cover image Nine Lives: My Time as MI6’s Top Spy Inside Al-Qaeda

Nine Lives: My Time as MI6’s Top Spy Inside Al-Qaeda

Aimen Dean, with Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank. Oneworld, $27.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-78607-328-0

Dean (a pseudonym), a founder of al-Qaeda, tells his story of becoming disgusted with the terrorist group and becoming an agent for British intelligence agency MI6 in a memoir that reads like a John le Carré novel. Dean writes of being drawn into jihadism to defend Muslim lives in Bosnia, how the destruction he witnessed “made me so angry that I wanted to fight those responsible for such horrors until my dying breath.” Ably assisted by Lister and Cruickshank, Dean exposes fascinating details of life on the front lines (“celebratory gunfire... had a pattern unlike hostile fire”), from Chechnya to the Philippines to Afghanistan, as well as within extremist circles in the Gulf and in Europe. Increasingly alienated by his “bloodthirsty” al-Qaeda comrades (who relished testing chemical weapons on rabbits) and the group’s casual acceptance of civilian casualties, in 1999 Dean concocted a medical excuse to slip away from the group to Qatar, whose government brought him in for questioning. He immediately flipped and was offered the chance to work as a double agent for the British. Though British intelligence is far from perfect, Dean contrasts his employers favorably with the hapless Americans—he was first imprisoned and, in 2006, outed as a double agent due to errors made by vice president Dick Cheney’s office. After he was “burned,” he was hired by the Chinese, who paid much better, but he found this a “small reward for the intensity of [their] demands.” Fast-paced and sometimes stretching the bounds of credulity, Dean’s tale will be a welcome diversion for those missing the recently ended espionage television show The Americans. (June)