February 05, 2012

'The Black Banners' is definitely worth a read

The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-QaedaThe Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda by Ali H. Soufan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the most detailed account yet, from an insider, about how we might have been able to prevent 9/11 had politicians taken it more seriously (BushCo) and had the CIA, and even a few FBI agents, not believed in this "wall" of separation between intelligence and criminal investigation.

Ali Soufan also details not only how torture ("enhanced interrogation techniques") don't work, he at the same time describes how traditional police-type interrogations can and do work, with the right person in charge, even with people like hardened al-Qaeda operatives.

To refresh the memory of some, or to inform others who don't know who he is, Soufan was the FBI's top Arabic-speaking agent, who was already on the trail of al-Qaeda's growth before the East African embassy bombings in 1998. He investigated them, the Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000, and many al Qaeda operatives after 9/11

Well, the CIA felt "the need," as Soufan notes in the introduction, to redact/censor stuff that was already in the public record, probably out of petty spite over his mentioning the Agency's obstructiveness, time after time, with FBI agents. (This alone refutes some of the nuttery of former CIA agent Michael Scheurer.)

And, at times, this gets ridiculous.

In one chapter, describing the interrogation of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, due to the details of the pages, we can tell just what the CIA insisted had to be blacked out. The first word in the chapter is "I," with Soufan talking about how he was packing a suitcase for a vacation when he was ordered off to Pakistan. Also censored are other individual words such as "we," "me," "my" and "us."

(Soufan is charitable in general in the book but has not a lot of good to say about the CIA.)

Anyway, this is a definite 5-star read; I don't get why many people praised this book so much, then only gave it four stars.

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