MilitaryIamA former CIA Case Officer who recently revealed my career to my family and now the world. AMA!
Apr 8th 2016 by AgencyAgent • 73 Questions • 3615 Points
I was a Central Intelligence Agency Case Officer who served in the Directorate of Operations (DO) with multiple tours in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East. I was in Afghanistan throughout President Obama's 2010 Afghan Surge, during which time I worked on eliminating the most deadly improvised explosive device (IED) network in the world; as well as the removal of numerous al-Qaeda and Taliban High Value Targets from the battlefield.
I was in Kandahar, Afghanistan during Operation Neptune Spear which resulted in the death of UBL in Abbottabad, Pakistan. My final assignment was with a top secret task force operating amidst the Syrian Civil War.
I just wrote a book about all these experiences (and much more), it's titled Left of Boom: How a Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
I will answer all of your questions to the best that I can — if I can. If I can’t, I will do my best to explain why.
1750 EST: AND I WILL NOT STOP UNTIL I SURPASS THIS COMPUTER DUDE KEVIN RILEY WHO IS STANDING ON MY HEAD RIGHT NOW. (Here for the long haul guys. Big bag of cat food for the bubbins. Let's do this.)
1839 EST: DUDES, YOU HAVE ALLOWED THE GUY ABOVE ME TO MAKE THE HOME PAGE OF THE INTERNET. HOW. IS. THIS. POSSIBLE. (Bubby is gnawing on my slipper about this to contemplate.)
1923 EST: CAN SOMEONE TEACH ME HOW TO SABOTAGE KEVIN RILEY WITH ANNOYING QUESTIONS AND THEN BLAME HIM FOR NOT ANSWERING THEM FAST ENOUGH SO HE GETS DOWNVOTES?
1931 EST: COULD IT BE I ACTUALLY HAVE 200 FBI AGENTS MONITORING THIS FEED RIGHT NOW UNDER PSEUDONYM? (Bubby is flattered.)
1958 EST: HEADING FOR THE TITO'S. STILL BEING BEAT BY A PROGRAMMER BY A LANDSLIDE. SHIT IS ABOUT TO GET WEIRD.
2030 EST: TAKING A RUN TO STAY SHARP. IN THE MEANTIME, SHOW SOME LOVE TO GET ME AHEAD OF THIS KEVIN RILEY GUY FOR GODSAKES...
0153 EST: OK GUYS BUBBY NEED HIM NAPPY TIME OR I GET YELLED AT. LET ME PUT MY HEAD DOWN UNTIL 0500 AND THEN I AM BACK UP HERE SLUGGIN AWAY WITH COFFEE AND CAT TOYS. BRB.
2107 EST: THIS JUST IN. CURRENTLY SANDWICHED BETWEEN TWO VIDEO GAME DEVELOPERS IN THE IAMA. TALK ABOUT A CIA CONSPIRACY.
2207 EST: MOAR!!!
2314 EST: Keep em coming guys. Thanks for the interest. Very humbling!
2231 EST: Say when.
ZERO DARK 34: Still here guys. I told you I wouldn't give up on you. I am here as long as you need me.
0132 EST: 11 hours in folks. Thinking about a nap on the couch and then right back to it. Let's go ten more mins. If I hit homepage, I wont sleep. If I hover 27 me go night night a bit.
I like this question. Silliest thing I ever did was take a huge dip of Redman chewing tobacco trying to fit in with some of the hard core door kickers we employ. I turned green, puked in the trash can, drank a coke, then took another even bigger dip to prove to the guys I wasnt a pussy. Turns out, I am. Puked again. Went home early. Sleep tight America!
Haha. Didnt know that was the solution but I will turn it up now.
Was there any assignment in your career that you had that possibly put your life in danger?
Well I was a warzone Case Officer (C/O) so you can imagine that it is already dangerous by proxy of being in a warzone. Then you add in the idea that you are CIA and that puts a tremendous target on your back. Which is why it is so important to maintain sound tradecraft and stay off the radar. Add to that the fact that Afghanistan in and of itself is trying to kill you every chance it gets. Whether that be via the terrain or a virus (which I got and almost killed me) that is not common for a midwest guy like me.
This is the most interesting AMA I've ever read. Thank you for your service! I have two questions: Is there a part of our culture that could benefit from other cultures you've seen?
