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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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 danger. Later on, however, it gets annoying, literally, entire chapters are 90% black line with the remainder rendered completely impenetrable.

This may seem like a petty way to...
Published on 16 April 2013 by Russell Smith

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great reading, but the heavy redactions ruin it.
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...
Published on 3 Jan. 2012 by D. Richards


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5.0 out of 5 stars I trust Soufan... But then who wouldn't?, 19 Jan. 2012
By 
bomble "bomble" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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I usually avoid statements in reviews like this, but I think it is fair to say that this is an important book. I have done my best to stay well informed about the subjects dealt with in Soufan's book but I have never really felt I had read an account that got to the heart of the matter. What is Al Qaeda? What did the US authorities know before, during and after 9/11? Could it and other terrorist plots have been prevented? How was it that the Bush administration managed to go to war in Iraq, taking the UK and others with it, on pretences of Al Qaeda connections? I suspect that there won't be a single account in my lifetime that gets to the bottom of all these, but Soufan's account is the closest I have come to a consistent picture.

There are countless frustrations to be shared along the journey. The book highlights the basic sadness that the human condition allows such blind hatred to dwell in ignorance (no one group holding the monopoly on that front). And it also frustrates with significant portions of text being redacted by an organisation that seemingly doesn't realise that there's only one single-letter word that can be the subject of a sentence in English! If Ali set out to raise his frustrations with the CIA amongst his many aims, they scored a huge own-goal by attacking such innocuous parts of his text. And they ensured that the juicy bits, should they ever see the light of day, will be all the more under the spotlight.

The one worry remains... Ali Soufan's account tells me that he is an accomplished interrogator and worked on establishing trust and an appearance of omniscience to break down barriers with detainees. So when I get to the end of his book feeling like I'd happily leave my wallet with him and that he's got profound insight into the shadowy world on inter-agency intelligence... I have to wonder how much I have been successfully groomed! Are the redactions a crafty stunt to market this as the book the CIA didn't want you to read? I hope not - I trust the guy. But you'll have to make up your own mind...

Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book from a fascinating man - beware the redaction though, 12 Dec. 2011
This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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I first saw Ali Soufan interviewed on the BBC a few months ago and more recently on the Colbert Report and he is a fascinating, very intelligent man whom I would like to see interviewed at greater length. The book is about him, and his experience inside the FBI and the hunt for Al Qaeda and his experience with terrorism in general. It also explains the thought processes and beliefs of those interrogated and how all the various personages are connected, and also of course exactly what is meant by "The Black Banners". It is a truly fascinating book and I know I've said that already but I just found it very enjoyable and a change from the usual type of book I would pick up. If I had not seen him interviewed a few times then I probably wouldn't have selected this title. There is one problem with this book and I already knew about it before I selected it, so it was expected, and there is a sticker on the cover to indicate this issue, but parts of the book ranging from single letters to entire pages have been redacted which basically means instead of text you have blacked out lines for the parts that the CIA did not approve for publication - according to the author the FBI approved everything but for some reason the CIA did not! Some redactions seem a bit ridiculous when it is only a single letter in a sentence that might read "_ walked down the street to my office" and the missing letter is clearly "I". The first couple of sections in the book are free of this treatment but as soon as you reach part three and onwards then it is much more prevalent. The author is apparently still trying to get approval for the redacted parts and hopes to republish the full text of the book, however I'm not sure anyone who paid for this redacted copy would be happy to pay again for another copy of the same book even with the extra text. 5/5 for a really interesting, engrossing, true story
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4.0 out of 5 stars Al Qaeda from the inside ..., 27 Nov. 2011
By 
P. Millar "dazzle" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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Ali H. Soufan was an FBI investigator who has been tracking the development of Al Qaeda (first as a hobby and then for the FBI) from its inception through to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. He was also involved in the investigations of high profile terrorist attacks against the United States (from the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole and through to September 11th 2001). He was also involved in interrogating high profile Al Qaeda operatives before and after the US invasion of Afghanistan.

