The Targeter

My Life in the CIA, Hunting Terrorists and Challenging the White House


By Nada Bakos

With Davin Coburn

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A CIA analyst’s “revealing and utterly engrossing account” of the world of high-stakes foreign intelligence and her role within the campaign to stop top-tier targets inside Al-Qaida (Joby Warrick).

In 1999, 30-year-old Nada Bakos moved from her lifelong home in Montana to Washington, D.C., to join the CIA. Quickly realizing her affinity for intelligence work, Nada was determined to rise through the ranks of the agency first as an analyst and then as a Targeting Officer, eventually finding herself on the frontline of America’s war against Islamic extremists.

In this role, Nada was charged with determining if Iraq had a relationship with 9/11 and Al-Qaida, and finding the mastermind behind this terrorist activity: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Her team’s analysis stood the test of time, but it was not satisfactory for some members of the Administration.

In a tight, tension-packed narrative that takes the reader from Langley deep into Iraq, Bakos reveals the inner workings of the Agency and the largely hidden world of intelligence gathering post 9/11. Entrenched in the world of the CIA, Bakos, along with her colleagues, focused on leading U.S. Special Operations Forces to the doorstep of one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

Filled with on-the-ground insights and poignant personal anecdotes, The Targeter shows us the great personal sacrifice that comes with intelligence work. This is Nada’s story, but it is also an intimate chronicle of how a group of determined, ambitious men and women worked tirelessly in the heart of the CIA to ensure our nation’s safety at home and abroad.


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On a moonless night in May of 2011, an elite team of Navy SEALs blew the doors off their hinges at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They stormed up the darkened stairway to the third floor, and there, in a spartan bedroom, they shot Usama bin Ladin multiple times in his head and chest.

The 2011 strike should seem like a bookend to a winding tale of tragedy that began on September 11, 2001, when nineteen al Qaida terrorists hijacked four airliners over the United States. It was an event that would not have been possible without CIA officers mapping out the elaborate, evolving terror network that was unlike any foe the United States had faced before. Ultimately, by identifying and locating key players—a form of analysis known as targeting—Agency personnel tracked bin Ladin’s trusted courier to a guesthouse near the Afghan border, and US forces were able to launch operations to capture or kill the emir of al Qaida.

Counterterrorism timelines, however, do not have fixed start or end points; ideology exists outside of one individual. The death of bin Ladin was dramatic, but it was not the final act in a series of events that began well before 2001—and similar Agency work continues today against al Qaida and organizations like the Islamic State. It is almost impossible to quantify the exact number of people at the CIA who were involved in this fight over the years—an array of employees who brought vast regional and intelligence expertise to the battle against al Qaida.

My contribution to the United States’ effort to combat terrorism came not in Afghanistan, the ancestral home of al Qaida, but farther west, in Iraq. I started working at the CIA before the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001—though this book focuses largely on 2003, the year the US-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, and on the fiery chaos that unfolded in the years following. My role throughout those years began as that of an analyst focused on whether there was a connection between Iraq and al Qaida and later as a targeting officer in the Directorate of Operations. My focus, and the focus of my team, was the movement sparked by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—a Jordanian who quickly became a leader of terrorism in Iraq and differentiated himself from al Qaida by focusing on not only US targets but also Iraqis.

In the three years following the invasion of Iraq, as the United States struggled to institute democracy and implement basic security, no insurgent group caused more bloodshed—with more recklessness and indiscriminate focus—than Zarqawi’s. A high school dropout turned religious fanatic, Zarqawi found in the power vacuum and lawlessness that was post-Saddam Iraq the chance to be recognized as a leader, and he became responsible for literally thousands of deaths. His legacy carries on in the actions of the Islamic State, or ISIS; the climax of his bloody reign was the 2006 civil war between Iraq’s rival Sunni and Shia factions, which many believe continues to this day. Removing Zarqawi’s network among the insurgency was crucial if Iraq was to have any shot at a stable future.

At the height of his power, Zarqawi commanded a regional terror network known as Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI). It was the most prominent regional franchise of al Qaida central. Zarqawi corresponded with bin Ladin personally; toward the end of his short life the man who would be nicknamed by his supporters the “slaughtering sheik” was in regular contact with al Qaida central command. The intelligence we gathered in dismantling Zarqawi’s network was crucial in building a response to al Qaida.

