It is hard to believe that a stocky, ginger-haired former member of a Danish biker gang not only converted to Islam, but also made his way to Yemen and managed to rub shoulders with the who’s who of global jihad. It is even harder to believe that this misfit went on to masterfully balance a double life — on the surface, remaining a well-connected foreign jihadi doing his bit to strengthen the war against the kaffurs (non-believers), while conducting clandestine meetings in five-star hotels across the world and complex operations to help the British, Danish and American intelligence to combat the very people who embraced him as their own.
If it were not for the appendix, I would not have believed a single word.
Agent Storm – My Life Inside the al Qaeda is a riveting tale of a confused young Dane, Morten Storm, 38, who became a double agent and was central to the prevention of various terror attacks as well as the killing of many key jihadi leaders, including Anwar al-Awlaki.
Storm’s tale of a spy coming out in the open is given credence by the fact that both Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank, who helped him put the book together, are well-known journalists.
Though hard to believe, what is fascinating about the book is the fact that the friends of Murad (the name given to Storm when he converted to Islam) are not some nameless, faceless jihadis but infamous terrorists with a penchant for making headlines. For example, Storm hung out with Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker of the 9/11 attacks, and Richard ‘Shoe Bomber’ Reid in London. In the chapter Londonistan, Storm chronicles Moussaoui’s hardening push towards violence.
Whether it is in Denmark, Somalia, Yemen, the UK or the US, Storm’s jihadi contacts were located everywhere. He was able to win the trust of so many different extremists, many who rose through the ranks of various terrorist organisations.
The book makes it seem as if Storm had access to the epicentre of global jihad, but does not offer enough of an explanation as to how he got there. Yes, he had close ties with al-Awlaki, who became Storm’s mentor and friend (Storm even arranges for a Croatian convert, Aminah, to travel to Yemen so that al-Awlaki may take her as his third wife). But the rest of the tale sounds as if he was at the right place at the right time. A little too simple, but that could very well be the truth.
What the book does detail out and what should be of great interest to anyone looking to combat the rise of extremist Islam (even the support for the Islamic State in India) is Storm’s transition from being a gangster to an extremist. As a troubled youth from a broken home, Storm gets sucked into a cycle of violence, drugs and jail time. The first time he finds a real connect is when he reads a book on the Prophet, who captures his imagination. After he converts, the Muslim world embraces him, helps him move to London and find a job. When his wife refuses to move in with him, he is offered a chance to travel to Yemen to become a “true Muslim”.
Later, Storm describes his transition from being just a Muslim, aware of only a single, united view of the religion in which he found purpose, to an extremist Salafi whose life was consumed by the idea of fighting the enemies of Islam. His descriptions of the people and students he meets during his travels are intriguing. He details how Americans, British-Pakistanis, Palestinians and Africans all converged under the banner of religion and turned towards extremism. The book does give an insight into how young, angry, frustrated men and women are pushed onto the path of violence.
He describes the discrimination and ostracisation he faced as a practising Muslim living in the western world. Something that even Moussaoui had discussed during a television interview. However, as the narrative progresses, there are often passages in which Storm questions his beliefs and the violence, and from the start remains clear that he is opposed to killing civilians.
When storm rejects Islam and embraces the Danish intelligence agency PET, the spy games begin. He moves between different agencies — MI5, MI6 and, of course, the big daddy of them all, the CIA. Through his tales, he brings out the dirty, highly competitive and fickle world of international intelligence gathering. He discusses the politics and hierarchy between the different agencies, describing how in a secret meeting at a five-star hotel, the Danish intelligence officers were serving coffee and sandwiches while the CIA officers were calling the shots.
He is able to outline fundamental differences in approach. How MI5 was opposed to risking the life of Aminah to get a fix on al- Awlaki’s location, while the CIA and PET were more than happy to watch as a powerful cleric, having just survived multiple attempts on his life, gives into lust and break radio silence hoping to take on a third wife, the blonde and beautiful Croatian convert.
Equally remarkable are the terrorist systems he discusses like ‘mujahideen secrets 2’, an encryption software designed to pass online messages, the use of draft boxes in shared email accounts used to send message as all emails sent and received are more likely to be tracked.
By the end, it becomes clear that Storm, a self-proclaimed adventure junkie, was addicted to the rush of what he did. Whether it was as an extremist or later as an informant, he gets a kick out of being at the heart of things. He feels the need to belong, to be accepted, to be important and not redundant. It is this need that draws him in deeper and possibly, once he was burnt by the CIA (they did not give him credit for helping to exterminate al-Awlaki nor pay him the $5 million he was promised) pushed him to go to the media — a safety net as well as fulfilling his need to be at the heart of things.
Storm now lives in an unknown location, hunted by his friends-turned-foes.
However, the book does not adequately delve into Storm’s thoughts. It would be intriguing to be a fly on the wall in his mind, hear his thoughts, witness first-hand his transitions. The book also does not answer the question of what happened to his wives, his world, after he came out with the information to the media.
Having said that, anybody involved in intelligence gathering should read this book to better understand the psyche and situation that creates extremists and pushes the youth to sign up with groups such as the Islamic State.