrorism is a hugely subjective descriptor these days).
But working in an office environment wasn’t enough for Amaryllis. She was determined to become a field operative. It was in the theatre of conflict that the idealistic young graduate wanted to work, feeling that the hands-on approach would better satisfy her desire to make a real difference. Although married to a man she met in England, Amaryllis attended The Farm, the covert CIA site used to train their field operatives. Being wed didn’t stop her from having sex with other attendees though. Her marriage was effectively over not long after it began. It was also at The Farm, having passed the course, that she met her next husband, and father-to-be of her daughter, Dean Fox, whose surname she took and kept, even after their inevitable divorce.
During her time as a covert operative, Mrs Fox (who likely kept the surname for aesthetic purposes) travelled extensively to meet with gangsters and terrorists. Her MO was one of establishing a friendship and using emotion and psychology to convince her targets to work for the CIA. Other operatives used force, blackmail and intimidation. One of her informants, an Eastern European by the name of Jakob, proves to be a fertile source of information. He also agrees to become an agent for the CIA, although the money he’s offered for his services is laughable and makes Rebel Voice wonder at the veracity of some of the content of this book.
The directors at Langley decide to send Amaryllis and her new husband, Dean, to China to live undercover, although she states that she was under constant surveillance, including from her housekeeper. Her backstory of being an art dealer couldn’t have been good if she was found out from the start. But she used China as a base to touch base with various militants and degenerates across the planet. One episode in Karachi is described in some detail, with Amaryllis portraying her role as having stopped a car bomb attack upon the Karachi Press Club.It’s a dubious claim but the description of events in Karachi are quite intriguing.
Throughout this story we hear of the danger of possible nuclear attacks being thwarted on a regular basis by Amaryllis and her colleagues in the CIA. It would seem as if nuclear suitcase bombs are being sold at horse fairs all over Asia, if we are to believe the contents of this book. For so many bombs, there are remarkably few that have ever exploded. The CIA must be superheroes to have prevented them all from falling into callous hands. Either that or Amaryllis Fox is a Walter Mitty character.
And there is the problem with this book. It was written by a former member of the CIA, an organisation that trains its operatives to lie, and lie convincingly. It’s also a group that ensures that no confidential information is ever leaked out by former members. There are non-disclosure agreements in place to prevent any secrets from getting into the public arena. It’s that kinda place. What this means is that the reader can predict that Amaryllis Fox’ book is not going to contain anything earth-shattering and will have been vetted by CIA personnel before publication.
The truth is that this book is little more than an attempt to capitalise upon an exotic career whilst giving little to the reader. It’s a whole load of nothing dressed up to resemble an exposé. It is the opinion of this reviewer that Amaryllis Fox is doing nothing other than cynically exploiting her former position in the CIA and capitalising upon a public desire for insight into shady groups. It is a book with curious details but which cannot be relied upon in terms of accuracy and veracity. Our conclusion is, why would you spend money on a product that might well be entirely fabricated, but which claims otherwise?
Sult scale rating: 4.5 out of 10. This is not a great read. The central character and author, Amaryllis Fox, emerges as untrustworthy and egotistical. The settings descriptions are decent but not as good as they could and should have been. There is precious little revelatory material and the reader can rest assured that this book was heavily vetted by CIA censors, as per CIA contract and non-disclosure agreement. What has been OK’d for release is only what the CIA feel will serve their interests. That means, it’s not in the reader’s interests, not (that is) if said reader wants the full truth. We recommend you give this book a miss, although there will likely be a movie at some point starring someone like Brie Larson or Scarlett Johansson (who can’t act for shit, excuse our French), which will be rammed down your throat.
Here’s another book about covert US agents overseas, this time it’s the air-force in Korea: