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The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda [Hardcover]

Ali Soufan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Sep 2011

'If you see the Black Banners coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them'

Hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad

The Black Banners is the ultimate insider's account of the realities of counter-terrorism. During a decade on the front lines, as the FBI's lead investigator into Al Qaeda, Ali Soufan thwarted plots around the world and won some of the most important confessions from terrorists - without laying so much as a hand on them. Most of these stories have never been reported before, and never by anyone with such intimate firsthand knowledge. Soufan takes us into the interrogation rooms, into the hideouts. He even gives us a ringside seat at bin Laden's personal celebration of the 9/11 bombings. This is a gripping blow-by-blow account of the ten-year hunt for the most dangerous and well-connected Islamist terrorists - some of whom are still at large.

In The Black Banners Soufan also explains why the pervasive use of torture is not helping in the 'War on Terror', and how a more enlightened approach to intelligence is not only possible, but essential. This is a story not just of intrigue and bravery, but of empathy. He shows us how terrorists think and operate. And he shows that through this understanding, they can be stopped and finally brought to justice.

Ali Soufan knows the truth about the successes and failures of countering terrorism. His knowledge is essential to us all.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (12 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846145023
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846145025
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 576,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

This is an absorbing account of America's fightback after 9/11, full of revealing or amusing details ... So ultimately this book is cheering as well as fascinating, because it reveals the dedication of those who defend us, as well as the weird frailties of those who try to kill us (Sunday Times )

Although many have claimed to tell the inside story of the hunt for al-Qaeda, Ali Soufan has a better claim than most ... this is one of the most valuable and detailed accounts of its subject to appear in the past decade (The Economist )

In a new memoir, a former F.B.I. agent who tracked Al Qaeda before and after the Sept. 11 attacks paints a devastating picture of rivalry and dysfunction inside the government's counterterrorism agencies. The book describes missed opportunities to defuse the 2001 plot, and argues that other attacks overseas might have been prevented, and Osama bin Laden found earlier, if interrogations had not been mismanaged (Scott Shane New York Times )

He's the special agent who came in from the cold...the most successful U.S. interrogator of Al-Qaeda operatives...Soufan was involved in a string of crucial investigations and interrogations, from the Millennium Bombing plot in Jordan to the U.S.S. Cole bombing in Yemen and a number of Gitmo interrogations. His greatest success was the interrogation of Abu Jandal, bin Laden's former bodyguard (Bobby Ghosh Time )

After the 1998 embassy bombings,Soufan helped assemble the initial evidence linking them to Bin Laden. Soufan's language skills, his relentlessness, and his roots in the Middle East made him invaluable in helping the FBI understand Al Qaeda, an organization that few Americans were even aware of before the embassy bombings (Lawrence Wright New Yorker )

To those inside the U.S. government Soufan has long been something of a legend. He conducted the most effective and fruitful interrogations of Al Qaeda suspects during the war on terrorism, and save for some inexplicable failures by the CIA, he and his team might well have prevented 9/11. Soufan has since left the FBI and written a gripping account of his experiences, brimming with details about Al Qaeda and its historical development (Harper's Magazine )

Most Americans first heard of FBI agent Ali H. Soufan in the spring of 2009. That's when he testified from behind a black curtain in the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing room ...The testimony was explosive.

Now Soufan has fired another salvo ... detailed descriptions of what unfolded behind the closed doors of the world's interrogation rooms. We learn that terrorists smirk when they think they have the upper hand. They quarrel over interpretations of the Koran. One burst into tears after he was allowed to telephone his family.Soufan describes the tension between two men sizing each other up on either side of a table. In those moments, which make up the bulk of the book, the narrative soars, as Soufanallows readers to experience the high-stakes intellectual dance between foes.

Soufan's story provides a new and important window on America's battle with al-Qaeda.

(Washington Post )

About the Author

Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent, served on the front lines against al-Qaeda and gained an international reputation as a top counterterrorism operative and interrogator. He has been profiled in The New Yorker and featured in books, newspaper articles, and documentaries around the globe.

'He's the special agent who came in from the cold...the most successful U.S. interrogator of Al-Qaeda operatives...Soufan was involved in a string of crucial investigations and interrogations, from the Millennium Bombing plot in Jordan to the U.S.S. Cole bombing in Yemen and a number of Gitmo interrogations. His greatest success was the interrogation of Abu Jandal, bin Laden's former bodyguard'

Bobby Ghosh, Time

'After the 1998 embassy bombings, Soufan helped assemble the initial evidence linking them to Bin Laden. Soufan's language skills, his relentlessness, and his roots in the Middle East made him invaluable in helping the FBI understand Al Qaeda, an organization that few Americans were even aware of before the embassy bombings'

Lawrence Wright, New Yorker


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By D. Richards VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I found this book to be very interesting. It is written by a former FBI cover agent who infiltrated Al Queida before the 9/11 attacks and he has a remarkable story to tell. Its certainly unique and makes for some pretty compelling reading. Overall, it it very well written and the author describes places, events and people very well; but due to the high number of people involved in his "story" and the "FBI jargon" / acronyms he uses it can be a bit confusing in places if you lose attention (despite my best efforts I found I was referring to the index / who's who list quite a lot!!)