This is a concise and practical account of Al Qaeda written by someone who has had dealings with the terrorist organisation and has an interest in it. He shows the terrorists are not mad, foaming at the mouth barbarians but fairly normal people who, for some of them, got caught up in the rhetoric and status they achieved within the group. Once inside Al Qaeda their interactions with the outside world was basically cut off and the only news and opinions they heard were those coming from within Al Qaeda itself. He also shows that the internal logic and justifications for their actions are as biased and fuelled by conspiracy theories as much as anyone elses ideas are. As another reviewer comments many people blame America for not understanding the Islamic world, well within Al Qaeda there is also a lack of knowledge about the United States - ignorance works both ways. Many of those caught by the FBI after the invasion of Afghanistan were surprised by the technology and determination of the US troops as they had been told that the US was a weak enemy who wouldn't commit to the fight and be seen off, in much the same way bin Laden believed he saw off the Russians during the 1980's. Unfortunately for them it was the Taliban and Al Qaeda who were saw retreating and trying to escape from the country.

Soufan gives us a clear and well thought out account, which at times is a little dry and repetetive (something happens, we went to investigate, spoke to some people and they gave us information), but, taken as a whole it builds into an interesting overview of the terrorist organisation. He also lays out his case for not using 'extraordinary interrogation techniques' but going for a more pleasant approach and befriending of the terrorists to get them to give up information. He also lays out the divisions between the CIA, FBI and those in government which hampered investigations and information gathering especially after September 11th 2001 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ironically there are two pieces of information about Al Qaeda in the book which, for me, highlights the inconsistencies and twisted logic of the ideology it purports to be working under. The first is that many of the captured Al Qaeda members kept asking when America would invade Iraq because they believed that this would bring about an Islamic apocalypse and the final fight against the infidels, but terrorist attacks carried out after the invasion claimed this was as retaliation for the invasion. The second is the logic for attacking America because they are killing Muslims when the majority of people Al Qaeda has killed are Muslims as well. Soufan finishes the book with the 'Arab Spring' and how support for Al Qaeda is fading in the Islamic world because it is seen that they have no overall purpose but are just killing people for no real point.

Overall this is a thoughtful book which gives a good starting insight into the organisation and how people are easily swayed to believe one thing over another if it helps to give them a purpose and some sense of the world around them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story about investigation and interrogation, 22 Jan. 2012
By 
J. R. Atkinson "Jim Bob" (Brighton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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This is an interesting story, written by one of the FBI's top interrogators, covering the nearly 10 years he worked for the FBI investigation Al Qaeda. The book covers general information on Al Qaeda and various investigations into specific terrorist cases, in particular the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

Throughout the book he also makes the case for not using coercive interrogation techniques and, instead, using intelligence and psychology to produce genuine co-operation from detainees. He argues the case very well and shows that his interrogation style is better at producing results than coercive techniques and, in fact, coercive techniques can produce bad intelligence.

The timeline in the book shifts over the 10 years in which the book is set and at first the jumping around can be slightly confusing but in general it is done very well and does help add perspective to stories by adding information that was only found out at a later date.

The one problem with the book is the issue with the redacted sections, accounting for around 20-30 pages. Parts of the book are blacked out on the request of the CIA and while this is an annoyance it is not a major problem. Some of the details of interrogations have been removed and while you do feel you are missing out on interesting detail it does not spoil the overall impact of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting read., 15 Feb. 2012
By 
Astore Stargazer (Lancashire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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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 of his language skills made him an excellent choice to become an undercover agent for the FBI.

The books also highlights the response the US had after 9/11 and also gives insights into what the US intelligence already knew before the attacks. Most interestingly the book documents the attacks that Al-Qeda were perpetrating in the middle east prior to 9/11 many of which I had never heard about before but the narrative really puts Al-Qeada into the context as terror merchants.

Although the narrative is absorbing it is almost written like a novel. But this is the story of Soufan and how he mingled with the merchants of death. One must beware of the redactions within the book, but for me this only give the work the measure of authenticity it deserves.

Certainly one has to be subjective when reading the book through US eyes, but Soufan is under no illusions of the task in hand and you do get a sense of the clear and present danger that is set out in the narrative. A most interesting fascinating account.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A facinating insight into a dark and dangerous world, 23 Nov. 2011
By 
V. Warrington "vinniegognitti" - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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Before buying Ali Soufan's `The Black Banners' (named after a Hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), you need to understand that parts of the book have been heavily redacted at the behest of the CIA. As the author and publisher had committed to a publication date of September 12th 2011, the legal wrangling with the CIA had to take second place. Hopefully, a non-redacted version will be available soon and, despite this book running to over 600 pages, it would be worth reading again to get the full picture.

