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So if you are trying to boost your resume to realize a lifelong dream of becoming a Navy Intelligence Officer, what would you do? Naveed Jamali did what any bright, bold, and determined American Millennial would do. He became a double-agent for the United States. Wait a minute … back up.
Naveed grew up like any other kid on the block. He loved G.I Joe, his Navy model airplane kits, his toy tanks, and guns. His parents were first-generation Americans, his mother from France and his father from Pakistan. They met at Columbia University, fell in love and married, and opened a book and research center in New York City. Working in his parent’s increasingly successful book business, they grew accustomed to a specific type of regular visitor, Russians under diplomatic cover at the UN.
For 30 years, a regular rotation of supposedly innocent diplomats came in with their lists, asking for specific books, reports, and publications. These visits would be followed up 30 minutes later with a visit from the FBI. The FBI tracked their movements and requests also for 30 years.
Their only child Naveed loved being the class clown. Studying was another story. His teachers tried, but he’d rather leave class early, by a window just to make his classmates laugh. His parents tried private prep school. He likened it to Leavenworth. Somehow he managed to get into NYU, but a visit to a buddy at Columbia University got his attention to finally aspire to greater things when he met his inspiration and love, Ava. He knew he had to get on track to attract the interest of this beautiful girl. They eventually married, and while working on her doctorate at Harvard, Naveed accepted a job in IT, also at Harvard and soon managed his own IT team. Then 9/11 changed everything…..
New York was home. Shocked and stunned, they packed up and headed back. Devastated by the terrorist attack, Naveed then realized his purpose. Life in a cubicle dissolved, and a steely determination took hold. How can I serve my country? After much research, he applied to the Navy and was told that his credentials, while impressive, needed real-world experience. So Naveed did what anyone would do. He offered himself to the FBI.
While the Russians were obviously using the bookstore to gain inside information, Naveed took it up 20 notches. Enter Oleg. He was different from the others – cold, dismissive, exact. Naveed won his trust, but not without one day realizing that he was dealing with a highly skilled, senior military-trained undercover Russian spy, who could end his days on earth with the wrong move. He went to his parent’s house and threw up.
Not being able to tell anyone, he played a cat-and-mouse game for three nerve-wracking years, upping the ante with the Russian’s requests for deeper military and national security data. At one point, while the Russian “diplomat” was peering into Naveed’s car trunk for promised documents, he accidentally slammed the hatch down onto his head. The Russian, dazed and screaming said, ”Oh, that’s ok — I have a hard head.”
The book, How To Catch a Russian Spy by Naveed Jamali, takes you into the life of a young civilian who never saw failure as an option, whose cocky and headstrong personality was soon tempered by danger and reality, who learned his spy techniques from books and Hollywood movies, and pushed the FBI beyond even their expectations.
Did he make it into the Navy? What happened to Oleg? How many more “Russian diplomats” and other nefarious characters are roaming the streets of America, and could you recognize them? I think Naveed would say, “kids, don’t try this at home, the Russians are not our buddies, and the next time you’re at Hooters, pay extra close attention to your surroundings (and I don’t mean the waitresses).”
Meet Naveed and co-author Ellis Henican: