October 16, 2021

Q&A: Wheaton author pens CIA spy thriller inspired by his experience in the agency

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WHEATON – After eight years in the Central Intelligence Agency, Wheaton resident Joe Goldberg decided the stories of those he worked with needed to be told.

His recently-released book, "Secret Wars: An Espionage Story," tells the tale of fictional propaganda expert Mark Garnett, who sets out in 1986 to recruit a high-ranking Libyan official to work for the U.S. after a terrorist attack funded by Muammar Qadhafi.

Goldberg sat down with Suburban Life reporter Nathan Lurz to discuss his book and how it fits into today's conversation about terrorism and intelligence.

Lurz: Why did you start the process of writing this book?

Goldberg: Terrorism was an important thing, I had worked in it. My goal of the idea was to pay homage and honor to the people I worked with. Kind of like what's happening right now. The agency's getting beaten up for being all these rogue-line, murderous people. But they're not. They're people like you and me who are doing their job in extremely stressful and difficult situations. ...

So I saw those people, and I wanted to write a story that, at its core, was about them.

Lurz: You wrote the book back in 2001 and are publishing it now, more than 10 years later – why?

Goldberg: The day of 9/11 ... I came home and ripped open all the packages [to publishers] and rewrote my cover letter to agents saying "If not now terrorism, when?" And I sent them out again and I got back some pretty good comments from people, but almost all of them said "Terror shock, terror scare" – everybody was totally in shock. It ended up being totally wrong – in the 2000s, all these special forces, terrorism, spy types of books ... they took off.

Lurz: What separates your book from others?

Goldberg: I spent a lot of time making it as accurate as I possibly can. ... A lot of the comments I'm getting from people is "This is real, isn't it?" That's the win. If you want to buy the book, great, but they think it's all real, and I'm not telling them, and I just fictionalized it. Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that they don't know shows me that I was successful in creating a pretty authentic book that is a good story.

Lurz: When some authors base a book off of technical experience like yours, it can lose some of its accessibility. Is that something you considered during your rewrite?

Goldberg: I was writing something in the book about [military operation] Purple Haze ... I dumped in everything I could think of about how the agency works. Then when I went back to look at it, [I realized] this is the stuff your eyes scan over when you're reading a book. I kept a lot – I talk about how an intelligence report is processed ... but I made sure I wrote it in the context of the character [and making it] a part of a narrative moving forward.

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Buy the book

For more information or to purchase "Secret Wars," visit joegoldbergbooks.com.