By the time of bin Ladin’s death, I’d retired from the CIA. Today, the “targeting” of terrorists forms the backbone of Zero Dark Thirty and Homeland—a topic that invariably comes up whenever people learn about my former life. People initially asked if I’m the real-life Maya, the main character from Zero Dark Thirty. I am not and was not working for the CIA at the time; Maya’s character was based on someone else. In my experience, it took a team of people more than twenty years to find bin Ladin.

Many tenacious women and men led targeting operations for significant al Qaida figures, including bin Ladin. My team’s efforts directly preceded the climactic action in that movie, just as our work built upon the groundbreaking analysis of the women and men who came before me. Additionally, while it’s rarely the crux of the initial question, those shows and their heroines—Maya and Carrie Mathison—hint at a larger truth that reflects my own experiences: women initially made up the majority of the CIA targeters charged with hunting the most dangerous figures in the most dangerous terrorist organization the United States has ever known. Women were critical to defining al Qaida and managing the ramp-up at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) after 9/11.

When I worked at the CIA, I—like all of my peers and counterparts—worked in quiet obscurity; the long hours we put in to keep our families, friends, and fellow citizens safe were simply part of the job. Today, I am a far more public figure. As a former analyst and targeting officer, I can now speak more freely about the challenges I faced inside the Agency, the successes my team helped deliver, and the failures we suffered. The lessons I learned may never be more timely because of how much has not changed with regard to ideologically driven individuals and groups who inexplicably see violence as the best way to accomplish their desired goals.

At the funeral of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare’s Antony said, “The evil that men do lives after them,” a line I’ve thought of often regarding extremism. The shock waves from Zarqawi’s short time on earth seem to only have intensified in the years following his death, in 2006.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has risen from the ashes of Zarqawi’s organization in Iraq to temporarily claim the mantle of deadliest jihadist group. ISIS’s brutal approach to establishing a twenty-first-century Islamic caliphate is taken almost entirely from Zarqawi’s strategy. If we are to have any hope of countering violent extremist groups in the future, it is crucial to understand not only Zarqawi’s rise to prominence but also the complicated social, political, and military factors that enabled him to unleash a wave of destruction that few people would have believed possible. Only then can we effectively map out a strategy for defeating the latest extremist movements. Simply put, we cannot kill our way out of a conflict rooted in ideology; to defeat ideological extremism, we need to address the political, economic, and societal issues that give rise to and sustain extremism. As a person who came to know that terrorist, I can say that the brutality he unleashed plagues me to this day.


Murder Boards

“C’mon, c’mon…”

I jabbed at the Door Close button and caught my reflection in the elevator’s brushed aluminum interior. My pulse raced.

With a final jab, the doors clamped shut on the third floor of the Central Intelligence Agency’s New Headquarters Building, in Langley, Virginia. It was early June of 2004, nearly four years after my first day at the Agency.

“Fuck this,” I muttered.

It had been ten months since I’d returned from Iraq to the cubicle farms of Agency headquarters. I spent the prior summer as the CIA’s point person for our Iraq terrorism analysis group in Baghdad. At that time, I was working in the Iraq unit, within the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, or CTC. In May 2003, I volunteered for a temporary-duty assignment to Iraq for multiple reasons: first to support my team at headquarters, which was continuing to answer questions from the administration about Iraq or al Qaida and report anything new, and, second, getting out of headquarters would give me a chance to find signs that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was still in Iraq. Until early 2004, a year after the war started, Zarqawi’s group was not part of al Qaida.

My job with that team had initially been focused on analyzing the Iraqi Intelligence Service, or IIS. Our question was: To what degree did the IIS facilitate regional and global extremist organizations and terrorist movements? But we knew the IIS had a greater reach under Saddam: it could have acted as the facilitator through which Iraqi forces had trained and harbored Palestinian terrorists, plotted assassinations, and carried out other international crimes. By mid-2003, in the wake of the US-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq, we were fielding endless backward-looking questions about what connection Saddam might have had to Islamist extremists.

Almost immediately in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks—when nineteen al Qaida extremists under orders from Usama bin Ladin hijacked four passenger planes and, along with them, a generation of American foreign policy—the White House had begun delivering the singular question to CIA analysts, day after day: What’s the connection between bin Ladin and Iraq?

