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What’s it really like to be a CIA spy?

Published Apr 24th, 2016 9:55AM EDT
CIA Spy Story Reddit AMA Book

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Intelligence agencies have been in the news a lot for the past few years thanks to the Snowden leaks, but also the recent wave of terrorist threats and attacks that hit various targets in the U.S., Europe, and other regions of the world. So what’s it really like to be a CIA spy? Is it similar to what we see in Homeland, The Americans, or other movies?

One former spy took to Reddit to host an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) session, in which he revealed what his experience as a CIA officer was.

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We often see impressive Ask-Me-Anything sessions on Reddit, and this one is definitely one to check out. Hosted by Doug Laux, author of the newly published book Left of Boom: How a Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the AMA is definitely a fun read. Laux explains what he did for the CIA, how he signed up for service, how he kept his cover from his family and friends.

“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,” Laux opened his AMA under the AgencyAgent Reddit username.

“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.”

Here are some of the interesting things he said.

About joining the CIA

“A recruiter came to my campus at Indiana University and gave a speech. Then he encouraged us to all apply on line. That’s what I did and this whole thing took off from there.”

About telling his family

“So for context, since you asked about family – I classify that as solely my mom and dad. And I kept it from them by telling them I was a low-level sales guy – which I also told everyone else – and since that’s pretty boring, their truthfully weren’t a whole lot of other follow up questions. I just told my mom and dad last week. It’s also a gigantic weight off my chest that I have been carrying for the past ten years.”

About someone figuring out his secret

“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.”

About life as a CIA officer

The mental toll is tougher. “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.It is hard to replace that adrenaline and it’s also hard to deal with petty shit not being so petty back home. But I have come around.”

About being outed in the OPM hack

“Yes, [I was]. 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.”

About CIA and the movies

“Great question [about tracking targets like in the movies]. Let me answer your first question by referring you to Zero Dark Thirty. That is highly authentic movie, and as we learned yesterday via, 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.”

About silly things he did

“Silliest thing I ever did was take a huge dip of Redman chewing tobacco trying to fit in with some of the hardcore 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 wasn’t a pussy. Turns out, I am. Puked again. Went home early. Sleep tight America.”

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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