Amaryllis Fox, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is set to release a memoir in October about her time in the agency. Though the book, titled “Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA,” is not yet published, some aspects of Fox’s account are already making waves both within the CIA and the publishing world.
Some former CIA officers have questioned certain scenes described in the book, according to NBC News, including a meeting Fox said she had with armed extremists in Pakistan. Fox also submitted the memoir to her publisher – review copies of which were then sent to at least two news outlets – without clearance from the CIA’s Publication Review Board, freelance journalist Yashar Ali reported in a newsletter. All CIA officers sign a standard “secrecy agreement” when they join the agency, agreeing to “keep national security secrets for as long as the US Government deems the information to be classified.”
Apple’s streaming service, it was announced this Spring, will also produce a series based on the book, starring Brie Larson.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Fox Was Recruited as a Grad Student at Georgetown University
While completing a master’s program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, Fox created an algorithm that “predicted, with uncanny certainty, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world,” according to her book description on Amazon. At 21 years old, she was then recruited by the CIA.
The following year, Fox was sent to “the Farm,” a CIA training base in Virginia, where she lived for six months. In a simulated world on the base, she reportedly learned “how to use a Glock, how to get out of flexicuffs while locked in the trunk of a car, how to withstand torture, and the best ways to commit suicide in case of captivity.”
After training, Fox was deployed as a spy under non-official cover, which her book describes as “the most difficult and coveted job in the field,” as an art dealer, and sent to infiltrate terrorist operations in the Middle East and Asia.
“Amaryllis Fox’s riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world’s most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter,” the book says.
2. Fox’s Book Has Not Been Approved by the CIA
As Ali first reported, Fox’s memoir has not yet been officially cleared for publication by the CIA’s Publication Review Board, though the former officer did reportedly submit her manuscript for approval. Despite a lack of clearance, the book was sent to publisher Knopf Doubleday.
The CIA is very specific about what content must be submitted to the PRB before release. Its website states:
Publishing is more than having a printing house bind copies of a book. It means communicating by any means (including orally or electronically), information regardless of form to any person or entity other than the CIA’s PRB or a US Government official authorized by the CIA to receive such information for prepublication review. This encompasses materials including but not limited to: book reviews, Op-ed pieces, scholarly papers, scripts, screenplays, blogs, speeches, and other materials.
A spokesperson for Knopf said in a statement to Ali: “Our understanding is that Amaryllis has coordinated with the PRB throughout the process of writing her book, from the proposal through the final manuscript.”
3. Fox Describes Meeting With Extremists Alone in Pakistan
In one section of “Life Undercover,” Fox says she met with armed extremists from al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, but doesn’t describe being with a security team or Pakistani intelligence.
Four former CIA officers told NBC that the agency would not have sent an American officer alone to a meeting with extremists.
“If someone proposed an operation like that to me, I would send them back for remedial training,” one officer told NBC.
4. An Excerpt of Fox’s Book Was Published in Vogue
In August, Vogue Magazine published a section of Fox’s upcoming memoir, including vivid descriptions of “the Farm.” Fox remembers her boyfriend driving her to a gas station on Route 123 early in the morning, before she gets in a van packed with other CIA trainees and heads to the base.
“Jokes masking our nerves, we drive through the familiar gates at Langley, step out of the van and into the blacked-out bus that will deliver us to the Farm — a simulated Truman Show set in a fictionalized country called the Republic of Vertania (ROV), where we are to undergo the most demanding espionage training on Earth.”
The excerpt includes mention of Fox’s firearm training, which involved learning how to fire a Glock and M4 assault rifle – and treating the wounded afterwards.
“Toward the end of the course, we begin to mix in weapons qualifications. Glock and M4. Training in urban combat scenarios, peppered with dummies — some legitimate targets, most dressed as local men, women, and children. Hit a civilian and we’re out. Even the actual targets have to be given first aid as soon as we complete our objective or the compound is secured. It’s not clear if the point of that policy is compassion or to keep the adversary alive for interrogation, but there’s something confusingly tender about it, the nursing of wounds we ourselves have just inflicted.”
5. Other Former CIA Officers Have Gone to Bat Against Rigid Agency Censors
Several other agents-turned-authors have criticized the CIA’s publication review process, deeming it too slow and restrictive.
Former CIA analyst Nada Bakos, who wrote the book “The Targeter: My Life in the CIA, Hunting Terrorists and Challenging the White House,” sued the agency in 2018. Bakos thought there were too many delays in getting CIA approval for her book, but told NBC that she still never thought about publishing it without a go-ahead from the agency.
Fox’s decision to move forward without clearance “is so irresponsible,” Bakos told NBC. “It’s not up to her to decide what is classified and what isn’t.”