4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A facinating insight into a dark and dangerous world,
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.