By Katie V. Jones
Joe Niland has never really been able to openly talk about his multiple jobs with U.S. government agencies, including with the National Security Agency, FBI, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (the POW/MIA division.) Working in an investigative capacity for more than 27 years, he was deployed to Iraq five times between 2006 and 2011 where he worked to locate hostages in war zones.
“A lot of people in Laurel know someone or someone who knows someone who works at NSA, Fort Meade or the Defense Department,” said Niland, a Greenbelt native. “What they do, some of the really risky and dangerous plans and things, some of these analysts usually sitting in the shadows, is critical.” NIland started writing a book after retiring from the government, in 2015. Calling on his own experiences hunting for hostages and looking for kidnappers in war zones, Niland worked on his writing full time until he started working as an instructor for the Secret Service in 2017, a position he left in May 2021.
The pandemic gave him an opportunity to “lean into it again,” he said.
“I was nudged by people over the years,” Niland said. “The subject matter, a series of cascading events I found myself in over an extended period of time, was so out of the norm.”
Scheduled for release in late January, his self-published book, “Just Kill the Hostages,” tells the story of two FBI agents looking for hostages in Iraq with the help of an NSA analyst. Niland describes the book as historical suspense fiction inspired by real events.
“June 2007 to February 2008 was a real violent period in Iraq,” he said. “It was a difficult place to be. The book is just a small fragment of events.”
Peter Moore, a British citizen, knows firsthand what it was like to be in Iraq at the time. An IT expert, Moore was training finance ministry workers in Baghdad when he was kidnapped in May 2007; he spent 31 months in captivity. Held with some Americans, Moore was under Niland’s radar at the time. The two have remained in touch since Moore’s release as part of a prisoner exchange in December 2009.
“I have seen little snippets of it and know little bits of it,” said Moore, of Niland’s book. “He has an interesting perspective. It will be very factual. It is so extreme and beyond normal daily life, there is no reason to embellish or make it up.”
Niland admits that his book doesn’t always present the government in a flattering light. Many people, he believes, will think that he’s revealing classified secrets and perhaps shouldn’t have even written it. Niland submitted his book to the FBI and other agencies for clearance, though.
“There are no real names, no pictures,” he said. “Some of the details, the day-to-day mundane details — the pain-in-the-ass stuff you have to do just to get food. Anybody who spent a lot of time in a war zone can relate.”
Niland said that he wrote the book, which is free of jargon, for anybody to read.
“Joe Niland introduces what I call creative non-fiction,” said Mark Opsasnick, a childhood friend of Niland’s and a fellow author, in an email. “Yes, it’s a novel with fictional characters and scenarios, but the people in the story and their accompanying adventures are grounded in reality, with the author’s incredible range of counterterrorism experience contributing to a riveting account that only someone close to the reality of such missions can provide.”
Niland is considering writing a second book but is waiting to see how “Just Kill the Hostages” is received. He is busy connecting with local book clubs to promote his book, including participating in discussions when it is released.
“This is a full-time thing. I don’t know how to do book writing and self-marketing and have a full-time job,” Niland said. “It is not easy.”