From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
This was the unexpected memoir for me because it popped up as an invitation in my email box and I didn't need to be asked twice! The book was very short (about 200 pages) which I normally love, but frankly I could have stood to have read a lot more of this. The author doesn't waste words or pages, and after a very brief mention of her childhood and college, both of which are relevant to things that occur later, we get right into her recruitment at the CIA, the work that she did, and then a switch to the FBI, which I did not expect but which I think I found even more interesting than the CIA, which had been engaging aplenty.
Obviously a lot of this is about the CIA, so the details she gives are naturally censored in parts. This was my only problem with this book - not that things were censored, but that the author had chosen to leave the expurgated portions (which were not that many) in the text, but as a series (in my copy) of tilde marks, rather than write around the topic. For example, I read at one point, "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified operation within the CIA, the ~~~~~~~~ Program." I didn't get why she hadn't simply changed it to say something like "I'd been moved into what was then a deeply classified program." At another point I read, "if we ever were to ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~, that action would never be taken without thorough analysis." That could easily have been rendered as something like "any action on something like that would never be taken without thorough analysis." The tildes were most annoying when they ran on for many lines - twelve or nineteen on a couple of occasions. But as I said, it wasn't that often and it wasn't a book-killer for me.
The author was born with what's called 'floppy baby syndrome' or more professionally known as hypotonia, in which the body's muscles are less than sturdy, but she overcame that. I'd never even heard of it until I read this book. Here it stands as an foreshadowing of some things the author had to overcome in her career. This led to some bullying in school, then on to her being a blonde Delta Gamma sorority girl and hardly - to some people's narrow minds - the kind of person who would end up in the CIA! But she did, and started out life eying satellite photographs and analyzing them as an aid to tracking terrorists. It reminded me of a scene from that Harrison Ford Tom Clancy thriller Patriot Games in which they were similarly examining photographs to try and identify people at a camp.
Apparently the CIA has a crazy course in vehicular pursuit, called Crash and Bang, where they get to drive these old beat-up cars and have to try to run the opponent off the road. The course ends with them deliberately crashing into a cement wall just so they know how it feels, which seems a bit extreme to me, but I guess it's better to be prepared. I assume it's a relatively low speed crash, but they were told if they didn't hit hard enough to render the vehicle un-drivable, they'd have to do it again!
I got to read about how it was in the CIA right after 9/11, when people like George Bush, as well as Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney would come in unexpectedly, asking rather desperately if the operatives had managed to find a link between this guy Zarqawi, who they knew was into making chemical weapons, and Saddam Hussein, and each time the CIA would report in the negative. At one point the administration learned that Zarqawi had been to Baghdad for surgery, so they used that as the link, changed the heading on the information this author supplied them, and went on national news claiming a link! That news meant that Zarqawi went underground and they lost track of him for a while. It also meant they had manufactured a 'justification' for invading Iraq. It was disturbing to read things like this, it really was. The book was an eye-opener in many regards.
After some time with the CIA, the author wanted a change of pace and applied to the FBI where she was accepted for training. I'm not sure I'd personally consider that a change of pace, but each to their own! At Quantico though, unlike in the CIA, it seemed like there was an institutional program of resentment and bullying of females, and particularly of one who 'claimed' to have worked in the CIA. The three trainers seemed intent upon employing the same genderist attitude toward her from day one, despite one of the trainers being a woman. Their behavior was appalling.
The book is replete with anecdotes and interesting information not about the details of the work (where permissible!), but about the way the work is done and how hard these people strived to keep a country safe - and how awful it is when they feel like they have failed, either because they did not reach the right conclusions in time or because they did, but those who could act on the information would not listen to the experts who were telling them there was a threat. It made fascinating reading and I commend it whole-heartedly.