The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War against al-Qaeda.The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War against al-Qaeda.
October 3, 2011

Booklist Online Review
October 3, 2011
By David Siegfried

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Soufan is the Lebanese-born Arab American FBI agent who successfully interrogated dozens of al-Qaeda terrorist operatives involved with the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole, and 9/11 and other attacks. Fluent in Arabic and highly regarded as empathetic yet incredibly keen, he was in many ways the perfect agent to infiltrate the Muslim terrorist cell network. Soufan describes how he derived useful and “actionable” information from detainees without once using torture, threats of violence, or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as water boarding, stress positions, and humiliation. He did this by treating the subjects humanely, befriending them and getting them to trust him, and then using psychology to outwit them. Soufan challenges the hard-line ideas about interrogation and torture promoted by some members of the CIA and government officials in the Bush administration. He says that enhanced interrogation techniques are anti-American, simply don’t work, and only create faulty intelligence that cannot be used in a court of law. Soufan’s most damning claim is that while he worked for the FBI, the CIA refused to share evidence with him that could have prevented 9/11. Keeping the numerous Arabic names straight may be nearly impossible for many; not only do they seem foreign and unpronounceable, but most of the al-Qaeda operatives use pseudonyms. Over time, however, the main players do begin to emerge. Soufan delivers the real inside scoop on how the leaders of al-Qaeda planned and executed the now-infamous deadly terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. As much as he wants to avenge the lost lives of the Americans and others killed in these attacks, he is not totally unsympathetic to his captives. By putting a human face on the al-Qaeda operatives, he helps us to understand their motives and various and sometimes clashing personalities. Parts of the book were redacted out by the CIA despite Soufan’s objections, but the message is clear. There is much to get through in the detailed background story of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but the revelations uncovered are worth it; this is a story that had to be told.

— David Siegfried

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