Everyone within the Iraq unit sweated under the demands from George W. Bush and his administration for more answers about a possible Iraq–al Qaida collaboration than we could plausibly provide. The administration didn’t seem to like the answers we offered, through a steady flow of President’s Daily Briefs, or PDBs. As a result, we found ourselves locked in a contentious relationship with the White House.

The foundation for the divide was laid not long after the 9/11 attacks, when, in a little-remembered bureaucratic line item, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his head deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, created a brand-new department to provide answers they’d like to hear that were consistent with how they and other neoconservatives saw the world and America’s role in that world. The Office of Special Plans consisted of roughly a dozen personnel working on the fifth floor of the Pentagon. The people assigned to that office data-mined information gathered by the CIA and another intelligence agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, then formulated intelligence reviews for an administration growing increasingly skeptical of CIA analysis.

You need to understand something about intelligence analysis; it is not an academic exercise. The CIA’s analytic cadre are professionals who spend the majority of their time developing expertise on the issues they follow. That there are disagreements over the analytic findings based on the source material to build an argument is not surprising. Analysts often experience heated coordination meetings with their colleagues, and that is before a draft is submitted for a thorough editing and review process.

The Office of Special Plans seemed to utterly disregard the analytic tradecraft the Agency holds dear. Overseen by the undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith, the number three position within the Pentagon, the OSP often passed along raw intelligence without context and without explaining the reliability of the source to the White House. Feith’s team latched on to any single thread of information while ignoring a half century of established intelligence protocols. In other words, it was “Feith-based intelligence.”

OSP’s clear satisfaction in the administration’s end run around the CIA was particularly galling. In one press conference I watched, Rumsfeld practically gloated about its effectiveness: “In comes [my daily CIA] briefer and she walks through the daily brief, and I ask questions,” he said. “Gee, what about this? Or what about that? Has somebody thought of this?”

Skepticism about the CIA’s analysis was born early in the run-up to the war. In mid-2002, the predecessor to my team at the CIA prepared a product titled Iraq and al-Qa‘ida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship. The report acknowledged, “This Intelligence Assessment responds to senior policymaker interest in a comprehensive assessment of Iraqi regime links to al-Qa‘ida. Our approach is purposefully aggressive in seeking to draw connections.” On June 25, 2002, four days after the paper was published, the CIA ombudsman for politicization received a confidential complaint claiming that the CTC paper was misleading in that it did not make clear that it was an uncoordinated product that did not reflect the views of other analysts outside the CTC unit.

Still, the uneven give-and-take with the White House put us all on edge—only more so throughout 2002 and early 2003, as the unmistakable drumbeat of war grew louder. In fact, I saw Vice President Richard Cheney and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, his chief of staff, visiting Agency headquarters themselves—an unnerving shift in protocol from the long-standing CIA briefings at the White House.

I was thankful that in our briefings with the vice president, crucial top cover for our unit’s work came from our brazen, brilliant branch chief, “Katherine,” who had a remarkable ability to deliver workplace-appropriate words in ways that left little doubt about the profanity they stood in for. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the same skill.) As Libby’s personal daily briefer, she had enough credibility among White House personnel to act as a barrier between the vice president and analysts like me, who had less experience with the administration.

By late 2002, we had a much higher degree of confidence in our understanding of Saddam’s connections to terrorist groups, though we did not see evidence of a connection to al Qaida. In the parlance of the Agency, Cheney was a “tough customer”—he knew enough about the substance of terrorism to ask pointed questions of the men and women who briefed him. In the years since those Langley meetings with top administration officials, various Agency personnel have described them as “unprecedented,” “highly unusual,” and “brutal.” Inside our unit, Katherine made the decision to put analysts in front of Vice President Cheney. To prepare us, she skewered our analysis during practice briefings, which we called murder boards, in which she acted patronizing challenging, unfair, and insulting to prepare us for the real sessions.

At the time, there was a widespread belief that an attack of similar magnitude could happen again and the CIA needed to act as a bulwark against such attacks. The consequence, in the near term, is that analysts were given the opportunity to work in CTC. Even longtime counterterrorism analysts were new to the Iraq unit. After all, it hadn’t existed on September 10, 2001. In my case, a coworker on my first day there dumped a dozen giant three-ring binders on my desk and said, “Here’s what we’ve written so far about al Qaida and Iraq. That’s for Congress, this is the White House, this is all our sourcing and research, and there is more in that filing cabinet outside the bullpen.” This process is called reading in to a new account, which usually takes weeks or months. I had about three days to get up to speed.

