Read this exclusive Q&A with Doug Laux, author of Left of Boom, and then make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of this harrowing tale of how a CIA case officer penetrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda!
CE: What made you want to go into this line of work initially? What, then, made you want to write this book?
Doug: The most honest answer is because I didn't think it was actually a possibility—at least for a guy like me. I thought it was for Ivy League graduates only, and to a degree, there’s a lot of that, but I never in my wildest dreams thought they would take a guy like me. But once the process started, the snowball just kept building and it all became a reality, and one day I found myself sitting in Langley thinking, “What the hell just happened?”
The decision to write the book is almost the same answer in that I never thought it would happen either. My thought was, like anything in life, can’t hurt to try.
CE: What was the hardest part about being in the CIA and not being able to reveal your identity to your friends and family?
Doug: The hardest part is maintaining the web of lies you have weaved. Sometimes, you have to tell one person one thing and another person something contradictory to protect your cover. Once that has happened, you then have to try to prevent those two lines from crossing as best you can, which ultimately means trying to prevent those two individuals from crossing paths. It is a massive undertaking if you decide to live a robust social life like I did. I suppose if you take the hermitic path it would be a lot easier, but as you will see in the book, that’s definitely not my personality.
CE: What movies portray the inner-workings of the CIA most accurately? Which ones have gotten it completely wrong?
Doug: Zero Dark Thirty is your best bet and most accurate portrayal. Pretty much everything else is blown out of proportion and unrealistic, but hey, that sells tickets and makes it more entertaining. I would be lying if I said I haven't seen every Bond and Bourne movie to date. I love those movies, but they are absolutely nothing like reality. And that’s ok, but I am not quite sure that most folks understand that. I know I didn't when I first joined. Syriana is also pretty good, considering it is based on the life of Bob Baer, who was a legendary case officer in the 90s.
CE: What would you like readers to take away from your book?
Doug: If they take away one thing, I would hope it would be that we are all human and we all make mistakes—yes, even spies and high-speed operators. People often forget that the Agency is still, thankfully, staffed by human beings, and they are really no different than anyone else. They still get sick sometimes, have a bad day, forget something important, or have to attend a parent teacher conference in the evening. This is why I didn't pull any punches in discussing my mistakes and my flaws throughout the book, because I wanted the reader to understand that the Agency is not full of flawless, martini-drinking, chiseled dudes in tuxedos. Though wouldn't that be cool?
CE: What are you currently binging on Netflix?
Doug: Oh man, I have been in the field so long that I still don't own a Netflix account or have cable. Netflix is banned or doesn't work in most of the countries I was living in, so it never made sense to have an account. I also just learned what the term “binge watching” means, as well as the phrase “Netflix and chill.” I plan to do both now that I have more free time.
CE: What was the last book you read?
Doug: Well, I most recently tried reading Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff because the President said it was his favorite book. I found myself skipping ahead, and then just skipping it entirely, after a couple days. I guess I’m not clever enough to understand the prose. Strange though, because my favorite book is The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, and I really enjoy dramatic novels. Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss by Tom Davis is currently sitting on my counter, and will be the next thing I begin.
CE: What’s next for you?
Doug: The plan is to spend more time with my friends and family, now that I am no longer living overseas. It has been a welcome change to be honest and open with them about my life and not be on edge trying to protect my lies the entire time. That was exhausting. Now, I think I’ll just relax and maybe go cut some wood with my dad back in Ohio.
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Douglas Laux is a former CIA operations officer who served multiple tours throughout the Middle East. He was in Afghanistan for the 2010 Afghan Surge, and in Kandahar during Operation Neptune Spear, which resulted in the death of Usama bin Ladin. His final assignment was with the top secret task force involved with instigating the Syrian civil war. He lives in Washington, DC.