Featured photo courtesy of Fox News

Kent Clizbe, a 55-year-old former C.I.A. officer and intelligence contractor, has cultivated a diverse set of interests in his later years. He loves bird watching and participates in his local Christmas Bird Count, an informal census organized by the Audubon Society. He has a patent on a device, the TimeOff, that prevents unattended-stove fires. But Clizbe’s true motivating force — a holdover, perhaps, from his decade with the agency — is an unrelenting compulsion to get to the bottom of things. He vets every person he meets, interrogating every fact presented to him. This perpetual need to turn everything inside out is the defining trait of Clizbe’s personality, and he remains faithful to it, even when it incurs him great personal expense.

Clizbe grew up poor in Halifax County, North Carolina, raised by a single mother. In 1980, after failing out of East Carolina University, he joined the Air Force. Aptitude tests revealed a gift for languages, so Clizbe enrolled in intensive Vietnamese courses and then was shipped to the Philippines, where he spent three years monitoring Vietnamese radio communications. When his tour ended, he went back to school at Southern Illinois University. On campus, he fell in love with a Malaysian girl, who told him that if he wanted to marry her, he would have to convert to Islam. He converted, married her and followed her back to Southeast Asia, where he found work at a refugee camp in the Philippines. Clizbe made frequent trips to her hometown outside Kuala Lumpur, where he immersed himself in the local customs.

He and his wife lived in Asia for a year before finding jobs at the business college at King Saud University in Qassim Province in Saudi Arabia. He taught English as a second language and made the pilgrimage to Mecca. It was 1988, and the war in Afghanistan was dragging on. At the mosque on Fridays, Clizbe would hear calls for young men to travel east and wage jihad against the communists.