“Murky,” I muttered to myself in the elevator. I checked my watch: just after 2:00 p.m. I scowled; by then, I’d heard that word—murky—around the office so much it had come to make me cringe. The questions from the administration were about Iraq’s connections to any and all terrorism, not just al Qaida.

Even the most aggressive attempts at drawing a connection between Iraq and AQ, however, had failed to produce the kind of smoking gun the White House wanted. So, in late 2002, the administration pinpointed a new bogeyman to bolster the justification for its hegemonic intent: a thirty-six-year-old former drug-dealing street thug from Jordan named Ahmad Fadil al-Nazal al-Khalayleh. Khalayleh had recently adopted a new name, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He would eventually join al Qaida after the invasion, and his group would be embraced as the prototype for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.

On October 7, 2002, I listened as President Bush, in a prime-time speech delivered in the massive rotunda of the Cincinnati Museum Center, in Ohio, laid out the broad strokes of what he said was the “link between Iraq developing weapons of terror, and the wider war on terror.” Much of the speech focused on Saddam Hussein’s long-standing efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction—and Bush’s assertions that Hussein continued to do so. That particular assessment had come from another CIA branch down the hall, the Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC)—which, we in the Iraq unit knew, was feeling similar heat from above to justify the war effort. Thanks to WINPAC’s findings, the president announced that Iraq possessed ballistic missiles theoretically capable of delivering those weapons to nearby countries, “in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work.”

If Bush’s assertion was true, I thought, it would be a serious issue. From my perspective, the president’s remarks had the sheen of grasping at straws, particularly when he turned to his second rationalization, threats against the American homeland. “Of course, sophisticated delivery systems aren’t required for a chemical or biological attack,” Bush said. “All that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it.”

I immediately recognized that for the president’s assertion to have any real credibility, the administration needed to pinpoint someone who could somehow connect Hussein’s regime to the single international terrorist organization to have struck within the United States.

“We know that Iraq and the al Qaida terrorist network share a common enemy, the United States of America,” the president continued. “Some al Qaida leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaida leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.”

A “very senior al Qaida leader?” I said to myself. Everyone in the growing Iraq unit recognized that this phrase referred to Zarqawi, even though he was not mentioned by name. We knew he wasn’t part of al Qaida and didn’t seem to coordinate operations with them. We also knew that the CIA had determined that Zarqawi’s organization didn’t know about the 9/11 attacks, much less participate in them. Nor was Zarqawi’s organization capable of developing sophisticated chemical and biological weapons; they were, however, working on the development of crude toxins and poisons—our terminology for Zarqawi’s loose affiliates at the time was the “poisons network.”

Everyone in the Agency realized that the United States was about to invade Iraq, and the role Bush’s administration had chosen for Zarqawi had become clear.

Before the invasion, my standard Agency workday began at 3:00 a.m. Baghdad was eight hours ahead. A typical day started with the drive to the Agency’s sprawling Langley campus in the middle of the night and presenting my ID badge to the heavily armed security guards. As I was one of the first ones to arrive for the day, my ground-floor office in the New Headquarters Building was typically quiet at that hour.

Upon arrival, a colleague and I quickly got to work examining incoming cables from the field, other intelligence reports, cyber collection, signals collection, news material, and written products—memos and briefings for lawmakers—our branch had written the night before to gather the latest insights on terrorism connected to Iraq or the IIS. By 4:00 a.m., we were scouring any last-minute intelligence that had bubbled up before sprinting to the Original Headquarters Building, on the other side of the campus, to update senior Agency briefers who were preparing to brief the president, vice president, and a small number of cabinet-level officials. We had to make sure those senior briefers were up to speed on any late-breaking intelligence and answer any questions they might have about the products our unit had written the day before.

Once the briefers headed off to the White House and other buildings across Washington, DC, to meet with their principals, my colleague and I headed off to the cafeteria for our first shot of Starbucks. Then we dragged ourselves back across campus, punched in the code to the cipher lock on our team’s “vault,” or room, and dug in for a few more hours of reading through traffic before the rest of our branch trickled in for our morning meeting.