Before deciding to leave the CIA and write a book, were there other government carrier opportunities (when you came home) you thought about following?
First off, thanks for saying that. Second, what the fuck is Gareth Emery doing trying to AMA while I am trying to crush Kevin Riley?! wtf man! And I like Gareth Emery's music. Fucking dirtbag. Used to anyhow.
Sorry for the profanity supposedtobeworking1. Hopefully that doesnt change to usedtobeworking1 after you got caught on this website talking with a shifty Agency dude.
Yes, there is a part of culture that could benefit from every culture worldwide and that is this - they are all different so STOP mirror imaging other cultures. They are not America and as much as some of our politicians (you know exactly who) wish they were, they are not. I am thankful for that, and they are too. So we gotta stop viewing everything with the American lens when in their country. That was a big ass wake up call for a small town midwest redneck like me. My thought had always been - "Umm we are America they should be more American." After my life overseas I dont think that anymore.
Dont get it twisted. I will bleed on this fucking flag to keep it red. But I know from experience it would do a lot of folks good in our country to learn a little bit about other countries and cultures before slinging mud. That's all I have to say on that. Sorry. You got my BPM up a wee bit supposedtobeworking1.
No, I would not work for any other government organization other than CIA.
Thanks for getting me heated.
Has anybody ever come close to figuring out your secret, what was going through your mind? Do you ever regret that your entire life was a fabricated lie, and how did you create your fake identity?
Oh yes. Those closest to me always were suspicious. And those closest to me were always my girlfriends. They always thought I was cheating on them or in the mafia or selling drugs or something illicit. Which they would constantly point out but I just had to suck it up and deal with it. I talk about in my book how my girlfriend once found my Agency badge in my sock drawer (cool secret hiding spot huh?) and how I had to talk my way out of that disaster. Didn't go over so well.
No, I do not regret that my life was a fabricated lie because it was only my job that I was hiding from everyone. Yes, that job bled into my social life quite heavily at times, but I was determined to keep as much normality in my life as possible which came with a lot of pain along the way. Wasn't easy but I am glad I at least always held onto a sliver of it.
My great uncle was in the CIA after WWII. He was one of the Volksfrei kids that was forced to fight at the end of the war. Him and my grandfather fled the front and went to the nearest americans and turned themselves in.
My Uncle then worked for the CIA to spy I guess on Germans or possible east germans and former Nazi's. He never talked much about it, I don't know what was classified or not but I do remember that he did say he felt bad for spying on fellow Germans. How hard was it to tell your family? how much could you tell them? and would you do it all over again?
also do we do things like Mossad does things? basically killing in other countries or is that just TV stuff?
Krampus1313 you come in swinging. Let me try to answer everything you asked.
Yes, it was very hard to tell my family and as I mentioned, they took it a bit hard, my mom especially, because what do you even say to that? There is no playbook for how to handle your son coming out to you about being a spy. But like I said, they are happy now to see my on TV talking about the whole experience. Would I do it all over again? Yes. It was an awesome career while it lasted.
Mossad gonna be Mossad. I dont know if TV reps them accurately or not but I can say they have a tendency to do whatever the fuck they want so who knows?
Thanks for the answers. Mossad is gonna Mossad is classic, they just DGAF lol
"IDGAF." - Mossad
How did you come to work for the CIA? Did you apply for the job or were you recruited?
A recruiter came to my campus as Indiana University and gave a speech. Then he encouraged us to all apply on line. Thats what I did and this whole thing took off from there.
+1 for IU. There's a prof here named gene coyle who used to be a CIA field officer and teaches a class on intelligence and national security. You ever take his class/do you have any interest in teaching in a similar fashion?
I did not take his class but then again 9/11 happened when I was a freshman at IU so his class would have been much different then compared to what it is now I am sure. I have taught a few classes here in DC and tutor students at Georgetown. I-U
What are you thoughts on the Snowden leaks? Do you feel the American public had a right to know or do you think it was far more harmful to US intelligence interests?
