My official resume says this about the 5 years during my CIA career when I was an all-source analyst:

Performed all source analysis of geographic topics of intelligence interest in support of US national security, including National Intelligence Estimates

Action officer during 24/7 analytic coverage of coup d’état events in Africa, the South Pacific, and East Asia.

Let me direct you to the phrase “coup d’état.” When you are an intelligence analyst assigned to cover a country, and that country becomes engulfed in civil unrest, a military takeover, etc., you are the person expected to pull all the information together, provide analysis of fast-breaking events, and brief stakeholders, i.e. key decision makers like the President.

Related post: Inside my CIA Career: Analysis

Carmen Amato in the South Pacific

In the South Pacific, circa 1988

Step 1: Ask

The first question to be answered in a coup event was always “Are any Americans in danger?”

If the country is a major US partner or ally, if the US has a national security or geographical interest there, or if someone in the current administration has ties to that country, then there’s even more pressure to swiftly assess the situation, distill facts, and provide judgments in written reports and verbal briefings.

Step 2: Get a list

When I was an analyst, there were so many coups in Africa, the South Pacific, and East Asia that we developed a checklist of what to do if there was a coup in your country. My boss Jerry, who favored plaid sport coats and ran around in his socks, was an experienced officer who kept a “coup kit” in the office.

It was an actual box with checklists, phone numbers, and exemplar reports from previous coup events so when things fell apart in your country and you were called into the office at 2:00 am, you weren’t starting from scratch as the phone rang off the hook.

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The coup kit also included a blanket and snacks.

Coup d’états aren’t always fast. A prolonged coup event could be a grueling marathon of reporting, briefings, targeting planning, and meetings scheduled to coincide when people across the world are awake.

Few meetings take place at your desk, but could be held at the State Department, the Pentagon, etc. I recall a particular week-long coup attempt in a country that was an important strategic ally for the US. We worked in three shifts to ensure 24/7 coverage, constantly trying to make sense of fragmentary and conflicting information.

Teams had to prep for twice daily video conferences, a stream of ad hoc special reports, and the regular intelligence publications.

Jerry’s coup kit was a great lesson in giving yourself the best possible advantage when you know hard things loom ahead.

Step 3: Apply the lessons

I’ve tried to adapt that lesson to being a mystery author by developing systems to streamline my publishing efforts and create repeatable processes. Every so often, I update my writing coup kit with checklists and resources to help me navigate the publishing world. A system of clipboards keeps everything organized.

Red cabinet in my office

Red cabinet in my office

And snacks.

What’s in your coup kit?

Backpack photo by Zephan Ayoob on Unsplash


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CIA career


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Author Carmen Amato

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