- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda Hardcover – 12 Sep 2011
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
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.
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
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The appeal or selling point of this book, The Black Banners, is that the author has an insider's perspective on events, giving the reader a ringside seat. An insider's narrative allows the reader to gain access to the inner workings of an investigation that an independent researcher might not uncover, or exposes a subtlety that might not be apparent to an independent researcher. Soufan certainly delivers on that promise, showing how the FBI works across multiple continents on a single investigation, as well as taking the reader inside the interrogation rooms of high value detainees. Soufan shows us how the FBI construct a prosecutable case, how the organisation works with other agencies (both foreign and domestic) and in particular, gives us a glimpse of the personalities of certain Al-Qaeda characters, revealed through the interrogations he conducted.
Perhaps the flip side of the insider's account, is that Soufan relates these events as he witnessed and interpreted them and that conflicting accounts do not get aired. This is fair enough: this is, after all, Soufan's story. It does mean, for example, that other FBI investigations into Al-Qaeda, such as terrorists taking flight school training inside the U.S. (and being classed as such terrible pilots that their instructors refused to fly with them again), are not mentioned, such as Special Agent Kenneth William's "Phoenix Memo."
Soufan quite rightly objects to the use of torture, euphemistically referred to as Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, in attempting to get information out of suspects. He objects from a moral level, writing that it's un-American (what we might call simply inhuman), as well as objecting from a practical point of view: a tortured suspect will say anything to get the torture to stop. Soufan backs this up with evidence from his successful interrogations, which achieved much better results than those conducted under torture. However, the practice of abductions (or Extraordinary Rendition, in polite society) and the policy of holding detainees indefinitely and without charge or evidence, does not seem to bother Soufan; neither does the use of gulags: "black sites" used for kidnap victims to be tortured, most notoriously, of course, Guantanamo Bay.
One of the Official Narratives put forth to explain the success of the 9/11 plot, was that it was at least in part an "intelligence failure" - a failure of U.S. alphabet soup intelligence agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, DIA et cetera) to share intelligence and work collectively. Soufan demonstrates several instances where the CIA purposely avoided sharing information which could have potentially stopped 9/11. After the atrocity, Soufan shows that this practice continued to be implemented: information was withheld, access to suspects was interfered with or simply denied.
Ali Soufan could also be accused of misrepresenting certain events: he writes, "...the Taliban refused an ultimatum for the U.S. government to stop harboring Al-Qaeda..." In reality, the Taliban offered to hand Osama Bin Laden over to the U.S. immediately after 9/11. All they asked is that the Bush administration follow international law and provide evidence of Bin Laden's guilt. The U.S. refused to comply with international law and then commenced the bombing of Afghanistan as punishment. Soufan also gives the impression that there was a relentless hunt for Bin Laden by U.S. armed forces but that Bin Laden gave them the slip. The reality is that the hunt for Bin Laden was small (the U.S. committed less troops to the whole of Afghanistan than there were police in Manhattan) and constrained.
Soufan also selectively quotes from Osama Bin Laden. Soufan gives us Bin Laden's 9/11 "confession" speech (in reality, a "claim" that has as much veracity as my "claim" that I won the London Marathon last year) but ignores conflicting statements from Bin Laden such as, "I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children, and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children, and other people... I have already said that we are not hostile to the United States. We are against the system, which makes other nations slaves of the United States, or forces them to mortgage their political and economic freedom." Soufan also avoids telling the reader that, while Osama Bin Laden was number one on the FBI's Most Wanted list, 9/11 was not actually listed as one of the crimes he was wanted for. When queried about this omission, the FBI responded that they don't possess sufficient evidence of Bin Laden's guilt (the Most Wanted list can only mention crimes where the FBI has amassed evidence for which the subject could be indicted for).
Finally, Ali Soufan writes that the Arab Spring revolutions that started in 2010 helped take the wind out of Al-Qaeda's ideological sails because Al-Qaeda always claimed that the U.S. supported pro-Westerm Arab dictatorships in countries like Egypt and Morocco. Soufan argues that when the U.S. supported the democratic revolutions, it undercut a key Al-Qaeda rhetorical recruitment position. The truth is that successive U.S. governments supported those Arab dictatorships (and others) up to the hilt and that Barack Obama only reversed that policy at the last possible minute, when it was clear that the U.S. was going to be on the wrong side of history.
It should also be noted that The Black Banners has been censored (again, redacted, in polite society), against the author's wishes. Some of this is pointless, where you can easily tell the missing words were things like: I, we, our, they. In other cases, words, sentences, paragraphs and occasionally whole pages have been deleted. This appears to be the most censored text since Victor Marchetti's classic book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974). Another point to note is that The Black Banners has no index.
At the end of the book, several pages are given over to a cast of characters, most of whom are Al-Qaeda connected. It is striking that, from all the people mentioned, only one has been convicted in relation to 9/11 itself (Zacarias Moussaoui), who hardly features in the book at all.
These issues aside, Ali Soufan has written a great book in The Black Banners. He delivers on his promise to take the reader inside the FBI's investigation of Al-Qaeda and even further, inside the interrogation rooms themselves. It should just be borne in mind that this is the author's version of these events and that it could be argued that Soufan does not have the widest perspective on this historic chapter.
This may seem like a petty way to approach this book, but actually, it's the whole FBI / CIA relationship in a nutshell. There are some chapters were the CIA has literally insisted that the personal pronouns are removed. You can clearly see from the context (and the size of the black bar) where words like 'I', 'He' and 'They' have been removed. It's ludicrous, and demonstrates the kind of attributes that the CIA is often associated with; paranoia, bureaucracy, and inter-agency pettiness.
I mention this because the author, Ali Soufan is a former FBI agent, and here he tells the background story of the hunt for Al Qaeda, following attacks such as that on the USS Cole in Yemen, and of course, September 11th. The overriding theme is that Soufan (and, to a certain extent, the FBI) was always in the right, particularly with regards to interrogations, whilst the CIA merely hampered efforts to protect America and bring Bin Laden to justice.
It's one man's opinion and is inevitably biased, and it would be interesting to hear a different or opposing perspective on the events. However, as much as Soufan can come across like a flawless boy scout throughout, it's difficult not to side with his point of view in the majority of situations. His approach in dealing with terror suspects always seems more constructive, and according to this book at least, seems to get better results.
If you want to delve behind the headlines and find out some of the human stories on both sides of the 'war on terror' then this is a very informative and well-told tale.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews
***The good bits***
This is a must-read book. Soufan has written an accessible, funny, emotional, at times deeply moving account...Read more