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The Black Banners: The Inside Story Of 9/11 And The War Against Al-qaeda Hardcover – Sep 27 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: WW Norton; 1 edition (Sept. 27 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393079425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393079425
  • ASIN: 0393079422
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 0.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 998 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #50,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“In its cynical decision to censor the memoir of former F.B.I. Special Agent Ali Soufan, the C.I.A. is seeking to punish a critic and to obscure history.”

“Soufan describes many instances in which he uses his knowledge and a savvy rapport to exploit the personal foibles and intellectual weaknesses of his subjects ... The story of America's most famous Arab American FBI agent couldn't come at a more poignant time.”

“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.”

“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.”

“… the revelations uncovered are worth it; this is a story that had to be told.”

“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.”

“... 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.”

“Unfortunately, we only have one Ali Soufan. Had American intelligence listened to him, 9/11 might never have happened. No one did more to unravel the story of al-Qaeda than Ali Soufan. Thankfully, he's left another legacy in this book. Anyone who wants to know what really happened should read it. It's an inspiring but wrenching story told from the heart of a great American.”

“Superb. An education. And the best book on al Qaeda out there, bar none.”

About the Author

Ali H. 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.

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Format: Hardcover
The Black Banners is a totally engrossing read, for anyone interested in Al Queada, Bin Laden, 911, and the endless web of twisted, complex stories and issues that are part of this never-ending tragedy. For the first time, we really get to know many previously unreleased inside details through the personal story of Ali H. Soufan. The United States and the FBI were lucky to have such a committed agent, who contributed so much to the investigations of Al Queada both before and after 911. Soufan is without doubt an extremely brave, loyal, and intelligent man, but it seems the CIA and the highest levels of the US government under George W. Bush didn't seem to agree with the way he did things. The details of how the CIA withheld crucial information that could have possibly intercepted the 911 terrorists before they could strike, and then denied it afterwards, are very disturbing. The conflict between Soufan's methods of interrogation, which resulted in a huge amount of valuable information, and the CIA's rejection of those methods in favour of enhanced techniques like waterboarding, are also shocking. The CIA's lies, denials, and failures are laid out by Soufan in complete detail. Obviously this has not made Soufan popular with the CIA, as they have heavily redacted large portions of this book, which makes some sections virtually unreadable. The worst part of the redactions are the totally ridiculous blacking out of personal pronouns like "I", "my", "me" and "myself". This happens numerous times, and it's really puzzling as to what purpose this serves----the reader can clearly see where these words apply. The "Frontline" show has a great report on this book, and a great interview with Ali Soufan that should definitely be watched by any reader of this book. An absolutely indispensable book for anyone interested in the war against Islamic terrorism.
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By Captain Canuck on March 21 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After I heard Ali Soufan interviewed on the Rachel Maddow show I ordered the book. I was fascinated at the idea that critical info was available to have thwarted on the 9/11 terrorists' plot prior to the attacks. Even though several paragraphs are redacted in the 2010 book, you can still make out a good portion of what was missing. I found it intriguing that the internal bureaucracy, personality conflicts & turf-wars of the plethora of agencies within the US intelligence & criminal communities stalled the marrying of all known information such that terrorist plots could be successfully completed. Whaaaat? you say. Yes, it was all known...but not all on one playing field. The frustration of the author is most evident.
Also, revealing how interrogation methods are so successful without torture! Torture is not given much credence, in fact, it's even counter productive.
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By John Somerville on Aug. 4 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I throughly enjoyed this book. Great contrast from the propaganda we get on the news. These investigators got great information from the suspects without torture. Explains how real interviews should be conducted. Highly recommend.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although this book is non fiction parts of it read like a novel. Ignore the lengthy list of Al Queda leaders and quod will find your self in an amazing exposé on the terrorism in the decades leading up to 9/11 and ending with finding Bin Lauden. Ari Soufan has written a gripping account of the FBI and the CIA as they work through the interrogation of terrorists captured after the bombing of the US ship in Yemen. The challenges they faced at each if these interrogations because of interference by the Ambassador , the lack of sharing of information. Between the two agencies and the introductions of brutal interrogation techniques are described in great detail throughout the book. I highly recommend it or anyone who wants to find out why 9/11 was not prevented.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 139 reviews
117 of 138 people found the following review helpful
THE BLACK BANNERS Reveals Not Everything Is Black-and-White Sept. 18 2011
By E. Lee Zimmerman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've made it a point to never pen a review immediately after finishing a book. I do this because, as a critic, I don't want to feel as if I'm unintentionally overrating or underrating any author's effort. I try to let the work sink in a bit, to have it seep through all the corners of my brain, to soak it across all my consciousness. I do this in hopes that I'll give a more cogent, a more salient, and a more respectful analysis of the work. The longer I allowed Ali Soufan's "The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda" to float around in my head, the more frustrated I grew ... frustrated with the tale ... frustrated with the participants ... and even frustrated a bit with the author.

