Douglas Laux: Hunting The Wolverine, a Warzone CIA Operative Goes Left of Boom

Douglas Laux is an ex-CIA operative who was assigned to some of the most dangerous warzones in the Global War on Terror and he’s the New York Times Best Selling Author of “Left Of Boom: How A Young CIA Case Officer Infiltrated The Taliban And Al-Qaeda.” Doug also created, wrote, produced, and starred in the Discovery Channel’s Finding Escobar’s Millions, and was part of the Bravo Channel series Spy Games. For the work he performed in penetrating terrorist organizations around the world, Doug has been recognized for his heroism and dedication to our country by Senator Sherrod Brown, as well as Congressmen Warren Davidson, Jim Banks, and Governor Ron DeSantis.

Doug left a six-figure job at DHL where he had just been awarded the District Salesman of the Year award after being made an offer to join the CIA after a year of interviews, assessments and testing that often left the fast-paced Laux frustrated by the unpredictable and often vague nature of the process. Nevertheless, the prospect of living out scenes from the Al Pacino, Colin Farrell film “The Recruit,” had Doug enthralled at the opportunity to have a career as an undercover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Upon arrival at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Doug Laux expected to be immersed in a Jason Bourne-style training program, however, his introduction to the world of covert operations was not filled with either action or intrigue, instead, he began his new career as a desk jockey doing admin support for Case Officers, sending reports, making copies of files and responding to diplomatic cables. What Doug wanted more than anything was to be thrust into the world of Black Ops, requesting (and in some instances demanding) that he be sent to Afghanistan, a place most Case Officers had no interest in visiting, let alone being deployed to as an undercover operative. Although his overtures to be sent to the front lines were initially rebuffed, Doug’s relentless pursuit to break the types of cases that made international headlines wore his superiors down and he was finally sent to “The Farm,” the CIA’s training center where recruits learn the art of clandestine operations. Soon after graduating from the Field Training Course, Doug got his wish and was assigned to Afghanistan, and was enrolled in language school to learn Pashtu, after which he was sent to the most dangerous war zone on the planet.

” … those conversations that I was having, with the people who make those decisions was, look, I want to go to Afghanistan, but don’t you dare stick me in Kabul. I want to go to a forward operating base. I want to work at a black site. And that’s when they were like pump your brakes bro. Like you don’t have tier one experience. We’re going to send one of our paramilitary officers there, who’s also a case officer, and that’s who gets to go there,  not you. And my mentality was, well, what can I do to change your mind on that? And there was a term that would float around through I don’t know, I guess I first deployed in like 2010 called a warzone CO  and to the majority of people in the label Warzone CEO was something 95 to 98% of people wanted to avoid. So that grizzled guy that I was talking about that everyone knew, he was a warzone CO, he had that moniker, okay, and so to 95% of people, it was like, he’s just a warzone CEO. that’s all he can do, and you get relegated to that. And they’re only going to send you to warzones … if you’re labeled a warzone CO, you probably like that because you chose to be that and so you don’t mind it, but everyone else is like, Oh my God if I ever got labeled a warzone CO, like my career would be over, he’s never going to get promoted. He’s never going to do traditional operations. And it’s like you look at mine, after two years in the war zones, I did some really traditional stuff, still in a war zone, but throughout the entire Middle East, so yeah, that guy, I would say, you know, he looked at me thinking like, you’re just starting out, you don’t want this moniker man, you don’t want to be a warzone CO, you’re going to get stuck with all the shitholes you’re going to go to all the worst places on earth. If you get married, if you have children, it’s going to suck, don’t be like me, and I was like, you’re everything. I want to be. And so yeah, he relented, and he got me hooked up.”

When Doug first arrived at the Wadi FOB (the base’s real name was redacted) in Afghanistan in 2010 he immediately noticed a massive strategic oversight, the Agency had a special branch dedicated to tracking Al Qaeda (AQ), even though there was only about 100 AQ in Afghanistan at that time, yet, astonishingly, there was no unit dedicated to keeping tabs on the Taliban, despite the fact that there were tens of thousands of them present and killing hundreds of Americans every year. Worse, when it came to developing intelligence, Agency Case Officers were more like journalists where, instead of developing precise intelligence on enemy activity, merely reported on attacks. Without being given any initial targets or objectives, Doug quickly learned that there was an IED network operating in the area that was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers, and without being given any guidance or encouragement, decided he would make dismantling the Taliban’s explosives operation his primary mission.

