How to Catch a Russian Spy (Hardcover)

The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent

By Naveed Jamali, Ellis Henican

Scribner, 9781476788821, 304pp.

Publication Date: June 23, 2015

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (6/22/2015)
Paperback (2/20/2018)
Hardcover (8/13/2015)

List Price: 26.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


The fascinating story of a young American amateur who helped the FBI bust a Russian spy in New York—named the Funniest Book of the Year by The Washington Post, sold in ten countries, and to be a major motion picture for 20th Century Fox.

For three nerve-wracking years, Naveed Jamali spied on America for the Russians, trading thumb drives of sensitive technical data for envelopes of cash, selling out his own beloved country across noisy restaurant tables and in quiet parking lots. Or so the Russians believed. In fact, this young American civilian was a covert double agent working with the FBI. The Cold War wasn’t really over. It had just gone high-tech.

How to Catch a Russian Spy is the one-of-a-kind story of how one young man’s post-college adventure became a real-life US counter-intelligence coup. He had no previous counter-espionage experience. Everything he knew about undercover work, he’d learned from Miami Vice and Magnum P.I. reruns and movies like Ronin, Spy Game, and anything with Bond or Bourne in the title. And yet, hoping to gain experience to become a Navy intelligence officer, he convinced the FBI and the Russians they could trust him. With charm, cunning, and a big load of naiveté, he matched wits with a veteran Russian military-intelligence officer who was recruiting spies on American soil, out-maneuvering the Russian spy and his secret-hungry superiors. Along the way, Jamali and his FBI handlers cast a rare light on espionage activities at the Russian Mission to the United Nations in New York and earned a solid US win in the escalating hostilities between Moscow and Washington.

Now, Jamali reveals the whole engaging story behind his double-agent adventure—from coded signals on Craigslist to the Russian spy’s propensity for Hooters’ Buffalo wings. Cinematic, news-breaking, and “hilarious” (The Washington Post), How to Catch a Russian Spy is an armchair spy fantasy brought to life. Film rights sold to 20th Century Fox for director Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, 500 Days of Summer).

About the Author

Naveed Jamali spent three years as a civilian double agent then joined the US Navy as a reserve intelligence officer, where he continues to serve. He has appeared as an expert commentator on several TV networks and is currently a regular contributor to MSNBC as well as Newsweek magazine.

Ellis Henican is a newspaper columnist, TV political analyst, and author of several New York Times bestselling books.

Ellis Henican is a newspaper columnist, a television commentator, and the coauthor of five New York Times bestsellers, including Damn Few.

Praise For How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent

“A Cold War-style thriller, full of Russians, federal agents, code names and, in the lead, a New York techie who preps for his double-agent moments by practicing lines from 'Goodfellas' and 'Scarface.' Jamali makes his tough-guy dreams come true by outwitting a Borat-like Russian intelligence officer who recruits him to commit treason. The finale, like in every Bond film, goes down in a New Jersey Hooters. A hilarious book that is being made into a movie.”
The Washington Post, Funniest Book of the Year

“Apparently goofballs aren't limited to the world of fictional spies – before there was Sterling Archer, there was Naveed and Oleg. I wish I could steal some of these stories for the show!”
—Adam Reed, creator of “Archer”

“A classic case of American counterespionage from the inside . . . [a] never-ending game of cat and mouse.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Suspenseful and often uproarious…How to Catch a Russian Spy offers a rare opportunity to share in the intensity, fear and adrenaline rush of working as a double agent, trying to take down a cagey and skilled operative for the world’s most notorious and ruthless gangster regime. Without any formal training, Jamali soon discovers he has all the essential tools of a good undercover: intuition,curiosity, and a jazz-like ability to improvise on the spot. Indeed, by going ‘off-script’ – both in the way he veers from his parents’ conventional-life expectations and by always keeping his adversary guessing – Jamali has given us one gem of a comic counter-espionage yarn.”
—Douglas Century, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Under and Alone and Takedown

“Jamali, a smart, young New York techie, somehow spent three years going toe to toe with a Russian intelligence officer who thought he was developing an asset, even though all the while Jamali was quietly collaborating with U.S. federal agents. . . . Watching Jamali and Oleg try to outsmart each other is the joy of the book. . . . If you’ve watched too much 'Homeland' or 'The Americans,' then How to Catch a Russian Spy is a hilarious corrective showing how prosaic low-level espionage can be….an entertaining and breezy read.”
The Washington Post

“A gripping true tale of high-level espionage in which the author, Naveed Jamali, impressively displays tradecraft belying his amateur status. His stories of teaming with FBI agent handlers to doublecross Russian spies are nothing short of sensational.”
—Robert K. Wittman, former Senior Investigator of the FBI National Art Crime Team and New York Times bestselling author of Priceless and The Devil’s Diary

“So celebrated in American pop culture are the tactics of espionage that even a motivated amateur – with a talent for improvisation and a taste for Hollywood flair – can take on a real-life Russian intelligence operative, and best him at his own game.What’s most charming about this page-turning account is Naveed’s honesty about his missteps, and the joy he takes in designing deceptions that actually work. Readers will smile right along with him.”
—Lindsay Moran, bestselling author of Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy

“One early lesson I learned leading SEAL units is that it’s not enough to begin with a good plan – an effective operator must adapt to fast-changing conditions and adjust the plan accordingly. Despite his lack of training, Naveed Jamali intuitively grasped that lesson, repeatedly calling on the main weapon in his amateur’s arsenal – ingenuity – to deceive his opponent. In a time when our nation’s enemies vigorously troll for information that will give them an edge,it’s comforting to know that American resourcefulness can triumph even out of uniform.”
—Rorke Denver, New York Times bestselling author of Damn Few

"The end of the Cold War didn't stop Russia's intelligence operations in America, as Naveed Jamali's amusing tale of his life as an amateur spy deftly illustrates. Corvettes, military secrets swapped in suburban Uno Pizzerias, and a clandestine operation to snare a Russian operative at Hooter's—this is a real-life Get Smart for the twenty-first century."
—Guy Lawson, New York Times bestselling author of Octopus and Arms and the Dudes

“Every now and then, the safety and security of our country depends on an everyday young American doing the right thing. What sets Naveed apart is that he obviously had such a blast doing it. As amusing as it is to read this book and watch an admitted amateur get over on a Russian operative here in the U.S. to steal secrets, it's also sobering to contemplate how many bad actors there are waiting to take advantage of the fact that we live in an open society.”
—Frances Fragos Townsend, former Homeland Security Adviser to President George W. Bush

How to Catch a Russian Spy simply blew me away. Imagine John Le Carre assigning a spy mission to Walter Mitty and you have Naveed Jamali. His fascinating account strips away the glamour of fictional espionage, replacing it with even more provocative reality. Here, spies communicate by Craigslist, thumb drives are as dangerous as a Walther PPK, and agents and handlers meet at Hooters. Viewers of ‘The Americans’ will love this story’s take on the real world of espionage. There are no George Smileys here, but there is a hero whose patriotism is quite stirring.”
—Gary Weiss, former Senior Writer for Business Week and bestselling author of Born to Steal

“[A] page-turner of a memoir....This highly entertaining read is enhanced by the author's self-deprecating sense of humor.”
—Publishers Weekly

Coverage from NPR