I was born in New York City. When I was five years old my father joined the Foreign Service of the State Department. His job took us to Washington, DC, Mexico, South Vietnam, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Uruguay and Nicaragua. We lived in Saigon during the Tonkin Gulf Incident, the overthrow of Diem, a number of other coup d'etats and almost daily Vietcong terrorist attacks against Americans. After that, we survived three years gasping for air at 13,000 feet in La Paz, Bolivia during the time that Che Guevarra was trying to build a guerrilla base in that country. By 1980 my father was the US Ambassador to Nicaragua, and I was there witnessing the first days of the Sandinista Revolution.
These experiences molded me. I saw how political instability could throw peoples’ lives in chaos and test their character. In my teenage years I became a sounding board for my father’s opinions on how to best formulate and carry out US foreign policy. Many of his friends were other diplomats, CIA agents, and military attaches. Through observing them, I developed an appreciation of the unique kinds of challenges US representatives faced in nations where our interests and cultural perspective often sharply differed from theirs.
After college I bounced around from working for the National Endowment for the Arts, to freelance journalist, to moving to New York City and writing plays (over a dozen of which were produced Off and Off Broadway), to writing campaign speeches and screenplays.
In 1994, I wrote my first book about the role my father played as US ambassador in the Nicaraguan Revolution – At the Fall of Somoza. I also used my father as a principal source for a book I wrote about the effort to restore deposed President Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti – Plunging Into Haiti. The same theme ran through both: US policy overseas is often undermined by our inability to fully appreciate other nations’ cultures, histories, and politics.
I also tried my hand at mystery novels (starting with Eve Missing), literary fiction (The Testimony of Miguel), radio drama (The Swamp Fox), and poetry. To support my growing family, I supplemented my income as a copywriter and bartender. In 2004, shortly after moving my family to Los Angeles, I received an email from a gentleman who said he was a clandestine US intelligence operative and wanted to collaborate with me. The book we wrote together about the CIA-led operation to overthrow the Taliban in late 2001, called Jawbreaker, was published in 2005 and appeared on numerous bestseller lists.
Following Jawbreaker, I started to receive calls and emails from other former government officials – DEA and FBI agents, police detectives, Special Forces soldiers, and Navy SEALs – who had interesting stories to tell. I helped turn some of them into bestselling books, including Most Evil and Inside SEAL Team Six.
All of these courageous individuals had experienced conflict and human suffering first hand, and had their core beliefs tested. Their views often clashed with policy makers, who saw the same conflicts through the lens of bureaucratic politics. Many of my co-authors had experienced the same phenomena I had seen growing up overseas – how time after time our political and culture myopia, or inability to fully grasp the importance of local history, language, and culture, had led to bad decision-making and caused us to be ineffective.