I talk with Michele Rigby Assad, a former CIA agent, about a sequence in her book, Breaking Cover, where she interrogated a terrorist in Iraq and turned her presumed liabilities to her advantage. Nominally about espionage and brinkmanship and the war on terror, this episode really highlights what it takes to convince others of your worth. What Michele had to fight within the CIA just so she could fight Al Qaeda will astound you.
I met Michele at a panel on spycraft at a literary festival in Florida last year. I loved the story of how she moved from this southern belle and homecoming queen to a hardened spy who spoke Arabic. I was on the stage with her that day, but I have to say it was Michele who held the room. I hope you'll find this episode just as mesmerizing.
In her post CIA career, Michele travels the world as a public speaker and consultant. She showed in this Ted talk how to take your assumed weakness and turn it into your secret strength.
She's also spoken at Google about her life and Breaking Cover. She remains a big fan of books about espionage and the craft of espionage. She has kind things to say about my book (thanks, Michele!) but also raves about books on Special Operations Executive, the secret British agency that helped to win World War II, and the agency on which Ian Fleming based James Bond. What is arguably the best book on SOE is William Mackenzie's The Secret History of SOE, which the British government classified and kept from the public for more than 40 years.
Stateside, I'm a fan of Michele's book—it shows the baffling inner workings of the CIA during the Iraq War—as well as a couple of Steve Coll's books. Ghost Wars is about the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, from the fall of Communism in 1979 to September 10, 2001; and Directorate S, a history of the global war on terror from the perspectives of the CIA and ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, Pakistan being the country where, of course, Osama bin Laden was found.
Start with Michele's book, then move to the others.