For some reason, our vault was always roasting at that hour, so my colleague and I would “sing” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” because we couldn’t play actual music due to the security policy. Our off-key version of the song was enough to wake us up and counterbalance the increasingly dark reports we were receiving from case officers in the field.

Lunch came around 9:00 a.m., as I wolfed down whatever was within arm’s reach. Then, if all was calm, at around 12:15 p.m. I met with my counterparts on the next shift for the handoff. From there, I was off to the burn chute.

At the Agency, each analyst finds at his or her desk every morning a brown paper bag decorated with red-and-white candy-cane stripes. Known internally as burn bags, they’re used to hold classified documents until they can be irretrievably destroyed. I set mine up under my desk; every incoming cable I would print throughout the day, as soon as I was finished with it, got dropped into the burn bag. Once the bag was full, I folded it over at the top a few times, stapled it as many times as was necessary to keep it shut, then carted it down the hall to the equivalent of a laundry chute, where the bag plummeted to the sub-subbasement of the New Headquarters Building. Eventually, the collected bags were tossed into an incinerator.

The great thing about the burn chute is that it’s part of a long-standing tradition to welcome rookie team members by hazing them by playing on their paranoia of violating a security policy. We insisted that one rookie needed to yell his badge number into the abyss of the chute before he dropped the bags down to ensure that the worker at the bottom knew where they came from. Then, we told the same rookie, he should stand and wait for confirmation from below. “Just keep standing there,” we said. “Sometimes it takes a minute or two.” After around three minutes of standing by the chute, thinking someone in the basement might actually yell back at him, he caught on to the game.

In the run-up to the invasion, it really was the little things that kept us going.

As the administration had begun preparing its case for war, of course, there was less time for fun. If I could climb into bed sometime around sunset, then be back up at 2:00 a.m., it had been a “standard” day. Very quickly, the environment in the Iraq unit became anything but standard.

Hours at the office piled up. I was scouring practically a novel’s worth of written reports, records, and cables every morning—what the other analysts and I called “drinking from the fire hose.” Out of that mass of information, I set aside perhaps a dozen of those reports daily because they contained information that didn’t seem to fit an established pattern or because I simply thought they might come in handy someday. Analysts, like most people, tend to look for patterns; anything that fell outside of (or was inconsistent with) established patterns often warranted closer scrutiny if we deemed the information reliable. I was keeping an eye out for literally one or two sentences that would trigger my next written product, information that would somehow further our understanding of the Iraqi Intelligence Service’s plans or associations, so I could deliver it to a policy maker.

Some of the most intense days came when the information flowed the other way. If a policy maker had a question, it was our mission—and, frankly, our job—to provide that person with a thorough answer ASAP. Even though I learned quickly that that’s not necessarily the same thing as an exhaustive answer.

Analysis is an ambiguous word; new analysts soon learn that analyzing is as much an art as a science. Once I moved beyond the simple recitation of facts, because no single fact explains the larger trend or picture, I then focused on the motivations of the actors, contextual dynamics, likely outcomes, signposts, and their possible implications. In intelligence analysis, there may be no complete answer to any given question. Painting a detailed picture of the trends is difficult, particularly when there is too little information and even when there’s too much.

Having an incomplete picture of a given topic presents obvious limitations. Today, however, in the era of “big data,” the opposite is often the case. Collecting massive volumes of information these days isn’t the problem; even if you have volumes of documentation at the ready, an analyst has to learn how to make sense of it. How do you teach a gut instinct for accurately and objectively characterizing information?

Experience and expertise with a given topic make it easier to assign a degree of confidence to data. For me, particularly during those months prior to the invasion of Iraq, analysis was about creating a reasonable assessment of events within the context of a specific question—did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11 or al Qaida? Typically, we would approach a topic based on available information and then use our individual expertise, and the expertise of our colleagues, to tell a larger story. This point was made by Michael Hayden during his confirmation hearing to become director of the CIA in 2006: he told Senator Pat Roberts that intelligence gathering “is shrouded in ambiguity… if these were known facts, you wouldn’t be coming to us for them.”

In March of 2003, the Bush administration green-lit Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion of Iraq, despite CIA analysis finding no connection between the country’s regime and al Qaida. Three weeks later, US tanks triumphantly rolled into Firdos Square, in central Baghdad.