Excellent question. I think both. I think it was harmful to US interests and I think the public had a right to know. As for Mr. Snowden himself, I think people need to stop thinking of him as Robin Hood and this was an altruistic move that he did when he stumbled upon what he revealed. He had been trying to search for something, anything, to reveal to become important. And the movie that was made about him makes it clear that he has a fatuous understanding of the intelligence community. He was not a field operator. He was not cleared. He was not a "spy." He did not go to the Farm. I think he probably wished he had, just like he wished he had made it into US Special Forces but he didnt.
Important question: Who took care of the cat while you were away?
This is by far the best question asked thus far. Thank you for caring so much about my bubby bubby bubbins. Thankfully though, I got him after I left the Agency so I didnt have to worry about that. Or I would have just resigned on the spot.
- Did you work closely with sniper groups?
- What kind of food did you eat while deployed?
- What was the most dangerous situation you found yourself in?
Thank you for the AMA!
No I did not work with sniper groups.
I ate a lot of kabali palaw and eggplant.
Most dangerous was anytime I left the wire because you never know what is going to happen. I am lucky nothing ever did.
Thank you for the question!
Stronger than ever. It's in season right now which (sadly) was always the most beautiful part of Afghanistan from a helo seeing the pink poppies down below. Tragic what they are capable of once scored.
His name is Mr. Oleg Penkovsky. So it is absolutely possible.
What is your cat's name? Does it lead a double life as well or is it possible you're not yet aware of it?
It's very likely. He is a Russian Blue breed which already means he shouldnt be trusted. I also named him Oleg Penkovsky who was a legendary GRU Colonel who spied for the Americans and prevented the Cuban missile crisis. Codename HERO.
Did your time in the Middle East take a greater toll on you mentally or physically? Why?
Mentally. Because I kept it turned up to 11 the entire time I was there. I was generally pretty safe physically during my time there with a few exceptions but nothing that left me debilitated or maimed. That said, I have an entire chapter in my book called The Downward Spiral which talks about my trying to cope with the stress through drugs and alcohol. Not my best stuff but it happened and I thought it was integral to share because lots of guys come back and have a hard time adjusting. Life is tough sometimes, huh?
I wasn't in EOD so I didnt have to encounter the IEDs per se in terms of disarming them. My job was to eliminate those responsible for providing the IEDs in the first place. That is also the definition of the title of the book Left of Boom - which is military slang for everything that takes place prior to a bomb detonating.
Yes, some of them are published in the Book of Honor. Some are not.
You look familiar. Are you allowed to say where/when you were in country? Logar province, 2010?
I was in Afghanistan from 2010-2012. Could be we crossed paths brother.
Did most of your work as a case officer occur behind a desk or TOC of sorts? I always assumed the SOG guys were the actual ones going out on DA raids and the like...
Well put and thank you for signaling to me that you are military up front.
No, I was a field guy. Case officers SHOULD BE out in the field all the time unless they are typing up what they just did. We meet assets and collect intelligence. You cannot do that from behind a desk. You do it in person, this is why its called HUMINT.
Now, I am not going to lie to you and tell you I was on the OBJ with my slick tiger stripes, because that wasnt my job. Mine was much more covert and personal. The intel received allowed for that DA.
So many questions that I don't know where to start. I know a lot of stuff I want to ask would be classified. I know the dynamics of how much the CIA works\collaborates with JSOC has blurred through the years. Do you believe it would be more of a benefit for the CIA to fall under JSOC?
No, I do not. CIA is a civilian organization and that is integral to the intelligence community. Or at least thats what I think. What are your thoughts?
Do you really track your targets, like in the movies? How about avoiding being trailed and losing those trailing you? Do they commonly happen also?
Great question. Let me answer your first question by referring you to Zero Dark Thirty. That is highly authentic movie, and as we learned yesterday via Vice.com, it is because the Agency helped them along the way to ensure its authenticity. As for the second question, I refer you to the Billion Dollar Spy by Bruce Hoffman which lays out the tradecraft involved with surveillance and counter surveillance. I also talk about it in my book regarding that training at the Farm.
Just finished your book it was amazing. Are you currently single? Or did you get back with any of the girls you wrote about in the book? Emma was my favorite.
Haha. Ahem. Wellllllll yes I am single. Shall we move this convo to Tinder?
I always wished I was a vacuum cleaner salesman and I similarly always wished I could fist punch a dude in the face while driving a Stingray at top speeds. Alas, I wasnt. So I guess like only 99%.
