July 27, 2021

How to go from CIA spy to international peace broker according to Amaryllis Fox

Before her 30th birthday, Amaryllis Fox had already been divorced twice, had a young daughter and worked as a secret agent for the CIA for nearly a decade. He has told it in a memoir that Roca Editorial now publishes in Spain with the title Covert. My life in the service of the CIA, translated by Ana Duque de Vega. How not to take advantage of a material so juicy that it could be the fruit of the wildest imagination of a writer of spy novels. In fact, there are those who have come to question whether everything that appears on the pages has really happened.

A dozen books with which to start the autumn in the best possible way

A dozen books with which to start the autumn in the best possible way

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In September last year, journalist Yashar Ali published in your newsletter that the US Central Intelligence Agency had not yet given the go-ahead for the book’s publication in the United States, scheduled for October 15. However, the galleys had happily circulated, Vogue magazine had published an excerpt from the text and even the author had already sold the rights to the story to the producer Media Res, which will turn it into a series for Apple TV with Brie Larsson as the protagonist . It seems like one more chapter in his memoirs: “the struggle of the former spy to bring the truth to light.”

It is assumed that Fox made the pertinent changes in his writing so as not to compromise national security following the indications of his former employers and finally the book was released. In this regard, journalist Mary Louise Kelly published in The Washington Post that: “The problem with Fox, as with all former CIA officers who write memoirs, is that it is impossible to verify the facts. As a policy, the Agency refuses to confirm a person’s job title or dates of employment, regardless of the details of the assignments abroad (…) Maybe everything developed as Fox relates in those pages or such no time. Even if you finally get approval to publish them, we’ll never know for sure. We have to decide how much that matters ”.


But the former secret agent has not limited herself to writing the book, but years ago she began to tell her experience in, of course, a TED talk or in videos for media like Al Jazeera. Even the documentary series The drug business which premiered on Netflix last June, begins with the testimony of his time at the CIA. The facts you relate may not be able to be verified, but you are using them to spread the principle that drives you: using dialogue to resolve the conflict. It is currently considered one of the highest authorities on the matter at the international level.

A slightly twisted mind might think that getting rich and famous was her true motivation, but her wedding to Robert F. Kennedy III – her current husband and father of her second daughter – would have been enough to attract the flash of the press unnecessarily from so much effort. A union, on the other hand, somewhat ironic if you consider the relationship between the Kennedy family and the CIA, which has given so much footing to conspiratorial ideas for decades. Jackie and Fox would have had a good topic to talk about.

What was your undercover life like?

The book begins with the description of a persecution by Karachi (city of Pakistan). Fox, a 27-year-old American citizen, walks through the streets followed by a tall, horse-faced man she calls Mr. Ed. There is no speed, no cars stopping short, collapsed flea market stalls, or jostling through crowds as seen usually seen in action movies.

“That always makes me laugh in movies about CIA agents: people doing parkour on rooftops and juggling the Glocks. In real life, a chase through the city center would spell the end of my false identity; it is better to keep the pursuers calm with a false sense of security, to walk slowly enough to make it easy for them to follow me … In other words, to kill them with boredom. And then sneak out and save the Bond mission for when they’re sleeping peacefully, ”the author writes.

Although this explanation suggests that the rest of the book is boring, it is not. It is true that in his missions there are no shootings or situations of extreme violence, but the tension of the encounters and, above all, his life trajectory is what makes the book interesting. The protagonist began to worry about international politics at the age of eight, when her father invited her to read the newspapers to try to understand the reason for the terrorist attack on the Pan Am plane that killed her friend Laura.

His family was not entirely conventional: his mother was a housewife from a wealthy English family and his father an adviser on energy policy to governments around the world. His job made him travel a lot – some of his behaviors made him suspect that he was perhaps more than a consultant – which allowed Fox and his brother to live in different places during their childhood (Washington, London) or to visit Moscow while still children. Her first solo adventure begins after high school, when she takes a year off to volunteer to work in Thailand with refugees fleeing Burma.

There he meets Min Zin, a dissident Burmese writer who awakens his political conscience and travels to Rangoon under a false identity to film the rebellion against the government that is being prepared with his friend Daryl. The protest does not materialize but they manage to leave the country – after a 24-hour detention – with the material that will make their name heard in the media for the first time: a film with an interview with the Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi , who at that time had been held in a home for ten years (she had not yet won the Nobel Peace Prize, nor had she become the legitimate leader of her country, nor had she been accused of allowing a genocide against the Rohingya).

He studies theology and international law at Oxford, where he begins to collaborate with Amnesty International, but there are two events that redirect his career: the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and the murder of his tutor, the Wall Street Journal journalist Danny pearl, by a terrorist group in Pakistan.

He then enrolled in a master’s degree in conflict and terrorism at the Georgetown School of the Foreign Diplomatic Service and there he developed an algorithm to detect possible geographic points that could be used by terrorists as a refuge. It draws the attention of the CIA, which recruits her after she passes the first round of all the tests she will have to undergo.

That’s where her life as an undercover begins: “From now on, all the people I love – my mother, my family, my friends – believe that I am working as a counselor for a multinational company that uses the algorithm that I developed to help its managers to avoid possible unstable locations. It is a temporary alibi for my training, which will be replaced by something more permanent if I can really get through the painful months that await me.

The next phase is the six months of training in what is known as La Granja, from where she will leave prepared to be a ‘real’ spy. The objective is to understand the motivation of the terrorists: with this information you can get the enemies to change sides. The entire book exudes American patriotism (after all, he commits his life to serve the Government), but more or less questions his way of acting.

Its main task is to block the sale of weapons to terrorists, especially nuclear weapons. With her fake art buyer identity, she lives in a Virginia safe house until she is shipped to China for six years. That country will be its base, although the operations will be carried out abroad. She is accompanied by Dean, another CIA agent whom she also has to marry because of “company policies.”

His mission advances, but private life is almost more complicated than handling international terrorism. The Chinese government constantly monitors them, as if they were participating in Big Brother, but they have to behave like a normal married couple. To make things a little more complicated, they have a daughter, Zoë, who spends her first months of life being the only one with a real personality in that family of three.

Reconciling motherhood with espionage is not exactly easy, although she is even able to use that experience to her advantage to deal with the enemy: in a tense meeting with armed terrorists, one of them holds her baby with asthma in her arms and she tells him gives away the clove oil that he uses to soothe his daughter’s cough. In return, he receives a bouquet of Alder. When Mary Louise Kelly talks about events that may or may not have been real, she could refer to these details.

When the mission ends and they return to Washington, so does that stage of his life, including his marriage to Dean. And she begins her new role as a former secret CIA agent, conflict mediator, analyst, lecturer, documentarian and writer. When Fox first arrived at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia, he read a phrase that stuck with him: “And you must know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” All hers, he claims, is in the book.


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