Undercover FBI Operative Is Trying to Live a Normal Life — Even When He's Being Someone Else

In new book, an FBI undercover agent reveals the dangerous work he does to protect Americans

Photo: CBS

When it’s time to go to work, it takes less than 30 minutes for Tamer Elnoury to “flip the switch” and become another person.

And once he’s ready to leave his home, somewhere in the Tri-State area, Elnoury is wearing the clothes and watch that belongs to his alias. He even knows his new identity’s mother’s maiden name. It’s the only way he can successfully do his job as an FBI undercover operative.

“It’s a balancing act,” he tells PEOPLE. “I try to separate my personal life from my professional life. I become Tamer Elnoury or whoever I need to be for that extended period of time until I come home — and then I can put the wall back up.”

For now, he’s known as “T.” He has the highest security clearance in the FBI and he’s sharing one of the few stories that he can in his recently released memoir, American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent.

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In his book, Elnoury reveals how he infiltrated an al Qaeda terror cell in North America, and assisted in foiling a 2013 plot to derail a passenger train from New York to Toronto. The suspects were convicted of terrorist-related charges and given life sentences. Elnoury’s testimony was vital to the case.

In full makeup to hide his identity, as well as his voice, he also recently sat down with 60 Minutes and discussed the declassified details of the case.

“This gave me an opportunity to be a voice for those that don’t have one,” he tells PEOPLE about his decision to write a book and open up to the public. “I hope to honor the brave men and women of the FBI who do this work to combat terrorism every day to keep our country safe. I think it’s important for Americans to understand the difference between the radical mindset and the true tenets of the religion. Only then, thru education and inclusion, can we possibly win this global war on terror.”

Revealing His True Identity

It’s lunchtime and Elnoury has agreed to meet for an interview at a restaurant in downtown New York. He sits with his back to the wall, constantly surveying his surroundings.

“The entire time we’re having this conversation, I’m intimately aware of the conversation that’s taking place over your right shoulder,” he says. “I don’t do that purposely. It’s just instinctive.”

For more than two decades, he has been an undercover agent. He started his career in 1995 and worked with a local law enforcement agency. He eventually became an undercover narcotics agent where he worked on 2,500 investigations.

In 2008, Elnoury joined the FBI and an elite, covert counterterrorism unit. People who are close to him, such as family and friends, have a general idea of what he does but nothing more than that, he says.

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Once the book was published on Oct. 23, Elnoury’s family learned more than ever about his career. Until reading the memoir, his sister had convinced herself that her brother sat inside an office and translated for the FBI. His father, who remarried after Elnoury’s mother died, has yet to read it.

“He was proud and happy [about the book], but his wife recently told me that he picks it up every day and then puts it down,” he says. “He doesn’t want to know.”

Perhaps when Elnoury retires, his father will read it. But for now, Elnoury is in hiding while the publicity from his book continues to make headlines.

“I’m still active. I’m still on the job,” he says. “I love what I do and I never want to stop.”

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