What would you say is your most memorable experience in your 10 year career?
Taking down the worlds largest IED network in Afghanistan over a two year period.
Do you regret working for the CIA at all? Seems like there are significant sacrifices.
As EOD, I appreciate everything you did in Afghanistan.
I have no regrets. I had a lot of bad shit happen to me and you are correct, there were a lot of sacrifices, but I always learned from them and made it a net positive which has made me stronger in the long run. The key is to not allow your abduration turn into obduration.
And you have all of my thanks for your service. Even if you dont get the book, please pick it up and flip through the picture section in the middle. I give you guys a ton of shout outs visually!!
Given your intense experience in the CIA, did you find the process of writing a book about it to be cathartic or painful? And were you worried about backlash from anyone (or any group) in particular?
It was at times very much both. All I can say is that I am glad I wrote it when I did - which was three years ago - because if I tried doing it now, I wouldn't because the memories wouldnt be as fresh and I am just too damn tired to go through it all again. The book comes off raw because I was still raw at the time. Now I am just a cat owner with a playstation who likes to drink capri sun.
With opium production at an all time high, rising ISIS factions, and continuing insurgencies from 2001 do you think we can win over there? Do you think my comrades' sacrifice over in Afghanistan was worth it now that the surge seems like it accomplished nothing?
Brother, I ask myself the same question every goddamn day. Was any of it worth it? Will the Taliban retake Afghanistan? They very well might. Will ISIS continue to grow? I think they are starting to decline but, will someone else readily take their place depending on the reason detre of the day? Absolutely. What do you think Jeff? Great convo to start.
What are some common misconceptions about Intelligence Agencies that you wish more people knew?
Thank you for doing this AMA - its interesting to hear from someone who had to keep their job secret for so long.
Let me see. I'd give you a listicle if I could because my cat loves those but you will have to settle for a standard list instead.
CIA was responsible for 9/11. If you believe this you are dumb.
Calling us CIA Agents. No. Please stop that. CIA officer. FBI Agent.
2.5 I really blame Keanu Reeves for ruining the Agent/Officer thing for us. "I am a F-B-I Agent!" Can't tell you how many times guys have quoted that back to me with C-I-A instead. Fucking Johnny Utah man. Ohio State quarterback.
- We are human. We get colds. We sneeze. We get sick. We get sad. We get emo. We have shitty relationships. We cry. We fuck. We eat. We shit. We make lots of mistakes. We are human, please dont forget that when judging us.
Great question. Why 10ofClubs by the way?
Dabble in card magic occasionally, so it's good to have a favorite force card. I picked 10of clubs because I read some awful book that used playing cards in place of tarot cards, and 10ofClubs was my "birthday card" so it kind of stuck with me.
Thanks for the answers! I never talk to CIA ~officers~ so its nice to hear the other side of the coin.
I notice you ask about username choices, which is great because I get to hear the explanations. Any reason you ask besides curiosity?
Because I appreciate cleverness.
Former civilian Fed here. Something I've wondered ever since it happened to me... and just about everyone else. Were you "outed" by the OPM hack? Do the Chinese (or whoever got that) know who all of our agents are now?
Yes. And I will not hide that from anyone because I think it was fucking disgusting that I got that letter in the mail telling me I was exposed.
Thank you for your service. Besides writing, what are you currently doing for work now that you are out of the agency? You mentioned that you were paid on the GS scale, what grade did you start at and end on? If the CIA and the FBI had a professional wrestling style royal rumble, with equal numbers in the ring, which other agency do you see running in mid way through and stone cold stunning everyone? Thank you for any answers you provide.
BEST. QUESTION. SO. FAR.
I am not doing anything in terms of work so far other than feeding my cat and playing Nintendo when he lets me.
I cant say what I started at or what I finished at. Doesnt really matter though cause none of it is that much and it is all public info.
Now, for the main event, I like where your heads at. Brilliant question. And its quite easy to answer. And that is the EEO. Please do yourself a painful favor and look up and see the Stone Cold to my Vince McMahon. In case you are lazy, or dont want to move your cat off your lap like me, I will tell you that is the PC Police. WOOOOOWWOOOOOOOO. They patrol the Federal Government to make sure everyone is polite and sterile and cares about everyone elses feelings and are total robots. So yes, they would run in, stun the field guys, and then put in a professional investigation of the entire audience for being complicit.
