Spurious Spy Now Runs RFK, Jr. Campaign
Amaryllis Fox left the CIA and married the boss’s son
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign for president is now being run by his daughter-in-law, who happens to be a former employee of the CIA—the same agency that RFK Jr. believes played a role in the 1963 murder of his uncle, the 35th president, and his father.
Amaryllis Fox Kennedy says she worked as an undercover operative for the CIA where she was assigned to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. As with everything else in the conspiracy-drenched world of RFK Jr., including the CIA career of the new campaign manager, however, nothing is as it seems.
The campaign announced on Friday that Kennedy Fox was replacing the outgoing campaign manager, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. “Amaryllis is a woman of extraordinary intelligence and drive who I am confident will take this campaign to the next level,” RFK Jr. said in a statement.
Life Undercover, Fox Kennedy’s 2019 memoir of her CIA career, is mostly a work of fiction, several former CIA officers tell SpyTalk. “I read the book. It’s BS,” says John Sipher, who spent 30 years in the agency.
“I do know that the memoir was grossly exaggerated…” say James Lawler, a legendary CIA ops officer who is credited with taking down Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan’s nuclear black market. CIA veteran Robert Baer says Life Undercover is “a Joycean dream world.”
One person who worked in the the tiny, tight-knit unit tracking weapons of mass destruction in the agency’s Counterterrorism Center around the same time that Kennedy Fox says she was there never saw her or even heard her name mentioned, another sign that Life Undercover is fiction.
To veteran spies, the tales Fox Kennedy tells in her book—like a solo meeting in Karachi, Pakistan where she won over a “feared and battle-hardened jihadi” by whipping an infant asthma remedy out of her purse—are about as believable as RFK Jr.’s claims that chemicals in the water supply are causing sexual dysphoria among children.
“You don’t go wandering around Karachi on your own,” says top former CIA operations official William Murray. “You’ll wind up in some warlord’s harem, or you’ll wind up dead.”
Fox Kennedy and the Kennedy campaign did not respond to messages left seeking comment. In the past, Fox Kennedy has pointed to a disclaimer in the book that “operational details” have been changed to safeguard intelligence sources and methods.
Controversy dogged the book from the beginning.
Skirting the Censors
The CIA reportedly did not approve the manuscript for Life Undercover before Fox Kennedy submitted it to her publisher, Knopf Doubleday. The CIA takes extremely seriously the commitment all employees make to get the agency’s approval before publication, and the agency has taken several ex-employees to court for failing to clear their books ahead of time. In Fox Kennedy’s case, oddly, nothing happened.
Was the book so riddled with fiction that the CIA just threw up its hands? Was her entire CIA career made up? Did the agency drop the ball? The CIA did not respond to a message left seeking comment.
Fox Kennedy did work for the CIA, says Mark Zaid, an attorney she retained when her book came out. But attorney-client privacy limited him from saying anything further.
Finding a former CIA colleague who remembered her wasn’t easy, either. Lawler, retired chief of the Counterproliferation Division's Special Activities Unit, recalled that Fox Kennedy took his WMD scientist recruitment courses at Lawrence Livermore National Lab 14 years ago.
“How could I forget someone named Amaryllis?” he told SpyTalk.
Fox Kennedy was a “NOC,” one of the agency’s operatives working under “non-official cover.” NOCs work overseas as private individuals without any apparent affiliation with a U.S. government agency or embassy, which leaves them vulnerable to being caught spying. Fox Kennedy says she posed as an art dealer, a cover she claims the agency let her choose.
The identities of NOC operatives are some of the most deeply held secrets in the CIA. “If she were a NOC, they may not feel comfortable acknowledging her relationship with the CIA,” Gail Helt, a former CIA analyst, told SpyTalk. “If she had never had her covert status lifted, they may not have been comfortable approving her book.” Then again, the CIA runs a risk when it prosecutes former officers who don’t reveal secrets because the agency would have to disclose classified information in court to prove its case.
The CIA sued another NOC who published a 2008 book, The Human Factor, without prior approval from the agency’s prepublication review board. The author, writing under the pseudonym Ishmael Jones, was forced to forfeit all proceeds of the book.
“If Fox Kennedy was truly a CIA operative under NOC, her failure to seek clearance is a troubling sign. So, too, is the CIA's apparent indifference to her breach,” says Frank Snepp, a former CIA analyst and interrogator in Vietnam.
Snepp’s 1977 book, Decent Interval, set the precedent for all the censorship to come. The CIA sued Snepp on the basis that he had violated his employee contract by publishing the manuscript without prior approval. The Supreme Court upheld the agency’s complaint and ordered Snepp to forfeit the proceeds of the book.
“As John Bolton discovered, there is little official tolerance for even privileged scofflaws. Every time the government gives an unapproved author a pass it weakens its legal case and policy arguments for pre-publication review in the first place,” Snepp says. “Selective enforcement is one of the strongest legal arguments against it.”
Presidential candidates are rightly loath to have a staffer become an object of negative attention, much less derision. RFK Jr.’s new campaign manager made up parts of her CIA career and then flouted the rules regarding the protection of classified information, adding even more questions about his quixotic, independent candidacy. For a man who sees the invisible hand of the deep state everywhere, though, it’s likely to be asset—at least for his fans.
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