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Archive for the ‘Al Qaeda’ Category

black-flags-the-rise-fall-and-rebirth-of-the-islamic-state

Joby Warrick. Black Flags: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Islamic State.  New York, NY: Doubleday, September 29th, 2015.  416 pp.

The author Joby Warrick is a journalist whose career includes covering the Middle East.  Previously I read the author’s first book titled The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA.  I enjoyed this present volume a lot more both in terms of the subject and writing style.  In Black Flags the author focuses on what was formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq and its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and how the organization later evolved into the Islamic State.  The book was filled with a lot of facts that I didn’t know before but learned from here.  The work was so fascinating that I had a hard time putting down the book.  Given how I am reading this book on the eve of the Iraqi and Kurdish army’s invasion into the last stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq in the city of Mosul, I found this very timely and eye opening.

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Scott Shane. Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone.  New York, New York: Tim Duggan Books, September 15th, 2015. 416 pp.

This book tells the story of radical Islamists imam Anwar al-Awlaki and the US government war against him in the backdrop of the larger issue of President Obama’s war on terror using drones for targeted killing of Al Qaeda members.  The author Scott Shane is a New York Times reporter who specializes in issues of national security.  Shane does a masterful job in his research for this book and his work really shows.  I don’t think there’s any other book length treatment that is as detailed concerning al-Awlaki like this book thus far.  Other than passing news headlines most American don’t really know about al-Awlaki and the shadowy war the US pursued against him.  The subject of this book is already interesting enough to be picked up and read.

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The Looming Tower Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York, NY: Borzoi Book, August 8th 2006. 373 pp.

I knew I had to read this book after seeing many other books on counter-terrorism and radical Islam referenced this work.  There’s a reason why this book is cited often and mentioned in bibliographies: it is a well-researched book on the origins of Al Qaeda leading up to their attack on September 11th.  The author spent five years researching for the book which led the author to travel all over the world.

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The Great War of Our Time CIA Michael Morell

Michael Morell. The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism From al Qa’ida to ISIS by Michael Morell.  New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, May 12th, 2015. 384 pp.

 

They say the fourth branch of government is the bureaucracy—those men and women of the government who are not elected into office but who nevertheless play a key role in government policies from their day to day duties in various government agencies and services.  The intelligence community has their own bureaucracy and this is a memoir of one of them who went on to retire in his three decade career with the CIA as one of its deputy director.  While the word “bureaucracy” probably doesn’t sound interesting this book is far from boring since it is about one of the world’s famous intelligence agency and the author managed to write in a way that held my attention up to the very end.  A big factor is also the subject matter:  This is an insider’s look at CIA’s effort with the war on terror by an important player in that war.  And while the CIA went through the book to ensure no classified information was leaked, I was still surprised at how much the author could share in the book.

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Counterstrike by Eric Schmitt Thom Shanker

 

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker. Counterstrike.  New York, NY: Times Books, 2011. 336 pp.

Radical Islam isn’t going away anytime soon so this book definitely has its place.  This is the story of the United States’ effort in Counter-Terrorism following September 11th.  It is the incredible story of how various parts of the Government matured in their fight against Al Qaeda.  The book focuses not only the frontline agencies against terrorism such as the State Department, the CIA, the FBI and the military but also certain key individuals that have shaped the policies in their respective agencies.  We read in the book the story of the early days after September 11th in which the government was struggling to know who their enemy was.  The book does not cover up the embarrassing extent of the ignorance of various officials in the government concerning Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.  But as the government kept moving forward in its war against Al Qaeda we find that certain men eventually shaped institutional changes to their agency in order to adapt to the stateless terrorist threat of Al Qaeda.  For example, the book talks about how the intelligence community at first collected everything as potential data but this led to an ineffective process of sorting out and producing good intelligence analysis.  Soon “intelligence triage” was developed in order to better handle incoming potential intelligence data along with directing it at the right analysts.  The academic world also had a place in the war on terror in which the intelligence community wisely saw that the academic world can better analyze certain data especially those that weren’t urgent actionable intelligence; this led to the founding of the Combating Terrorism Center based at West Point.

I appreciated how the authors described various elements of the government starting to work together in order to defeat Al Qaeda.  This was dramatically different compared to the pre-9/11 world where government agencies’ jealousy meant an agency become territorial with what they were willing to share and do.  Before 9/11 communications between the FBI and CIA faced many difficulties; the FBI’s computer network system was out of date and incompatible with the other government agencies.  That would eventually change.  We also read in the book of how the military and the intelligence community grew to become better reliant with each other.  The military improved their ways of gathering information and intelligence and also improved on how this was shared to the intelligence community.  In turn the intelligence community enhanced their evaluation and analysis in order to hand over to the military “actionable intelligence.”  I love the example of how a platoon of US Army soldiers unknowingly stumbled upon an intelligence treasure trove in Sinjar, Iraq that was then properly exploited by the intelligence community that helped the military to operationally downgrade Al Qaeda in Iraq.  There is also the story of the book of how the NSA would also have people sent to Iraq to better assist the military.

The book also had a discussion throughout the book about deterrence theory against Al Qaeda.  We see a whole chapter devoted to the discussion about Cold War deterrence theory and the problem with it in relations to Al Qaeda.  Obviously, it is difficult to get someone to back down when they are willing to martyr themselves in the attempt to destroy the West.  However I think the book makes a good point that there is a role of deterrence as a tool against Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists once we understand the network nature of Al Qaeda and other radical terrorist groups.  This new deterrence theory recognizes that in order for Al Qaeda to function there is the need for a terrorist network that is able to provide logistical needs.  Not everyone in this network is a suicide bomber since a suicide bomber himself would need someone who is a recruiter, a financier, trainer, etc.  This new deterrence theory is not necessarily directed towards the bombers and fighters themselves but towards those supporters who have much more to lose since they are still committed to being of the world (so to speak) and attached to certain things that allow the US leverage.  Recognition of this also means that our tools against Al Qaeda isn’t just military but also other means such as legal, financial and cyber capabilities.  As the book mentioned, “it takes a network to fight a network.”

The book also talked about the problematic and at times ironic relationship the US has with Pakistan in the War on Terror.  I also found it informative that the authors discussed the threat of the loan wolf home grown terrorists inspired by Al Qaeda.

While the book was published before the current geopolitical threat of ISIS, I think readers will find this book informative as to the historical development in the long war against Islamic terrorism.  Highly recommended work.

Purchase: Amazon

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