Doug immediately set out to aggressively recruit sources. He learned the country’s southern dialect to better understand the culture, grew a beard, dressed as an Afghan, and attended the village Shuras regularly. Before long, Doug had convinced the locals to start trading money for Intel, and with early successes piling up, he became more ambitious and started working to develop sources directly within the Taliban itself, including those in the command structure. Doug’s bold efforts led not only to the identification of “The Wolverine,” his code name for the head of the IED network in Afghanistan, but the infiltration of the explosive supplier’s organization as well by Taliban leaders who were on Doug’s payroll. It turned out that many Taliban commanders were willing to become informants and sell information to Doug and the CIA, not because they weren’t loyal to their objective of killing Americans and ejecting the US Military from Afghanistan, but because they lived a life that forced them into survival mode from the moment they were born, as such they saw no issue with taking money from the enemy and giving up their people, assets or information if it helped line their pockets, they were happy to murder Americans and take our dollars at the same time. The Taliban was in many ways much like the Mafia, and some enterprising Taliban commanders realized that they could use their relationship with the CIA to get rid of their internal enemies and those they feuded with, all while getting paid to eliminate their competition … and Doug was only too happy to oblige.

Doug’s intel became increasingly valuable in stark contrast to the worthless sources his colleagues cultivated in Afghanistan, afghans that were happy to tell the CIA what they wanted to hear while giving up nothing of substance in return, often outright fabricating information to case officers who seemed to have no interest in vetting necessary to validate what they were being told, so much so that Doug confronted his superiors about the outlandish nature of some of the claims that were being made by sources who to the trained eye were clearly turning in false information.
Most COs were not willing to take the enormous risks that Doug repeatedly hurled himself into with abandon, more interested in their careers and playing it safe, qualities that were hard to overcome in candidates the CIA often recruited, the ultra scrupulous, straight-laced, Ivy League graduate more interested in the chess game of international espionage than getting their hands dirty in the blood-soaked streets of a war zone:
The vast majority of people that make it into the CA, and this offends people some times and I don’t really care, the I stands for intelligence. Okay? You do have to be ridiculously intelligent to get in. Okay? There’s a reason why it’s called Central Intelligence. You have to be wicked smart, intellectually, your processor has to fire everyone else’s RPMs bar none. And you won’t make it through trust me, they’re going to give you a battery of tests that are time. And if you don’t get those scores that are required, and you can’t meet those tests, or you don’t pass those psychological examinations … you’re not going to get in you have to be smart, well guess what, what does that mean? It’s kind of a double-edged sword. It means that most of the people that get in are from an Ivy League school … most of my contemporaries and people I started with, had went to high schools that cost more per year than my entire college times five and then went to Yale, or Princeton, or Stanford or USC and had four degrees and one was in Mandarin, and the other one was in Arabic, and a history degree and an English Literature degree so they can outwrite me, they could out speak me on 2 mission-critical languages, and they had a huge understanding of history, and so you’re like, oh my god best and brightest, yes, absolutely, but the double-edged sword of that is a lot of those people had been sheltered their entire lives and lived really beyond upper-middle-class, they were all rich, real rich, not upper middle, like rich and vacation at their home in the Hamptons, but the flip side of the coin is they tend to lack grit and haven’t really met nasty people in their life, and they’ve never been punched in the face, and they’ve never seen anybody dead, and they aren’t real suited for violence. You know, they didn’t grow up in the trailer parks like I did you know what I mean? Like, they didn’t see abuse and neglect and just generally bad people. And for me, it was like, Oh, that reminds me of Ted. You know, hey, that’s cousin Jim over there. You know, like, it was like, Yeah, I could relate to these people. Whereas, you know, a lot of case officers, we deal with the worst of the worst, the scum of the earth. And I’ll go, they’re just humans who got a bad rap and a bad roll. And oh, by the way, I want that guy to work for me. So I’m going to make him think I’m his best friend. I was born knuckle dragger to come in there. So I guess being a warzone CO was much fitting for me.