Holy fuck. I think you just kicked my hornets nest. I am going to take a walk. Maybe a hot shower.
Do you like your job? How was your social life and did your job put tons of stress on you?
I loved every second of it even when I was bitching. It was a tremendous job. My social life was robust but do understand that came with a lot of stress that I brought upon myself. Consider, every new person I met was one more person I had to keep my secret from and weave another lie with. That web got pretty complex after awhile to the point where I no longer wanted to meet new people. Pretty sad huh? Boo hoo for me. Kidding. It came with the job, you have to accept it and deal with it. That's why they pay you the big government bucks to do it!
What skills did you have to learn in order to qualify?
As a young child I wanted to be a spy. I didn't quite understand the danger element or the possibility of having to hurt or kill others. I also was under the impression that spying would be a Lemony Snicket type affair and that I could totally bust someone like in a kids' adventure novel if only I had the chance! That being said, even though my life and career aspirations are now far less risky, I would love to go on some kind of course that teaches you similar skills to those you learn in the CIA (or military, etc.) without actually having to join, or at lest know what those skills are so that I can practice them. More to appease my inner five-year-old than anything.
Also, if this hasn't already been answered: What was the most difficult situation you found yourself in?
How, approximately, are the pay and benefits?
If you had not become a CIA Officer what would have been your first career choice?
Who is your favourite fictional CIA-ish character?
Thanks in advance, sorry if it's too many questions.
Let me answer all of your questions with a lot of answers.
There are no skills that you can learn per se prior to joining the Agency that will make you a stronger candidate. Yes, the military would help to a degree but in order to be a case officer, which is what I did, you really cant prepare for it ahead of time. Which is a good thing. That way everyone is starting on a level playing field. Which, for me especially, was a good thing given that I was just an average guy from the Midwest.
As for wanting to be a spy as a child and now wanting to appease that inner five year old. Brother, I wanted to be a spy at 23 when I joined. Are you saying I hadn't grown up yet? Ha. I feel you man, I mentioned earlier that the tradecraft they teach you is by far the sexiest part of the job and its where you draw all the juice. Unfortunately, I dont know of anywhere else (legit) that you could get that training, at least that high quality of training, anywhere else in the world. But a guy earlier mentioned he was going to make a karate sizzle reel for the Agency so maybe he could train you-us?
Most difficult situation was being on a lonnnnnnnnnng flight home from Afghanistan and having to take a pee but not being able to because of a virus I had which prevented me from urinating. I'll let you read in the book why I couldn't because it is a bit too graphic for Reddit. (Has that ever been said before on here?)
The pay is governmental and fairly low. But you shouldnt join if that is your reason for wanting to do it. You will not have an Aston Martin and you will not wear Tom Ford. You will drive a Prius (if you are in management) and wear GAP.
If I had not been in the CIA I was dead set on becoming a Marine.
My favorite fictional CIA character used to be James Bond when he was Golden Eye because I had that video game for N64 and played the shit out of it. Then it became Jason Bourne when Matt Damon picked that character up but it is back to James Bond again because Daniel Craig is a bad ass. Also, its easy for me to get a date to come watch Daniel Craig as Bond because they know there is a high propensity he will take his shirt off.
Have you ever had the opportunity to work with CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Services) ? If so, what is your opinion of them.
Nope. Thanks for asking though.
What place in the middle east did you enjoy most and why? What place did you enjoy least and why? What was your impression of the different middle eastern cultures you encountered and how they are different or similar to stuff in the US?
Unfortunately verdant_phoenix, I cannot say which countries I was in the middle east. Let's just say most of them. Sorry, but I was not allowed to say in my book and I cant say here either but would love to tell you over beers sometime. I mean, if we were friends and all.
In his book "A Legacy of Ashes", Tim Weiner asserts that the CIA has never effectively fulfilled its objective of providing American leaders with an accurate picture of the intentions, motivations and capabilities of international actors. Instead, it has focused primarily on covert action - most of which has been unsuccessful or counterproductive. His research (and the book) end a few years into the Iraq War.
