McGowan, a three-decade FBI veteran, narrates his impressive career in this intense memoir. Raised by an alcoholic Irish cop in a rough northeastern Massachusetts industrial city, McGowan left home in 1979 to attend college in Florida. Afterward, he returned to New England and worked as a cop in Burlington, Vt., for several years before being accepted into the FBI in 1988. McCowan became one of the rare special agents trained to work undercover and given multiple assignments. He takes great care in depicting the risks he took as an agent in more than 50 undercover cases, working on international drug investigations, tracking Italian and Russian mafia members (he used a wire while meeting with Matty Guglielmetti of the New England–based Patriarca crime family), and investigating Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán (his office set up “a major international drug deal with the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel” in Mexico) and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. McGowan gives readers a thrilling insider’s view of being an undercover FBI agent, “the most exciting and challenging job in the world.” (Oct.)
McGowan, an FBI agent for 30 years, tells the story of his undercover work exposing criminal operations. Collaborating with Pezzullo (Seal Team Six; Zero Footprint), the authors trace McGowan's career as a police officer in Vermont to his initiation into the FBI in 1987. At that time, there was no formal certified training for undercover agents or operations. According to McGowan, a good agent has common sense, solid judgment, confidence (though not cockiness), and the ability to listen more than talk. He emphasizes that the job is not for the faint-hearted; it takes a physical and mental toll on the agents who typically work 12-hour days, seven days a week. The job can also put a tremendous strain on family life. Adding to the stress, office politics play a role in how operations proceed. McGowan shares stories about bringing down Russian and Italian mobs, Pakistani criminals and Mexican cartels (including El Chapo), and a corrupt politician in Miami. While the missions are compelling, some of them gloss over important details, such as why office politics influenced the cases, the impact on family, and details of some minor operations. VERDICT Recommended for libraries with a robust criminal justice section; otherwise an optional purchase.—Michael Sawyer, Daytona Beach, FL
"Propulsive....Will appeal to readers curious about the undercover lifestyle and the inner workings of federal law enforcement." Kirkus Reviews
“Michael McGowan and Ralph Pezzullo’s brilliant and unflinching account of Mr. McGowan’s career as an undercover FBI Special Agent takes you into the soul of this unsung American hero, and into the strip clubs, and hotel suites where he outwitted the world’s top criminalsincluding three Italian Mafia families, the Russian Mob, and El Chapo Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel. Ghost is absolutely riveting. I couldn’t put it down.” Don Mann, longtime member of SEAL Team 6 and New York Times bestselling author.
"An excellent look into the murky world of Undercover. McGowan proves to be one of the top UCAs in the FBI. A must read." Joseph Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco
"Few Agents in the history of the FBI have exposed themselves to more risk and performed with equal professionalism and integrity as Mike McGowan. His story shows the FBI's success isn't based on a system but the extraordinary efforts of individual Agents who find a way to make their cases despite all obstacles. Sometimes, as Mike discovered, the bad guys you are targeting aren't your only adversary.” Michael German, retired FBI agent and author of Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI UCA
Propulsive, contrarian tale of an undercover specialist for the FBI.
Recently retired, McGowan uses his memoir, co-authored by Pezzullo (co-author: Full Battle Rattle, 2018, etc.), as a victory lap of sorts, recording his experiences in the high-stakes world of federal undercover law enforcement. As he said to a colleague, "I'm really good at pissing people off." This frankness informs reflections on his early years and on discovering his high-stakes specialty: "Green and unskilled, I was still completely hooked on undercover work." He portrays his inspiration sharply, chronicling his hardscrabble childhood in New England, where his father was a tough, alcoholic patrolman. McGowan entered the elite ranks of the FBI following formative years as a patrol officer and then detective. He scored an early undercover coup by securing a huge deal with a heroin smuggler, but his career was nearly derailed when he was framed for theft of the evidence: "I'd gone from FBI Golden Boy, to Public Enemy #1, back to Golden Boy." Though he writes clearly of the nitty-gritty of complex federal investigations, he remains unforgiving of opponents, including both criminals and the upper echelons of the FBI, many of whom he clearly feels jockey for power from behind desks while tougher agents like himself take risks and build cases on the streets. He details major cases where he infiltrated the ranks of Russian mobsters and Mafiosi and shows how the FBI uses wiretaps, informants, and undercover agents to cajole admissions of wrongdoing from high-level suspects. "These guys might be cold blooded killers, but they were also fun to be around," he writes. McGowan can come off as arrogant, with axes to grind against supervisors he clashed with, particularly regarding an elite national squad who went up against a Mexican cartel but then was abruptly disbanded. Still, this case and others give his recollections the tang of authenticity.
Will appeal to readers curious about the undercover lifestyle and the inner workings of federal law enforcement.