  • As heard on NPR's Morning Edition

  • "This remarkable memoir arrives as another
    astonishing story of wartime valor."—The New York Times

  • "Part Zero Dark Thirty, part memoir, The Targeter provides a rare inside look at the CIA's analysis shop at a particularly difficult time: the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq and the early years of the war... will appeal to those who want to learn about the events that presaged the rise of the Islamic State and are curious about the CIA's inner workings."—The Washington Post

  • "Readers
    will take from this memoir that the period of Bakos' CIA service was a major
    inflection point not only in her life, but also in CIA and US foreign policy.
    This book stands as a testament to the courage and strength of the officers who
    founded the targeting officer discipline.Readers
    will take from this memoir that the period of Bakos' CIA service was a major
    inflection point not only in her life, but also in CIA and US foreign policy.
    This book stands as a testament to the courage and strength of the officers who
    founded the targeting officer discipline."—Studies in Intelligence

  • "A remarkable book."—David Priess, The Lawfare Podcast

  • "Nada Bakos had a frontline assignment during some of the most important chapters of America's post-9/11 wars. Her well written account of her work at the CIA is fascinating and underlines the many sacrifices she and her colleagues made in the fight against al-Qaeda. Bakos has also written one of the most clear-eyed and interesting accounts of what it is really like working at the CIA."—Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad.

  • "Nada Bakos takes you deep inside the tense, stressful, and driven world of the CIA's analysts as few others have. Life and death issues are on the line more than most know - but Ms. Bakos is one who does and she shows you that in the Targeter with candor, drama, integrity, and grit."—John McLaughlin, former Acting Director and Deputy Director of CIA

  • "Bakos writes with authority and searing honesty about the demands of her work as a targeter and the dangers and dysfunction of post-invasion Iraq. The result is a gripping behind-the-scenes account of the hunt for one of the world's most brutal terrorists. The combination of a sharp, analytical mind and a genuine humility and humanity underscores why women make some of the best CIA analysts."—Clarissa Ward, Chief International Correspondent for CNN

  • "A revealing and utterly engrossing account of the campaign to stop the terrorist mastermind behind the rise of ISIS. Former intelligence officer Nada Bakos takes the reader deep inside the CIA's secret war in Iraq with a fast-paced narrative that is at turns thrilling, funny, maddening and remarkably candid."
    Joby Warrick, author of Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

  • "The Targeter reads like a suspense novel written in Hollywood. But it's the true story of an unsung hero working to keep America safe and speaking hard truths to those in power. I relied on public servants like Nada to fight the Islamic State. Our country is indebted to their rigor, tradecraft, and dedicated war zone service, which carries a personal toll. This is the first inside account of what it's really like."—Brett McGurk, Former Special Presidential Envoy for Campaign to Defeat ISIS

  • "The Targeter is a raw, honest, and gripping account of the thrilling but daunting task of a CIA analyst answering her inner call to keep America and her people safe. Nada Bakos is the real deal...Nada shares the lessons she learned when serving the United States and does not shy away from acknowledging that, in counterterrorism, tactical wins do not always translate into strategic successes. This book is an important asset for any analyst, policy maker, or thought leader looking to make a difference in counterterrorism in the 21st century."—Ali Soufan, Chief Executive Officer of The Soufan Group and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent

  • "For the last decade, Nada Bakos has been a go-to source for understanding terrorist networks. Her memoir offers a gripping tale on how terrorists, and the counterterrorists who hunt them, actually operate in the real world."—Clint Watts, Senior Fellow at Foreign Policy Research Institute and author of Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News

  • "Bakos takes us deep inside the CIA targeters who were tracking Al Qaeda and the Zarqawists during the height of the Iraq War, showing us both the professional dedication and personal costs of these most quiet professionals."
    Doug Ollivant, Senior Fellow, New America Foundation

  • "An exciting tale of cutting-edge espionage and a rueful account of how political exigencies can blunt tradecraft's effectiveness."—Kirkus

On Sale
Jun 4, 2019
Page Count
368 pages

Nada Bakos

About the Author

Nada Bakos is a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst on the team charged with analyzing the relationship between Iraq, al Qaida, and 9/11, and was the Chief Targeting officer following Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bakos writes, speaks and appears on broadcast media to discuss national security and foreign policy.

Learn more about this author