Cover image of "Agent Storm," a book about al Qaeda

Forget James Bond. Six-foot-one, 250 pounds, with flaming red hair, Morten Storm is the real deal. This guy really did infiltrate al-Qaeda and operate at the highest levels of the network for many years. And, apparently, he’s still alive (somewhere) to tell the tale in this amazing book about Al Qaeda.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

If Agent Storm were a novel, you wouldn’t believe a word of it. It’s not. The co-authors wrote the book based on weeks of interviews and months of documentary research to confirm what they learned. In an author’s note that prefaces the text, they write that “What makes Morten Storm’s story unique is the extraordinary amount of audiovisual evidence and electronic communications he collected during his time as a spy, which both corroborate his story and enrich his account.”

Much later, in Storm’s acknowledgment at the conclusion of the book, we learn that co-author Paul Cruickshank, a British journalist, “is now CNN’s terrorism analyst and the editor of a recent five-volume collection of scholarship on al-Qaeda.” Like Cruickshank, co-author Tim Lister had “reported on al-Qaeda terrorism and international security for many years.” And the book includes snapshots of much of the documentation that Storm so carefully collected over the years, which help to confirm the context of the clandestine recordings of his conversations with his Western handlers.

Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA by Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank, and Tim Lister ★★★★★

So much for any doubts about the credibility of this astonishing tale.

Written as a first person account, Agent Storm relates the experiences over a decade of a young Danish man who describes himself as, early in life, a “biker, boozer, and boxer.” Raised in a violent, alcohol-fueled home and a veteran of criminal gangs in adolescence, Morten Storm turned to Islam at the age of twenty-one and made his way with the fierce and sudden conviction of a convert into radical jihadist circles.

Gradually drifting into the heart of al-Qaeda in Yemen in the late 1990s, Storm was seen as a valuable asset by the terrorist network and eventually given an audience with Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki was the radical American Muslim cleric who rose to head what became the most powerful arm of al-Qaeda following the death of Osama bin Laden many years later; he was widely considered to be the successor to Ayman al-Zawahari, the man who took over following bin Laden’s death.

A trusted aide to al-Awlaki

Eventually, Storm became a close and trusted aide to Awlaki. The cleric even entrusted him with the job of recruiting his third wife, a blonde Westerner, as well as funneling money and supplies to him and his followers (as directed by Western intelligence agencies). Awlaki, you may recall, was the first American to be targeted and killed by a US drone strike — and the authors make a very good case for demonstrating that Morten Storm provided the crucial link that led to the cleric’s assassination.

This account of Storm’s evolving beliefs over the years, and his 180-degree turn into becoming a spy for Danish intelligence, MI5 and MI6, and the CIA, is an intensely suspenseful tale that stacks up to any novel of espionage as a cliffhanger. It is also a carefully measured condemnation of Danish intelligence and the CIA, and to a lesser extent of the twin British agencies — measured, because Storm is critical of no one more than himself. The details about distrust and conflict among the various agencies are worth the price of the book in their own right. (Hint: they thought little was wrong with undermining one another’s operations — and these were all allies.)

If you’re looking for insight into the minds and mores of radical Islamists and a true account of how Western powers practice the craft of intelligence, Agent Storm is an eye-opening introduction.

For reviews of other books on this topic, read 20 eye-opening books about terrorism. You might also be interested in seeing my post, 20 good nonfiction books about espionage.

Like to read good biography? Check out 10 great biographies.

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