NOTE: This spoiler sent in by Rahul.
Manchester, England. On the TV, an old Islamic cleric praises the Jihadists for their bus bombing in Sheffield and talks about punishing the American "House of War" for their war on the Muslim world. Three budding suicide bombers stay in the apartment, while one works on the explosives. Outside, the place is abuzz with activity, though silent. A counter-terrorist team takes position outside the apartment, preparing to storm the hideout. They take advantage of the noise of a train passing by and a milkman's truck. However, the three young men inside become aware of the threat and calmly and casually blow themselves (and some unfortunate counter-terrorist team members) up. Chaos reigns in the streets.
Samarra, Iraq. Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) sleeps, dreaming of a torture/interrogation he witnessed. As he wakes up and prepares for the day, we see CIA veteran and family man Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) in Langley, Virginia, impressing upon some of the CIA top brass of how the enemy (read, terrorists) now knows that the US is a much easier target and how they must be suppressed.
Ferris and his Iraqi contact/friend, Bassam (Oscar Isaac), prepare for a mission. Bassam tells Ferris about a man named Nizar, who wants to meet him. So they drive into the desert (somewhere close to Tikrit) and in a small shanty-town, they meet Nizar. They are under the watchful eye of the CIA, via satellite. Ferris gets a phone call from his lawyer in the States about what his soon-to-be ex-wife is trying to take from him. Right in the middle of a highly-sensitive mission, Ferris is in no mood to worry about his impending divorce and hangs up the phone. He notices a glint in the sky and continues talking into his phone, knowing the CIA is listening in, for them to back off, lest they be discovered. The satellite is withdrawn.
Nizar tells them his story. He is a Ph.D. in Linguistics, who knows too much of the terrorists' plans and so they want to "martyr" him. He gives Ferris a CD of the head terrorist, Al Saleem ("The White Whale" to the Americans). Ferris reports this to Hoffman. While happy about the CD, Hoffman tells him that they can't be responsible for Nizar. He tells him to cut him loose, despite Ferris' objections that Nizar will be killed. Ferris keeps up the charade that they are trying to protect Nizar. However, in Samarra, Nizar is grabbed by terrorists on the street. As they drag him towards a waiting van, Ferris (almost mercifully) discreetly shoots him in the head. He angrily reports this to Hoffman, who couldn't care less about a guy like Nizar.
Ferris and Bassam travel back to the shanty-town where they met Nizar. They see some other Arabs here, burning CDs, papers and stuff. While Bassam takes up a sniping position, Ferris acts as an Arab (he is fluent in Arabic) and speaks to one of the men. The man calls out another, while Ferris notices others around. Bassam, seeing the other man going for his gun, opens fire, killing him. Ferris and he kill the others. Bassam gets in the jeep and calls for backup. The CIA immediately dispatches a couple of attack helicopters their way. Ferris meanwhile runs into a shack and sees a man preparing to blow himself up. Killing him, he runs and narrowly misses the explosion. Collecting some "intelligence" from the fire, he and Bassam burn rubber away from there.
However, they have a couple of jeeps, filled with terrorists on their tail. As Bassam drives, Ferris sits in the back, firing on the terrorists. The helicopters come to their rescue and blow one jeep to smithereens. Just before the next terrorist jeep is blown up, a terrorist fires an RPG at Ferris and Bassam's jeep. The grenade hits the jeep where Bassam sits, obliterating him. The Marines get out of the helo and get Ferris and the "intel" from the wreckage and load them on the helo. Ferris is badly injured. When he wakes up, he's in a hospital in a US Base in Qatar, with a doctor removing Bassam's bone fragments from his skin. Hoffman calls him, telling him that he's being relocated as station chief in Amman, Jordan. He is to meet Hani Salaam, the head of the General Intelligence Department (GID), Jordan's intelligence agency.
In Amman, Ferris speaks to the director of operations and basically kicks him out of the place. He goes to meet with Hani Salaam and offers to work more closely with him. Hani takes a liking to the young man and calls him "My Dear". However, Hani has one rule - he should never be lied to. Ferris accepts and hands him a folder of possible and known people involved with Al Saleem.
Ferris finds out about a terrorist safehouse in a downtown Amman. He and his Jordanian contact, Skip (Vince Colosimo) go to scope it out. However, one of their Palestinian contacts (sent by Hoffman) meets with one of the terrorists and blows the operation. The man runs with Hani's men and Ferris and Skip after him. He and Ferris have a fight, with Ferris taking a few cuts to the hand, courtesy of the man's knife. But Ferris manages to kill him. However, a couple of "diseased dogs" bite Ferris quite badly, before he can get away. Ferris is furious at Hoffman for running a side operation.
Skip takes him to a clinic, where he meets a nurse named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), who administers the rabies shot to him and tells him that he'll need another shot in two weeks. He seems quite taken in by her, figuring out she's Iranian, by her accent.
