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The Black Banners (Declassified): How Torture Derailed the War on Terror after 9/11 Paperback – Illustrated, September 8, 2020
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The definitive account of an FBI special agent’s al-Qaeda story, unredacted for the first time.
Widely heralded on publication as a "must-read" (Military Review) and "important window on America’s battle with al-Qaeda" (Washington Post), Ali Soufan’s revelatory account of the war on terror as seen from its front lines changed the way we understand al-Qaeda and how the United States prosecuted the war―and led to hard questions being asked of our leaders.
When The Black Banners was published in 2011, significant portions of the text were redacted. After subsequent review by the Central Intelligence Agency, those redactions have been lifted. Their removal corrects the record on how vital intelligence was obtained from al-Qaeda suspects and brings forth important new details on the controversial use of enhanced interrogation techniques (torture) to extract information from terror suspects. For many years, proponents of the use of these techniques have argued that they produced actionable intelligence in the war on terror. This edition of The Black Banners explodes this myth; it shows Soufan at work using guile and intelligent questioning―not force or violence―to extract some of the most important confessions in the war, and it vividly recounts the failures of the government’s torture program. Drawing on Soufan’s experiences as a lead operative for the FBI and declassified government records, The Black Banners (Declassified) documents the intelligence failures that lead to the tragic attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and subsequently how torture derailed the fight against al-Qaeda. With this edition, eighteen years on from the first sanctioned enhanced interrogation technique, the public can finally read the complete story of what happened in their name after the events of 9/11.
The Black Banners (Declassified) includes a new foreword from Ali Soufan that addresses the significance of the CIA’s decision to lift the redactions.
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― Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
"Paints a devastating picture of rivalry and dysfunction inside the government’s counterterrorism agencies…The account offered by the agent, Ali H. Soufan is the most detailed to date by an insider."
― Scott Shane, New York Times
"One of the most valuable and detailed accounts of its subject to appear in the past decade."
"Soufan knows exactly what he is talking about, and does us all a service by having it set down in The Black Banners."
― Glenn L. Carle, Foreign Policy
"Superb. An education. And the best book on al-Qaeda out there, bar none."
― Robert Baer
About the Author
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Declassified edition (September 8, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 640 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393343499
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393343496
- Item Weight : 1.55 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #338,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Ali Soufan was, during this period, a gifted FBI interrogator who, with a few colleagues, extracted most of the good intelligence from Al Qaeda suspects, starting long before 9/11. Most of what we know about Al Qaeda comes from them. It was unfortunate at this time President Bush (or maybe Cheney) were enamored with the idea sold to them by two incompetent psychologists (getting paid a thousand dollars a day), backed by top brass in the CIA that they could magically break suspects by using enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) and extract all they knew.
This book takes you right through this time. It takes you into the interrogation room with Ali, you will see exactly how he works, and that it is an art and a mind game, there is no set formula, but you must start with cards in your hand ad play them carefully. Ali's interrogations are one of the most interesting parts of the book, and he is hugely successful (that he comes from the Middle East and is Muslim who speaks Arabic, is of course helpful). You will be present when the CIA turn up authorized to take over the interrogations. He asks the one in charge, who he calls Boris in the book, "Have you ever done an interrogation before" "No Boris said, but I know what makes people talk". Once the CIA take over, the flow of useful information dries up, for torture will get people to say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear, not the truth. (If you are very cynical, you might get the idea this is the point, as when they get false intelligence linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, something that suited Bush on the eve of the Iraq war).
It is sad, that two competing ideas, standard FBI interrogation, which is valid, gets rejected and displaced by the CIA and their failed EITs. As a result, those supporting EITs lied and also smeared Ali, but worse, did not allow him or the FBI access to suspects, with the inevitable result that plots are not stopped when they could have been, Bin Laden is free a lot longer than he need have been, and people died unnecessarily. There are no two sides to this story, truth is self-evidently on the side of Ali, and his testimony had much to do with the senate intelligence committee report on torture, which pointed out torture had revealed no useful information, despite its proponents lies.
Along the way you will learn just about everything there is learn about Al Qaeda and all their plots. It is a fascinating read that takes you into the heart of intelligence.
I first bought this book when about 50% of it was blacked out having been censored by the CIA. It was good then. It is even better now since a court case led to the removal of the censorship.
So when I saw the news of this book I got it thru my library. I liked it but there are just so many Arabic names and aliases that I couldn't keep track. I quit about half-way thru. I think that even if they had been familiar-sounding English names it would still be overwhelming. He relates many stories of the now-familiar bureaucratic turf wars and infighting that sabotaged the investigations and very likely helped the 9-ll attackers to succeed.