Agent Storm

Title:                      Agent Storm

Author:                 Morten Storm

Storm, Morten (2014) with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister. Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press

LCCN:    2015413376

UB271.U52 S76 2014

Summary

  • A Danish national-turned-associate of al Qaeda provides an inside look at his decade as a radical Islamist, as well as his ultimate decision to leave the jihadist life and become a double agent for the CIA and British and Danish intelligence.
  • Morten Storm was an unlikely jihadi. A six-foot-one red-haired Dane, Storm spent his teens in and out of trouble. A book about the Prophet Mohammed prompted his conversion to Islam, and Storm sought purpose in a community of believers. He attended a militant madrasah in Yemen, named his son Osama, and became close friends with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born terrorist cleric. But after a decade of jihadi life, he not only repudiated extremism but, in a quest for atonement, became a double agent for the CIA and British and Danish intelligence. Agent Storm takes readers inside the jihadist world like never before, showing the daily life of idealistic men set on mass murder, from dodging drones with al-Qaeda leaders in the Arabian desert to training in extremist gyms in Britain and performing supply drops in Kenya. The book also provides a tantalizing look at his dangerous life undercover, as Storm traveled the world for missions targeting its most dangerous terrorists, and into the world’s most powerful spy agencies: their tradecraft, rivalries, and late-night carousing, as well as their ruthless use of a beautiful blonde in an ambitious honey trap. Agent Storm is a captivating real-life thriller.–From publisher description.

Contents

  • Desert road : mid-September 2009 — Gangs, girls, God : 1976-1997 — The convert : early 1997-summer 1997 — Arabia : late summer 1997-summer 1998 — Londonistan : summer 1998-early 2000 — Death to America : early 2000-spring 2000 — Family feuds : summer 2002-spring 2005 — MI5 comes to Luton : spring-autumn 2005 — Meeting the Sheikh : late 2005-late summer 2006 — The fall : late summer 2006-spring 2007 — Switching sides : spring 2007 — London calling : spring 2007 — From Langley with love : summer 2007-early 2008 — Cocaine and Allah : early 2008 — Clerical terror : spring-autumn 2008 — Killing Mr. John : autumn 2008-spring 2009 — Mujahideen secrets : autumn 2009 — Anwar’s blonde : spring-summer 2010 — A new cover : summer-winter 2010 — Target Awlaki : early 2011-summer 2011 — A long hot summer : July-September 2011 — Breaking with Big Brother : autumn 2011 — Back in the ring : late 2011 — The lion’s den : January 2012 — Operation Amanda : January-May 2012 — Chinese whispers : May 2012 — A spy in the cold : 2012-2013.

Subjects

Notes

  • “First published in Great Britain in 2014 by the Penguin Group”–Title-page verso.

Date Posted:      April 26, 2017

Reviewed by Scott Shane[1]

It was June 2010, and American intelligence agencies were desperate to track down Anwar al-Awlaki, the American cleric who had joined Al Qaeda and was believed to be plotting from the wilds of Yemen. But Awlaki had other things on his mind. From his hide-out, he sent an encrypted email to Morten Storm to thank him for dispatching to Yemen the Croatian convert to Islam who had become his third wife. She had turned out to be even “better than I expected and better than you described,” Awlaki wrote, adding a lascivious smiley face.

Like many of the colorful tales in Agent Storm, this might seem a figment of Storm’s imagination if not for the book’s appendix, which includes an image of Awlaki’s email, one of many items of corroboration. In the end, the big red-haired Dane’s story of his checkered career as a chapter leader in a biker gang, a radical Muslim activist and finally a spy infiltrating Al Qaeda for three Western intelligence agencies comes across as highly credible, even if every detail cannot be checked.

Storm came to public attention in 2012, when he approached the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten with what sounded like a preposterous tale of his friendship with Awlaki and his work for the C.I.A. But reporters thoroughly checked the evidence he presented, including a video message Awlaki sent to his intended bride and a snapshot of a briefcase full of $250,000 in C.I.A. cash, his resulting payment. Storm even had a recording, made surreptitiously on his iPhone, of a C.I.A. officer trying to persuade him that his work, while excellent, had not led to the drone strike that killed Awlaki in September 2011.

As remarkable as his work against Awlaki was, the Dane had played a far broader role in the infiltration of militant groups. His memoir, written with the help of Paul Cruickshank, a terrorism analyst, and Tim Lister, a journalist, is both a rollicking read and a rare insider’s account of Western spying in the age of Al Qaeda, where the risk if exposed is not Cold War-style expulsion but gruesome execution. Storm says his work made possible the killings of multiple militants, a fact he claims troubled but did not deter him.

After becoming disillusioned with radical Islam in 2007—as suddenly as he had embraced it a decade earlier—Storm agreed to work for the Danish intelligence service and soon carried out regular assignments for the British MI6 and American C.I.A. as well. He penetrated radical circles in Birmingham and London, the militant group Al Shabab in East Africa and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen (A.Q.A.P.). In addition to Awlaki and the head of A.Q.A.P., Nasser al-Wuhayshi, Storm had relationships with an astonishing list of militants, including Omar Bakri Muhammad, a prominent militant cleric then in Britain, and Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a commander for Al Shabab now in American custody. Among Storm’s first C.I.A. contacts was a woman he knew as “Amanda,” whom he later realized was Elizabeth Hanson, killed in the 2009 bombing of a C.I.A. base in Khost, ­Afghanistan.

Storm describes how the C.I.A. and other agencies, when they were not busy feuding among themselves, supplied him with laptops, cellphones and even an Arabic dictionary rigged with tracking devices to pass on to militants. He delivered to his handlers the encryption software used by Al Qaeda, known as Mujahedeen Secrets 2.0; posed as a coke dealer to explain his payments from spy agencies; and used couriers to stay in touch with Awlaki. In one eyebrow-raising claim, he reports that he passed $5,000 in C.I.A. cash to Awlaki in 2008, suggesting that American taxpayers may have unwittingly contributed to Al Qaeda.

In the end, his loyalty to the intelligence agencies proved no more lasting than his allegiance to Al Qaeda. Nearly as fed up with the spies as with the jihadists, Storm decided to go public and says he turned down an offer of $400,000 to keep his mouth shut. The result is a valuable window on both sides in a lethal underground war.

[1] Scott Shane, “Mission Almost Impossible,” The New York Times (Sept. 12, 2014), downloaded April 26, 2017. Scott Shane, a national security reporter for The Times and the author of Dismantling Utopia, is working on a book about Anwar al-Awlaki, drones and counterterrorism.A version of this review appears in print on September 14, 2014, on Page BR15 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: “Mission Almost Impossible”.

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