In your experience, is this still the case? If not, what substantive changes have been made within the organization's structure or in the way that it understands its mission/purpose?
(I was a Marine infantryman in Helmand in 2011. Not trying to put you on the spot, just asking a question.)
I have not read that book but I can speak from personal experience and he didn't interview me. I was your neighbor in Helmand at the exact time you were there and let me tell you brother, CIA was going 17-5-2 as well. Not sure where Mr Weiner drew his facts from, since it would all be Top Secret and not available via any type of FOIA.
You are not putting me on the spot. Thank you very much for your service. That was the deadliest province in all of Afghanistan. I am glad you are safe.
Were you ever trained with what to do if you were caught overseas? Like how you see in the movies about reacting to torture and things of that nature.
Yikes. Glad it never came to that. Yes, you receive a lot of training. Much of that got redacted in my book but theres still quite a bit in there that you might find useful should you face that situation this evening.
How did you get started in such a career? I was under the impression most people are groomed for these positions.
I applied online just like the campus recruiter told me to. Then they contacted me...
Ok, the url to the proof is not working, but I'll believe it. By revealing to your family, did you mean your wife and children had no idea what you did for a living? If so, what did you tell them during your career and what happened when you revealed the truth to them?
I mentioned above that I am a single guy so by family I consider that my mom and dad. I just told them last week. They were shocked and for good reason. Just as I am sure many folks on Reddit think right now that I am probably a hoax or a scam...my parents initial thought was the same. Like, this cannot be possibly true. This is only in the movies. Nope. It's your son. Right in front of you. And the NYT is about to back me up tomorrow morning. Soooooooo...questions mom and dad???
What involvement, if any, did you have in Operation Neptune Spear?
Sorry brother, can't field that one other than to say I was in Kandahar at the time.
Yes, yes you can. Please apply online!
How did you get to where you were? What did you take during your time in college/university? I'd love to do something like you have one day.
I appreciate you saying that. And you should. It's an unbelievable job that cannot be replicated by anything else. I got there by believing in myself. At first I didnt, I said no way in hell they are going to take a redneck from the midwest like me. But you know what, they eventually called me and the ball started moving. And I kept pushing. And then I got to Langley and was like wtf just happened? It's real!
In college I had a degree in Political Science and also in the Japanese language. I had a minor in business. I-U.
What was it like to feel alone in the sense that you couldn't tell your family?
Why couldn't you tell your family?
What was your scariest experience?
Its not a good feeling and it takes a tremendous toll on you. My mom told me she can already tell I am "getting back to Doug being Doug" meaning, who I was before I joined the Agency and became so insulated.
I couldnt tell them to both protect the and not have them worry about me when I would go off comms for so long.
The most scared I have ever been was when I thought I was going to legit die from bleeding out due to a nasty virus I contracted while in Afghanistan. Also the time a Taliban commander and I got in a stare down over money. It's a tie.
I think it's an old school manual that gets a lot of play still and I am not sure why.
Aside from the technical qualifications, what kind of person do you think would enjoy this line of work? Who wouldn't? What are the questions they should ask themselves? Thanks!
Can you deal well with ambiguity? If yes, you should apply. If no, then definitely dont! Can you comfortably lie to someone? If yes, then apply. If not, then run away as fast as possible.
Also, dont do drugs.
Aww, is that cat a Russian blue? I have two of the little fur balls :)
Me. You. BEST FRIENDS.
My best friend growing up is now in the FBI. He broke off all contact with pretty much everyone when he started there and moved away. Since then, the only word I've heard out of him has been thru a mutual high school friend who is a naval officer and got in touch with him thru some channel she had access to. He has virtually no web presence at all. I google him once in a while and all I've ever found is his office contact info and one picture where he received a commendation for busting some corrupt local government official. My question is: what's a good way to get in touch with him? I don't think sending a note to his FBI e-mail account would be very smart, and I don't want to end up on some watch list. Or am I just watching too much tv and it's a normal e-mail situation?
Haha. I think it may be just a little bit too much tv. Look, if he has an official email address that is PUBLISHED on the internet then brother, that is public information. I wouldnt send him nudes, but I dont see any harm in reaching out.
How much like the movies is it? Anything like the show the Americans?
Nothing like the Americans. That is written FOR the television.