Book Review: Amaryllis Fox, 'Life Undercover, Coming of Age in the CIA'
[Vogue] On a clear, cold winter’s day, my boyfriend Andrew* drives me to a gas station on Route 123 a little before dawn. I kiss him, then leave him standing there, raw and stoic, in the empty forecourt, his hands thrust into his peacoat pockets, as he watches me climb into the warm camaraderie of a crowded beige van.

Jokes masking our nerves, we drive through the familiar gates at Langley, step out of the van and into the blacked-out bus that will deliver us to the Farm‐a simulated Truman Show set in a fictionalized country called the Republic of Vertania (ROV), where we are to undergo the most demanding espionage training on Earth. We are to play the roles of first-tour case officers assigned to the U.S. Embassy in the ROV city of Womack. We each have training names‐aliases to protect our identities from one another. But other than that, everything feels real. There is an actual embassy building, with an American flag fluttering out front, on an actual town square with a wooden gazebo. There’s a cable news channel, like CNN, but reporting the news of this fictional universe: Prime Minister Cartwright did this or the Sons of Artemis blew up that. There are diplomats visiting from neighboring countries, including a North Korea‐style rogue state called the Democratic People’s Republic of Vertania (DPRV).

Every citizen of the ROV, every newscaster, every bombastic DPRV diplomat, every person we interact with in this giant game of make-believe is played by a CIA operative, assigned to the Farm for a tour as an instructor. And every one of them has a thousand stories‐like that time a highly sensitive source brought a six-piece mariachi band to a covert meeting in a midnight back alley. They have pro tips, too, not covered in the training curriculum, like carrying Rolaids to make signal marks on brick because it’s less incriminating than chalk in case of capture and search.

They break character only to share these gems with us a few hours each night in the sanctity of our SCIF, small room‐size safes where five of us work on our cables and intelligence reports, under the watchful eye of our advisers. The rest of the time, they stay in character, talking about the impact of upcoming fake elections on the value of the country’s fake currency, speculating about weapons proliferation across the fake border with the DPRV and worrying about threats from fake terror groups. We go to embassy parties, bump into our targets, recruit our assets.

We drive off-base in cars tricked out with concealment compartments for our notes and dread unannounced searches at the roadside, our knees in the gravel and our graduation dependent on our not having anything incriminating lying about in the cup holders. The crises ramp up quickly. Soon our every night’s sleep is interrupted by urgent walk-ins reporting imminent threats and simulated terror attacks. We’re under constant surveillance, pitted against one another, tested well beyond our limits.

A multilayered game takes hold. On one level, we recruit the fictional characters played by instructors. On a second, we recruit the real-life instructors we know decide who graduates. All the while continuing to play a third, long-distance level, recruiting chiefs back at headquarters to ensure the best real-world assignment. All without ever breaking character. It’s exhausting. And like the running millipede, we learn to avoid thinking about how we do it all for fear of tripping up.
Posted by: Besoeker 2019-08-11