Under Cover on the Front Line: a Former CIA Officer Shares Her Story

Michele Rigby Assad reveals experiences in Middle East with LIFE Today.

In this Oct. 26, 2016, file photo, internally displaced persons clear a checkpoint in Qayyarah, some 50 kilometers south of Mosul, Iraq.

By Allegra Thatcher Published on July 25, 2018

Meet a ballerina want-to-be who ended up in one of the most harrowing jobs imaginable. A “simple girl from a small town in central Florida,” LIFE Today’s latest guest, Michele Rigby Assad, served her country as an undercover counter terrorism specialist for 10 years in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

She never saw herself in the CIA, and yet she fit perfectly. Her husband, Joseph, was also an agent and they went on missions together. Assad recently published a book about her experiences, titled Breaking Cover: My Secret Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me About What’s Worth Fighting For.

The book describes Assad’s background and the process she underwent to join the CIA. Her tone is conversational yet informative, sharing personal details and stories from her investigations. While she changes names and leaves out information that is for CIA ears only, Assad delivers a compelling narrative.

On Her Knees and Ready to Conquer Fear

God was planning out her life before she knew it, Assad told James and Betty Robison on LIFE Today Tuesday. All her skills and interests made her the perfect candidate for the CIA. From her study-abroad in Cairo to her Egyptian husband to her graduate degree in Arabic Studies, she was in line for something special.

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Her road hasn’t been easy. Assad asserted the power of the Holy Spirit in her work, giving her direction in every decision. On an assignment in one of the kidnapping capitals of the world, she was nearly “taken.” As she was driving alone to work, dozens of men surrounded her car. She had an almost “intuitive” response, which she credits to her ambush training and the Holy Spirit. While one of the men in front of her car performed a few inappropriate stunts, she had to make a choice. It was “either you or them, you’ve got to decide.”

Assad, gritting her teeth and putting her foot to the gas, surged forward and hit the man twice to get him out of her way. When she was free of the circle, she said she didn’t touch the brake the whole way home.

Despite the peril, Assad saw the CIA as her ministry. She emphasized this fact because the CIA was the right path for her. “We need a lot more Christians to realize full time ministry is wherever God puts you,” she said.

God doesn’t call us to do interesting things. They don’t happen in your comfort zone. They come in places where you’re uncomfortable and so you have to be comfortable with letting God lead you into what for me was the CIA and for everybody is something unique. So the idea is that I’m sharing my stories and my authentic struggle so people can see that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when their faith is greater than their fear.

Assad then turned to the exciting bend her life took afterwards.

Continuing to Serve Those in Danger

Since leaving the CIA, Assad and her husband have worked to help Christians in the Middle East. They came across this opportunity through a connection with a Hollywood producer.

Among other missions, the group sought homes for refugees, planned evacuations, and made sure the operations were ISIS-free. Their most successful mission came in December 2015, when they evacuated 149 Christians from Northern Iraq.

In her work as an agent and for refugees, sometimes praying was all she could do, she said. At one point, her husband had to carry a suitcase of documents about refugees from Iraq to the Vatican for approval. Though she got out of Iraq safely, she had no way of knowing whether he did. She said she just had to pray and trust that though she couldn’t do anything, God would keep him safe from being questioned.

“I really encourage people to not be fearful, to have courage,” she said. When she embraced the challenge to be “willing to stand up and do the hard things, to walk in the hard places,” God used her in powerful ways.

To watch Assad’s full, exciting story on LIFE Today, click here.

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