The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA (Paperback)

The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA By Scott C. Johnson Cover Image

The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA (Paperback)

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Longlisted for the National Book Award and named a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.


Growing up, Scott C. Johnson always suspected that his father was different. Only as a teenager did he discover the truth: his father was a spy, one of the CIA’s most trusted officers. At first the secret was thrilling. But over time Scott began to have doubts. How could a man so rigorously trained to deceive and manipulate simply turn off those skills at home? His father had been living a double life for so long that his lies were hard to separate from the truth.

When Scott embarked on a career as a foreign correspondent, he found himself returning to many of the troubled countries of his youth. In the dusty streets of Pakistan and Afghanistan, amid the cold urbanity of Yugoslavia, and down the mysterious alleys of Mexico City, he came face to face with his father’s murky past—and his own complicity in it. Scott learned that his chosen profession was not so different from his father’s: they both worked to gain people’s trust and to uncover their secrets. The only difference was what they did with that information.


In the aftermath of 9/11, father and son found themselves on assignment in Afghanistan and the Middle East, one as a CIA contractor, the other as a reporter for Newsweek. Suddenly, an unsettled Scott was forced to keep his father’s secret all over again. As their professional lives collided, Scott and his father inched toward a personal reckoning, struggling to overcome a lifetime of suspicion and deception.


The Wolf and the Watchman is a provocative, meditative account of truth and duplicity, of manipulation and loyalty. It is also a moving, intensely personal portrait of a bond between father and son that endured in the shadow of one of the world’s most secretive and unforgiving institutions.


* PEN Center USA Award Finalist


Reading group guide available.



Scott C. Johnson was a Newsweek foreign correspondent for twelve years, often providing exclusive war reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts in the Middle East. He also served as Newsweek’s bureau chief in Mexico, Baghdad, and Africa; was part of the team that won the 2003 National Magazine Award for reportage of the Iraq War; and received a 2004 Overseas Press Club Honorable Mention for his reporting from Latin America. He is now a freelance journalist and writer living in Santa Monica, California.

Product Details ISBN: 9780393349436
ISBN-10: 0393349438
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: May 12th, 2014
Pages: 320
Language: English
A beautifully written memoir, and a cautionary tale about double lives. . . . I couldn’t put this book down.
— Robert Baer, former CIA case officer and author of See No Evil

A fine book of unusual honesty; he grapples with the nature of his beloved father’s secret life and the profound consequences it has had in his own. This is an extraordinary story, astonishingly well-told.
— Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara

A mesmerizing book . . . beautifully written, deeply moving, and compulsively readable.
— David Finkel, author of The Good Soldiers

Brave and memorable . . . a rare glimpse into the private life of a spy that digs into the love, lies, and ambiguities between father and son.
— Megan Stack, author of Every Man in This Village Is a Liar

An aching, lyrical father-son story of the spy world that is dark and intriguing.
— Evan Thomas, author of The War Lover

This stunning memoir could be ripped from the pages of a John le Carré novel. . . . A fascinating and important book by one of the great American foreign correspondents of his generation.
— Michael Hastings, author of The Operators

[A] searingly honest memoir… [Johnson] deftly explores the eerie parallels between these professional worlds: the CIA case officer who labors to recruit sources to provide secret information to assist the United States in its pursuit of foreign policy objectives worldwide, and the journalist who also recruits inside sources, but ones who will speak for publication.
— San Francisco Chronicle

Evokes John le Carré’s dark autobiographical thriller The Perfect Spy.

— Washington Post, A Notable Book of the Year

With rare emotional subtlety, and in finely etched prose worthy of Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene, [Johnson] captures the perspectives of people on various sides of [a] bloody equation.
— Emma Garman - The Daily Beast