Book Review: Breaking Cover

Breaking Cover:  My Secret Life In The CIA And What It Taught Me About What’s Worth Fighting For, by Michele Rigby Assad

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale Blog Network.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]


I really enjoyed this book.  Although I do not consider myself to be the sort of person who is best equipped to be a spy [1], the subject is one that is of interest to me.  This book presents a memoir of the author’s experiences as a CIA operative and later as a humanitarian helping Christians escape the horrors of ISIS in northern Iraq.  At its heart, this book is an apologia for the use of deception and manipulation in the defense of one’s co-religionists as well as one’s country.  Whether or not everyone will be willing to accept the author’s claims for legitimacy in the use of deception in such circumstances, I found the memoir a compelling one and was pleased as well that she subjected herself to the process of having her work slightly redacted in order to avoid blowing the cover of anyone else in the CIA who may be involved in active operations at this time.  To write so honestly about oneself without destroying the cover of others is a difficult trick and this book handles it successfully.

In terms of its narrative and flow, the book tells a mostly chronological story, albeit one that begins close to the end of the narrative with the author’s stressful interview of a jihadist fighter who does a poor job of pretending to be a Christian.  After that point the author discusses her childhood in rural Florida and her somewhat ordinary background and then her marriage to an Egyptian Christian who faced serious discrimination in his home country and her studies of the Arab world that led her to eventually find a job alongside her husband as CIA operatives in the Middle East.  Much of the book is devoted to the author’s discussion of her life as a CIA agent and the dangers and anxieties of a life in espionage and her struggle with her faith given her experiences and her frustrations about always being in harm’s way.  After leaving the CIA, she talks about how the two of them transitioned to work that led them again to the Middle East as consultants and then eventually in humanitarian work dealing with Christian internally displaced persons (and, one must not, definitely not refugees), where the book closes with the implication that whatever the author does in the rest of her life, it will likely be in service to God and to others with the potential for high drama that her life has shown thus far.

In reading this book one gets patterns that repeat themselves over and over again.  The author shows opportunities where her intuition was correct and led her to be able to see through the deceptions that other people were giving because their body language gave them away.  Also, the author frequently notes that she faced a great deal of harassment by being an American Christian in the Middle East, and had to deal with a great deal of hypocrisy from those who wanted to look down on American morals while being even more unrighteous than Americans themselves.  Throughout the book the author shows herself taking advantage of the way that other people underestimated her, and this is perhaps the most obvious takeaway that many readers will be able to get from this book.  Underestimating someone is to give them the advantage because there is a gulf between what you expect them to do and what you consider them capable of doing and what they know that they can do.  This is a lesson that many readers will be able to apply, regardless of what they think about the author’s attempts to justify the extreme compartmentalization of her life as a CIA agent from her behavior as a loyal wife and upstanding Christian.  I for one found this memoir to be extremely compelling and very well-written.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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