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Former CIA analyst returns home

Finds peace in the Pacific Northwest writing her memoir

S.M. Carlson in Jerusalem. Photo credit: S.M. Carlson

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For many of her generation, the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, had a profound impact on S.M. Carlson's life choices. Her three brothers, like many other young men at the time, choose military service, one to the Air Force and two to the Army. She chose a different and surprising way to serve, as a terrorism expert.

Carlson spent 12 years working for the U.S. Government, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until her fateful assignment to the United States mission in Tripoli, Libya, after Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi. "I had a unique role in a dangerous and high-threat operation. I pushed all fear aside until after we made it to safety - after being trapped for weeks, a massive destruction effort, and the harrowing overland evacuation," she said. It took a personal toll on her and she ultimately decided to resign from government service and write her memoir.

In addition, she felt the former administration utterly failed in Libya. "We spent a significant amount of blood and treasure there, men gave their lives, and all because they had deemed it critical to national security. But then we left. We gave up. It made all our sacrifices feel like they were in vain. That was hard to reconcile," Carlson said, and it contributed to her decision to leave.

The South Sound was the ideal location to begin the healing process. The artillery rounds fired at Joint Base Lewis-McChord echo down the Puget Sound and are similar in tone to what Carlson experienced in Libya. Now that she was in a safe place, Carlson was able to disassociate it from what she went through in Libya.  She began to write. Within a month of her return, she had an outline, and within the year, completed the manuscript.

Carlson penned her very personal story to serve as a warning about the ongoing perils of the wars. "I thought the experience could show how to avoid a repeat of the Libyan intervention, and provide a rare window into how a professional crisis sows the seeds of personal triumph. I also wanted to honor the men and women who served there and risked their lives to protect us, to ensure that it was not in vain. It mattered and has a lasting impact," she said.

Carlson's manuscript is very different from any other memoir since 9/11. "It is unusual in that it is told from a woman's perspective about exceptional courage under fire, living and working alongside Special Operations Forces and other elite officers, and most importantly highlighting the unforeseen consequences of U.S. foreign policy failures. It also shares my own love story begun under the most extraordinary circumstances, between a former CIA officer and former Navy SEAL, and how we relied on each other to succeed and survive."

Her future book is tentatively titled, In the Dark of War, and is the previously undisclosed account of how Libya's descent into violence and terrorism culminated in the harrowing evacuation of the entire U.S. mission from Tripoli, as told by a female former CIA officer. While it only took 12 months to pen, the CIA Prepublication Review Board process was arduous. The board reviews materials to ensure no classified information is leaked. Carlson submitted her manuscript in October 2015 and after 16 months in was finally approved Feb. 3, 2017.

Carlson is currently shopping for an agent for her manuscript.

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