Soufan was an FBI agent who specialised in Al-Qaeda long before 9/11, in fact even before the attack on the USS Cole. His experience as an interrogator revealed significant findings of their organisational structure and plans, which helped to break up a number of terrorist plots. Soufan manages to bring the reader into the interrogation room with him, face to face with some of the world's most wanted men. The book really excels here, as you're brought along with the trials and tribulations of interrogations and dealing with foreign police and intelligence services.

The main thrust of Soufan's tale, however, is his disdain for what was known as `Enhanced Interrogation Techniques' by the CIA - such as waterboarding. He makes the case that tried and tested interrogation techniques, such as those used by the FBI, allow for greater and much more accurate intelligence than other, more questionable, methods. In fact the CIA are almost shown as bumbling fools, experimenting with these questionable techniques and, when they don't get the results they intended, use the intelligence gained by the FBI and claim it as their own, thus justifying the continued use of EITs. There's even the hint in Soufan's book that techniques like waterboarding were authorised by the Bush Administration in order to punish those suspected of involvement in Al-Qaeda, and gaining intelligence was a secondary objective. That's not to say that Soufan was soft on those he interrogated, or that he was some sort of sympathiser. He clearly shows that if the purpose of interrogation is to extract accurate and usable intelligence, then the FBI's methods were much more successful in that regard than the CIA's.

This is a great book, offering an insight into a world that the vast majority of us will never experience in our lives. The details of the investigations, and the authors' conclusions on EITs and Al-Qaeda itself, are a fascinating tale. The redactions can be annoying, especially when whole chapters seen to consist of more blocked text than actual words, but the power of Soufan's experiences still come through strongly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty fascinating, though heavy, reading. Did the redactions totally spoil it? Not IMHO., 21 July 2012
By 
Roroblu's Mum "ROROBLU'S MUM" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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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 what is a fascinating read.

The cover tells you most of what this tale is about, and it rings true, even to someone like me, who's never been into this sort of stuff, other than what's reported on the news. Yes, the redactions were expected, but did they really spoil the tale? Only a bit. If you're reading this out of choice, then intelligence does have to come into it, and so, it's a given that many parts would be suppressed. I'm not sure that these will ever see the light of day, even in later editions. I mean, with what the US has had to contend with, after training a certain late terrorist, who later used that training to turn on them, it's a no-brainer that we'd only see the 'safe' stuff.

Overall, a great read, by someone who maintained his integrity, despite the difficulties of his role.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional in depth story of al-Qaeda, 27 Nov. 2011
By 
P. Waller "Pip" (North Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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538 pages long plus 33 pages of who is who makes it quite a read. Though to some degree now dated except the update on Bin Laden it certainly gives an insight to the workings of Al-Qaeda through the eyes of the author as an FBI agent. It also hightlights the then tensions between the CIA and the FBI which to some degree still exist. Quite a substantial amount is redacted though it is easy to note where it would read, 'I' or 'we' plus other words. If there is a second edition it would be hoped that the redactions are removed. Possibly all the arabic names and aliases make it at times a little muddled. But, at the end of the day anyone that is studying Al-Qaeda then it is a must read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific behind the scenes perspective, 2 Jan. 2012
By 
Richard Murphy (Winchester, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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This is the story of the pursuit of al-Qaeda from the FBI perspective.

The CIA is portrayed as incompetent, with the political masters in the White House endangering US security through a mix of ill-judged dogma and political expediency. He is particularly critical of torture, such as waterboarding, which he considers worse than useless, producing no good intelligence, damaging the US reputation and inspiring new terrorists.

The first half of the book is fascinating but the redactions in the latter part make for hard going.

Overall worthwhile for anyone who interested in stories behind the rhetoric on terrorism.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!!, 17 Jan. 2012
By 
Peter R (Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
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If you are interested to go beyond the stereotypical, surface-level media coverage of the war in Afghanistan and understand the minds of those who are fighting it, the difficulty in changing perceptions, the many political games that are played behind closed doors, from a first-hand perspective then you will find this absolutely fascinating read.

The only negative in the book is that Soufan provides far too much detail of his personal story and draws out things like his dinners with some US hot-shots and so on. Unnecessary really but if you skip those bits, the rest is incredibly interesting.

Highly recommended.
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The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda
The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda by Ali Soufan (Hardcover - 12 Sept. 2011)
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