Ferris goes to meet Hani, who's not happy that the mission was nearly compromised. If those terrorists had escaped, the whole mission would be blown. However, the terrorists think their man was a victim of a robbery-gone-bad, so the mission is still a go. However, the young Palestinian contact is lashed severely as punishment, as Ferris is forced to watch by Hani.
In Amsterdam, a terrorist detonates a high-yield bomb in the middle of the Noordermarkt, killing many people.
The next day, Hani takes Ferris "fishing". They drive into the desert. Hani tells Ferris that he recognized one of the men from the photos in the folder, which Ferris gave him. His name is Mustafa Karami, who works for Al Qaeda as well. He is picked up and brought into the desert at gunpoint. As Ferris watches, Hani speaks to Karami about his mother. Apparently, Hani has relocated Karami's mother to a more luxurious place and made it look like Karami has become successful in life. Karami gratefully agrees to become a snitch in the Al Saleem organization. If he turns against them, Hani will let slip to the terrorists that Karami's a mole.
Ferris gets a call from Hoffman, asking him about Karami. That's right, Hoffman knows about Karami. Ferris refuses to divulge anything. He notices someone in his hotel room. It's Hoffman, he's in Amman. Hoffman and Ferris go to see Hani Salaam. Hoffman wants access to Karami, but Hani won't allow it, despite Hoffman's persistence. Later, Hoffman talks to Ferris about Al Saleem, whose real name is Karim Al-Shams.
Skip (no doubt under Hoffman's orders) follows Karami, preparing to grab him. However, Karami notices him and runs. He escapes through the narrow alleys.
Ferris returns after two weeks to the clinic to meet Aisha and get his follow-up rabies shot. He tells her about his divorce and asks her out. She's reluctant, but he's persistent. She tells him that he won't like the place she's going, but he goes anyway. It's the Palestinian refugee camp, where she tends to female patients with their "female problems". He gets laughed at by the women there, but takes it like a champ. They share a coffee and she seems a bit interested in him.
On their way home, they are confronted by Hani's man, Marwan. Marwan tells Ferris to come with him. He takes Ferris to the terrorist safehouse, which is now on fire. The terrorists have fled. Devastated, Ferris is then taken to a garbage dump nearby, where Hani and his men have Skip, tied up and on his knees, a silenced gun to his head. Enraged, Hani tells Ferris about Karami's disappearance and demands to know whether Ferris knew about this. Ferris says he had to knowledge of this. However, Hani refuses to believe it and, letting Skip go, he tells Ferris that he has twelve hours to get out of Jordan or he won't be responsible for his safety. After they leave, Ferris angrily punches Skip.
In Washington, DC, Ferris meets Hoffman in a park. Ferris is angry about Hoffman's side operations. Finally, Hoffman tells him that he'll let him in on his side operations. After some talk, Ferris has an idea. He tells Hoffman that they should set up a fake terror group that will rival Al Saleem. Al Saleem, either paranoid or curious, will try and reach out to this organization and that's how they'll get him. Hoffman likes the idea and gives it the go-ahead.
Of course, this operation won't be Agency-approved. So they turn to a man named Garland (Simon McBurney), an Englishman who knows Hoffman, though he doesn't trust him. Garland works alone at home, with an array of computers and loads of information at his disposal. They need a head for the terror group, so they look for possible candidates. They select one - a man named Omar Sadiki, an architect, who has no ties to any terrorist organizations. They'll get him to meet a lawyer, who's remotely (but visibly) related to Al Qaeda, set up fake email accounts and fake affiliations to terror-supporting organizations.
Dyeing his hair blonde, Ferris goes to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and meets Sadiki in a construction site, saying he works for a real estate firm. He introduces him to the sleazy lawyer, while one of Ferris' contacts secretly takes pictures of the meet. He then gets into Sadiki's hotel room, as Sadiki is out with the lawyer, visiting a brothel. Logging on to Sadiki's laptop, he contacts Garland and sets up a fake email account for Sadiki. Finding info on an Islamic non-profit organization, they set it up to make it look like it's involved in terror. Sadiki returns to his hotel room, but Ferris manages to get out in time.
Hoffman contacts Ferris and tells him that Hani Salaam wants him back in Amman. Ferris returns to Amman and meets with Hani. Hani shows Ferris pictures of Sadiki and the lawyer together. He asks Ferris if he knows who Sadiki is and why he's socializing with a man connected to Al Qaeda. Ferris feigns ignorance.
He goes to meet Aisha. Aisha invites him home for lunch, so he can meet her sister. Taking some dessert pastry as a gift, he goes to Aisha's house and meets her sister, Cala, and her two nephews (who are more interested in Western food than what their mother makes). Cala seems quite opinionated about America's interests in the Middle East. She asks him what he does, to which he replies he's a political advisor. Later, after lunch, he and Aisha go outside and say goodbye, though she's a bit conscious about her neighbors' judgmental gazes.
