The novel made into the major motion picture released October 2008, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe
“Clever [and] well-paced, Body of Lies is hard to put down.” — John Miller, Wall Street Journal
CIA soldier Roger Ferris has come out of Iraq with a shattered leg and an intense mission— to penetrate the network of a master terrorist known only as “Suleiman.” Ferris’s plan is inspired by a masterpiece of British intelligence during World War II: He prepares a body of lies, literally the corpse of an imaginary CIA officer who appears to have accomplished the impossible by recruiting an agent within the enemy’s ranks.
This scheme binds friend and foe in a web of extraordinary subtlety and complexity. When it begins to unravel, Ferris finds himself flying blind into a hurricane. His only hope is the urbane head of Jordan’s intelligence service. But can Ferris trust him?
“Washington Post columnist Ignatius has crafted one of the best post-9/11 spy thrillers yet… Few readers will anticipate the jaw-dropping conclusion.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One hopes that [Ignatius] has another book in the planning stage and is already filling in form DS-4085, requesting yet more visa pages for his well-worn passport.” — Washington Post
After September 11, 2001, novelists and journalists alike searched for information about operations against Al Qaeda, the intelligence world’s new prime target. Spy novelists had been searching since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 for a suitable villain to replace Soviet communism. Now in Osama bin Laden and his operatives, they had one.
My own search for fact and fiction about Al Qaeda began with an interview with a 2003 interview with George Tenet, then CIA director. Tenet explained that the agency’s strategy was to work with friendly intelligence services throughout the Muslim world to share intelligence. In practice, that meant drawing on the sources that these countries had developed over many years. When I asked Tenet if any countries had been especially helpful, he immediately cited Jordan and the head of its General Intelligence Directorate, Gen. Saad Kheir. “This guy is a superstar!” he said with characteristic Tenetian enthusiasm.
The next time I was in Amman, I asked King Abdullah if it might be possible to meet with Kheir. He agreed and we began the first of several meetings. From those conversations, I began to sketch a portrait of my character Hani Salaam, the imaginary chief of my Jordanian General Intelligence Department.
The novel is about deception, and I drew on some real examples. The Jordanians, working with the British and American, have been especially skillful in using their penetrations of hostile groups to sow deception and distrust. Their deception operations against the Abu Nidal Organization were so successful that they basically caused the group to implode. The Abu Nidal operatives were literally shooting each other. In “Body of Lies,” I imagine how a similar operation against Al Qaeda might be run—and the pitfalls therein.
The other historical root for the book is the famous British World War II deception of the Nazis described in the memoir, The Man Who Never Was. The challenge was to convince the Germans that the Allied invasion of southern Europe wouldn’t come through Sicily (as everyone was expecting) but further East in Greece. So the Brits dressed up a corpse to look like a dead officer, an imaginary “Major Martin,” who was carrying super-secret communications about a Greek landing. They floated the body ashore off the Spanish coast, and waited for German intelligence to find the secret documents. The Germans swallowed the lie. My novel opens with a similar “body of lies”—a corpse who has been dubbed “Harry Meeker” and is to be dispatched with a message for the CIA’s imaginary agent in Al Qaeda.
Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate (GID) directors make mistakes, particularly when they overstep the bounds of intelligence and insert themselves into politics. But from what I know, the GID is very good. They are patient and meticulous in preparing operations, and it helps that they control almost totally the Jordanian operational space. They have run some long-term penetrations of terrorist groups that have probably saved thousands of lives over the years. And they are very good at interrogation—not at beating people up (though human rights groups say that sometimes happens) but at eliciting information through other means.