Anything but risk-averse, Doug’s relentlessness led him to not only uncover the head of the IED Network, but use his sources within the Taliban command structure to infiltrate the Wolverine’s IED Network, and befriend the head of the IED network himself. This lead to a shocking discovery, the man responsible for hundreds of dead American soldiers was not a member of the Taliban, for over ten years the CIA and DoD assumed the IED operation was funded and managed by the Taliban, The WOlverine was not even an Afghani, nor did he live in Afghanistan. As troubling as that was, Doug’s investigation uncovered a far more diabolical fact, one that could shake the entire foundation of the US’ relationship with one of its most important allies in the region, the discovery that The Wolverine was being supported and funded by the intelligence apparatus of a country that had for years cozied up to America as a friend, all the while supporting our enemies as they slaughtered American soldiers. Nevertheless, Doug quickly found out that this was a reality that no one at the agency, at the DoD, and up the chain of command wanted to hear. Not without an otherworldly amount of proof.
Yeah, well, you can’t make that type of allegation. And you don’t want to be the guy who pens that you don’t want to be the guy who offers that. And I was like, Have we met? I already have a moniker of like, Warzone cowboy. You know, like everyone in that agency. Everyone at least in the NCS knows that like it, like you said, I’m burning way too hot. You know, like, everyone knows both ends of the candle aren’t lit, and I have a flame thrower on each end and it’s just melted wax. You know, like, that was my mindset because I didn’t Think about my career and probably part of me knew you’re not going to last long doing this, you probably gonna quit after three more years of this because you’re gonna snap. So like, just keep burning it until you burn your fingers.
Doug’s tireless effort to infiltrate and prove The Wolverine was at the head of the Taliban’s IED network and take him down hit paydirt, although they could never get incontrovertible evidence of the intelligence agency that Doug suspected was betraying their relationship with America, he was able to identify the players, suppliers, routes, buyers, end-users within the enemy’s IED operation and convinced the leviathan-like US government intelligence apparatus, a behemoth of a bureaucracy that often moves slowly, to finally train its guns on The Wolverine and eliminate him from the chessboard.
However, the years of deep undercover work, the strains on many of his relationships with women he loved and the complete immersion of his life in the singular goal to penetrate the Taliban, to the point of speaking the language, dressing and growing a beard to look and ultimately think like the enemy had a cost, you cannot go that deep into the abyss for that long and not pay a price … after receiving news that The Wolverine case was being dropped, that the arresting officials did not have enough evidence to charge him, Doug spiraled.
” … just to get the warship to turn around is considered like a huge win in your career. You got the warship to turn around. That’s a story for 20 years there. And then to capture this guy and then have them released was a real slap in the face. And that sucked, and I took it really hard and personal. And then yeah, I got out of it eventually, as you know, and started working for Boss Man again, which saved my life probably. But sometimes I’ll see either a soldier or a former agency officer and they’re talking so lightly and carefree about their experience, and I’m like were we in the same location? Were we in the same agency? Like, maybe you were just better at managing the stress, but I read some of the books that come out from people who say they were these undercover operatives, and maybe they were, maybe they weren’t, I don’t know, but they seem so glowing and shiny. And I’m like, damn, what did I do wrong? Because I came out, like whoa, that was quite some adventure. Like, what the hell do I do now? Like, oh, man, and so I had some real struggles for a long time after I left.
In the end, Doug was brought back into operations against the Syrian government to support the rebels seeking to overthrow President Bahir Assad. As was his nature, he went deep in with little care for his safety while once again battling a bureaucracy that didn’t react quickly or with enough impact to change the course of events on the ground in a country being torn apart from within. Ultimately deciding that if he were to stay with the Agency, and be effective in the chaos of another war zone, he would most likely descend deep into the hole he had recently climbed out of … and with the Abyss staring back, Doug decided to get out while he still had his sanity.
Doug Laux accomplished what so few in the CIA ever have, he went up against the bureaucracy, and by being unconcerned with sustaining a politically correct career track, and not being thwarted by the shackles of keep to the right side of protecting his career, he went left of boom and waged an unconventional intelligence war and did whatever it took to get results. Doug’s efforts exposed the dark underbelly of the Taliban’s efforts in Southern Afghanistan, uncovered the IED network that had taken so many soldier’s lives along with its key players and suppliers, and saved American lives in one of the world’s most dangerous war zones.


Douglas Laux –
Left of Boom: How a Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda –
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