With their plan in motion, Ferris tells Garland to send a mail through Sadiki's fake email account about a bomb in the "Fig Orchard". Placing a bunch of unclaimed corpses from the morgue in an unused US air base in Incirluk, Turkey, they blow up the base. When news gets to Al Saleem about this, he wants to know who did it. Hoffman is happy at the success of the mission. They are intercepting a huge amount of calls and emails from around the world. They even intercepted a call from Vienna, from a man sounding like Al Saleem, asking about the bombing. Soon Al Saleem has his answer - an architect named Omar Sadiki.
Ferris tells Garland to re-route all of the replies to Sadiki's fake email to his original email account. Sadiki is shocked on seeing the number of congratulatory emails. He flees. Ferris tells Hoffman that he's going to get Sadiki out, though Hoffman's not as eager. When Ferris meets an already-paranoid Sadiki, the latter runs. A terrorist car follows him. After a brief firefight, Skip is badly wounded. Sadiki gets away, with the terrorist car in close pursuit.
Sadiki is caught by the terrorists, who praise him for his attack on the House of War. He pleads ignorance and tells them about the American who contacted him. Sitting in another room, watching via video, Al Saleem is interested. The next day, Sadiki is found dead in the garbage dump.
Sitting near Skip's hospital bed, Ferris receives a call from Hoffman, informing him that Sadiki is dead. Ferris is angry and yells at Hoffman. Going to his hotel room, he finds an envelope on the floor. In it is a picture of him and Aisha. Realizing she's in danger, he rushes to her place. She's nowhere to be found, though her cell phone is still there. However, there is a fresh bloodstain on the kitchen counter.
Desperate, he goes to see Hani. He comes clean about the whole charade about Sadiki. Hani, furious that he was lied to, tells Ferris to get lost. Hoffman comes over to help Ferris. Ferris gets a call on Aisha's cell phone, telling him to call a number. When he calls it, he's asked questions about him and Aisha. He's then told to come alone to a place. There, he's placed under a secret compartment under a car seat and transported over the Jordan/Syria border. All the while, the CIA (and Hoffman) track him via satellite.
He's brought to a barren location in the middle of the desert and left alone. Then four SUVs arrive and circle around him, kicking up a heavy dustcloud, obscuring the overhead satellite view. A bag is put over his head and he's put in one of the cars. The four cars split up in different directions. Neither Hoffman nor the surveillance crew has any idea which car to follow.
Ferris is brought to Dar'a, Syria. He's taken to a terrorist safehouse and placed on a table in front of a camera. His hands are tied to the table, fingers outstretched. Al Saleem himself comes to see him. They argue (Ferris more heatedly) about Islam. Ferris accuses him of misinterpreting the Quran for his own benefit. Al Saleem tells him that the video camera is not for a confession or for a negotiation. It's for an execution. He notices the man behind the camera is Karami. He tells Al Saleem that one of his men works for him, which implies that Al Saleem also works for him. In a scene that'll make you cringe, using a hammer, Al Saleem breaks two of Ferris' fingers.
He then leaves Ferris to the mercy of his men, as he leaves with Karami. Ferris tries his best to fight them off, but they're too many and too strong for him. They put him on the table and launch into a tirade on America. Holding a knife, a terrorist says "Allah-u-Akbar" and moves it towards Ferris' throat.
KA-BLAM!! A loud explosion rips through the wall of the safehouse and a bunch of GID commandos storm the place, killing three terrorists and capturing the others. Hani Salaam walks up to Ferris, who lies bleeding and battered on the table, too weak to move. Al Saleem walks out of the building into a waiting car. Sitting in the front seat is Marwan, Hani's deputy, who tells Al Saleem that he's under arrest.
Ferris wakes up in a hospital in Jordan. Hani comes to visit him. Hani comes clean - he was the one who took Aisha. He didn't kidnap her, only took her someplace else. The blood was from a blood donation she made. He did this so that Ferris could lead them to Al Saleem. Karami was the one who called the GID. Ferris is in no way pleased, considering he's two fingers short.
Hoffman comes to meet Ferris as soon as he's released from the hospital. He tells Ferris that he's pulled some strings and has got him transferred back to Langley, where he'll get a corner office near Hoffman's. Ferris is not all that excited. He tells Hoffman that he's out and that he wants to stay in the Middle East. Hoffman tells him that if he walks away, he's turning his back on America. But Ferris will have none of it and walks off.
He plans to go meet Aisha, who's at work in the clinic. He goes to buy her some fruit. A CIA agent watches him and reports back to Hoffman, asking for instructions. Hoffman tells him to stand down. Ferris has been cut loose.
The movie ends with a montage of satellite images of the place.