However, as interesting as this book is, it does have a VERY big negative going for it which is a real shame. The negative in question is stated on the cover, is explained in the foreword, and has been commented on by other reviewers.The big negative is the number of redactions (censured words. names etc. At the start of the book its not too bad, but it gets worse the further you read on and as a result in places its makes for some pretty hard reading. The redactions are especially prominent in the final 3rd of the book where nealy whole pages are nothing but black bars where the text has been censured. As a result the flow of the book and the "story" itself becomes hard to understand at best, and at times impossible. The author explains in the foreword that despite him never working for them, the redactions were put in on at the request of then CIA (both the FBI and US state dept give the book the OK in its original format)and while it may be understandable that the CIA may want some redactions, in some cases they have at time gone way over the top and have contributed to ruining a very good book.

I hope that the paperback version, or 2nd edition (if there is one)can correct this problem as this really is a very good book on a very interesting subject. Sadly, the book in its present form its ruined by the amount of redactions in it and that is a shame.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By M. Bhangal TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an amazing book on one of the biggest international news stories of the last decade: the story of Al-Queda. It is amazing not least because it is written by one of the key players on the US side, Ali Soufan, an Arabic speaking FBI officer. He is notable because he conducted the interrogation that proved the link between 9/11 and Al-Qaeda (and he did it without recourse to torture - he actually just used Muslim social customs and religious argument during the interrogation).

Lets get the first issue out of the way: the book has been redacted by the CIA. In the preface Soufan rejects the necessity for this, given that most of the information in the book is actually available in the public domain. Well, yes and no.

Ali Soufan's image is also blacked out in the cover notes, but it took me exactly 5 seconds to find a full image of him on the internet: his likeness is also public domain: double standards. I'm guessing though that Ali and everyone else knows the real reason that the CIA redacted his book - they don't like him because he made them look like fools in the 9/11 Commission as well as later when the CIA came to pushing EITs (Enahnced Interrogation Techniques, such as waterboarding). Soufan's techniques were more successful.

Given that the redactions are actually in the public domain, I actually enjoyed finding out what has been redacted. Most of the time its actually quite easy (it looks like different departments redacted different chapters, so clues to the information redacted in one chapter are actually in other chapters!).

Because of the deep well of information (much of it new), presented in a well written and exciting narrative, I can't help but recommend this book to anyone interested in making sense of recent International Politics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing Account Tainted by the Redactions 3 July 2012
By Brett H TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is quite challenging, to a large extent due to the redactions, but ultimately quite a rewarding read. The CIA redactions which are shown by text deleted with black blocking over the words, seem somewhat overenthusiastic, and you do wonder why the CIA had to go to town on it whereas the FBI were apparently happy to let it run. I would hope that ultimately this book will be published in full and I will certainly want to revisit it at that stage as it is a little difficult to follow in its current version.

It is very clear that Ali Soufan was closely involved in counter terrorist operations whilst working for the FBI and his insights make for fascinating reading. His involvement covers such key events as the embassy bombings in East Africa and the USS Cole prior to 9/11 and attacks such as the Bali and London bombings which occurred later. There is a fascinating review on the American Amazon site from a former colleague who confirms that Soufan was a very straight guy and that the narrative is basically how things happened, which adds credibility to his account. The author writes well and much of the material is very interesting, many chapters being unaffected by redactions. However, when the redactions occur they arrive thick and fast so that whole pages are blotted out and on other occasions taking out key words or phrases render sentences and even whole paragraphs virtually meaningless.

I do hope that it is possible to publish this in full, as it will make an absorbing read. Even in its current abbreviated format I found it worthwhile but the redactions are irritating at best. I imagine the authors could have rewritten the book to take out the text which was objected to, but chose to make a point by blocking them out instead. Whilst I understand their motivation, it does not make life easier for the reader.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars slack
this book promises much more than it delivers,its gives a rather drab view of the infighting and politics between the fbi and the cia. Read more
Published 10 months ago by m. dosa
3.0 out of 5 stars Chilling insights
The author is an American FBI operative who infiltrated Al Queda in the years before 9/11, and he provides a chillingly convincing account of the triumphs and failures of... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Withnail67
4.0 out of 5 stars Damn you, CIA!
The review copy of this that I read was heavily redacted by the CIA. Now, at first, that's fun - a couple of black lines where names should be gives an air of authenticity and... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Russell Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty fascinating, though heavy, reading. Did the redactions totally...
This is kind of heavy reading, told by an experienced interrogator, from his own true experiences. It is a little heavy on 'me, my, I' in places, but this does not detract from... Read more
Published 24 months ago by ROROBLU'S MUM
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the easiest of reads
No, if you're looking to buy this book and reading this review, then obviously you aren't just looking for an easy read. Read more
Published on 25 May 2012 by SCS
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than fiction
This is a very accomplished overview of Ali Soufan's experiences as a FBI agent engaged with tracking down - and understanding - al-Qaeda. Read more
Published on 25 April 2012 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars So much could be said about this book...
...but I'll try to keep it short.

***The good bits***
This is a must-read book. Soufan has written an accessible, funny, emotional, at times deeply moving account... Read more
Published on 17 Feb 2012 by Max
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting read.
I found this book extremely riveting. After the 9/11 attacks the US intelligence services in particularly the FBI were required to infiltrate cells of Al-Queda, Ali Soufan, because... Read more
Published on 15 Feb 2012 by Astore Stargazer
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting
a very interesting book from a veteren FBI Interrorgator and Al Queda analyst ( Pre 911) concerning his time as at the beureau, focusing quite alot on his experiances in differnces... Read more
Published on 10 Feb 2012 by Mr. Pj Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars A great and highly informative read.
This book is a real eye opener.
Ali Soufan was a highly placed member of the F.B.I, who due to his background and language skills became one of the top anti-terrorist agents... Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2012 by S. Broadbent
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