I am in a unique position to review this book for several reasons. I was part of the NATO planning team preparing to take over from the United Nations in Bosnia and then deploying to do just that when Aimen was cutting his teeth in jihad.
As a senior British army intelligence officer with access to the highest levels of intelligence I would often read CX reports, CX reports are highly classified MI6 reports, but they never give away the true identity of the source and I would often speculate where they had come from. The description Aimen has given regarding what he gave to his MI6 handlers now fills many of those speculative blanks.
The final reason is I know Aimen personally and knew him before he went public about his past and I am proud and privileged to see him as a friend. We have talked on many occasions about some of the events and stories so well-articulated in this fantastic book, Nine Lives by Aimen Dean, Paul Cruickshank, and Tim Lister. It also explains why there were times when Aimen went ‘off grid’ and I couldnt contact him.
Nine Lives gives an essential reading insight to the various paths people take to extremism and gives a frightening insight to the coordination that goes on across a globally linked network that is almost delivering terror by franchise.
It details how Aimen Dean as a fresh-faced teenager left for a honourable cause to fight with the Bosnian Muslim Army as part of the Mujahedeen Brigade and when the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed, like many foreign fighters, felt lost and was absorbed into the emerging network of global error being developed by Al Qaeda.
Initially following romantic beliefs of protecting people of the Muslim faith he quickly found himself at the centre of Al Qaeda operations, but their senseless killings disturbed and disillusioned him. That was all the motivation needed for him to begin to work for British Intelligence. For 10 years he used many of his 9 lives passing vital intelligence to the British from deep inside the heart of Al Qaeda.
I have seen some of the training manuals and other plans that Aimen refers to and know they sit in centralised hidden libraries in the dark web and elsewhere, easy for franchised extremist groups and individuals to request access to and learn their horrific trade from. Given their proliferation, it is near impossible for the authorities to remove every source of this extremist material from our ever-connected world.
We should remain concerned and recognise that it is everyone collectively who has a role to play in helping defeat extremism by reporting unusual activity. Remember, the extremists have only to be successful once, but the intelligence services have to be successful all of the time, and they have lost a real asset in the middle of the extremist networks when Aimen was compromised.
I know the pressures an agent and an agent handler go through as I have been there. If anything, Aimen doesn’t do his mental resilience enough justice as the stress of what he was doing to help keep us safe would have been unmeasurably large. I am not surprised he became ill on several occasions.
I know intelligence, I know spying and there is only one word that can describe this book – outstanding. For anyone who wants to know how extremist networks work this is a must-read. If it were a novel it is a page-turner, but the frightening fact is it is a true story. Aimen, Paul, and Tim, I salute you, but Aimen, for the countless lives you have saved, your contribution to humanity is truly awe-inspiring, thank you. This books contribution to understanding the sewer pit of extremism and the role of intelligence agencies is seminal.