For starters, it's a tremendous and personal work. Clocking in at just over 600 pages, it's a wealth of history about al-Qaida and the terrorist organization's various major (and a few minor) players. And, as Mr. Soufan repeatedly suggests to those around him, "it all starts back in 1979 when ..." He provides outstanding context for the background, and he allows the story to build reasonably from there. Consequently, the book is a comprehensive accounting of names, dates, and places, and, no doubt, it's penned by one committed and impressive mind that have synthesized a vast canvass of data into the effective conclusions that our narrator does. In his bid to tell the definitive insider's story of 9/11, Mr. Soufan clearly is the best-educated, best-prepared, and best-suited to enlighten all of us with where the mindset of such an act began, and the first half of his book goes to great pains to bring the reader up-to-speed on how a few decades of history climaxed with that seminal moment: the destruction of the two World Trade Center towers.

For the reader, it's an at times frustrating experience in all of its 600 pages. This isn't intended as a slight toward Mr. Soufan - I think the very nature of exploring these events and the people who caused them strays into territory where some may fear to tread - but there may have been a better person to tell this story so that so much of it didn't appear so personal to him. Immersing oneself inside the story, by its very nature, brings the narrator to life, and that drags all the good, the bad, and the ugly into the spotlight and places it alongside the bad guys here. Whether he intended it this way or not, Soufen became the focus (for this reader, anyway) at key points in the narrative; as the story went on, I found myself mildly less-and-less interested in the war and more drawn to the narrator, in not a good way.

For example, Soufan almost lovingly (and dangerously) narrates the backstory of al-Qaida's leadership, exploring the men's history, hopes, and dreams, underscoring to the reader that, perhaps at some point in their past, they were not different from you or I ... and, well, yes, I suppose that's true except for that whole little `jihad to bring down Western civilization,' that is. In his bid to extract information as a lead interrogator, Soufen laughs with them; he cries with them; and he even prays with them ... so long as it will get them one step closer to sharing intel and a confession to aid the United States in stopping al-Qaida's mission of destruction. And, just maybe, therein rests the only real problem I had with the book: Ali Soufan and his `band of Untouchables' can do no wrong here. Indeed, Soufen's own actions take on almost mythic proportions as he almost singlehandedly saves himself and his partners from increasingly treacherous circumstances as the narrative builds. Only he can get the terrorists to talk. Only he can bridge the gap between the United States and the Yemeni soldiers surrounding his plane upon arrival to question suspects in the USS Cole bombing.

It would seem to me (maybe I'm wrong) that, if Soufan were truly surrounded by intelligent, experienced interrogators, then much of what he narrates as having gone wrong couldn't, wouldn't and shouldn't have gone wrong. After all, would experienced interrogators really make so many blunders when anyone watching a full season of NYPD BLUE knows you can't treat a suspect like that and get a useful confession? Most of the interrogations errors explored here seemed really elementary - we're talking "Interrogation 101" here, folks - and I found myself growing increasingly skeptical with the level of ineptness portrayed by every single agency except Soufan's FBI. I'm not saying that all of this sad expose didn't happen the way Soufen says it did; I'm only saying I found it increasingly hard to believe that there were this many bumbling fools at the head of so much bureaucracy. (Maybe it's best that I don't work in government!)

Still, the book breaks narrative not long after 9/11 happens as Soufan recounts a series of bizarre interrogations that he may or may not have participated in. The book is unclear; from the author's note, we learn that much of this account was censored by the CIA. Soufan needed to keep his publication date, so he instead opted to publish the work with the requested excised words being blacked out. The end result makes the sequence seem unintentionally dramatic if not downright cinematic. Imagine the movie SAW if it was written by Tom Clancy, and you get the drift. It's downright surreal at a point when the reader probably didn't need that.

To his credit, Soufan manages 99.9% of the time to keep this politically-charged story largely apolitical, and, for that alone, I'm immeasurably grateful. I kept waiting for the book to turn into either a "bash Clinton" or a "bash Bush" or a "bash America" slugfest, and the author took great strides to avoid politicizing much of what could've easily been co-opted by any ideological agenda. In fact, one could make a strong case for the fact that - if there's any real corruption here - it's in institutional corruption, demonstrated by the various turf wars intelligence agencies engage in frequently. Though Soufen soundly comes down in support of his agency (the FBI), that's a forgivable assumption (not conclusion) given the evidence presented here and the fact that it's largely from one perspective (Soufan's). If there's any indictment here, it's probably that bureaucracies are bad - certainly not healthy arbiters of `best practices' when military contractors are involved - and that's a very safe argument anyone can embrace. He's clearly against enhanced interrogation procedures as his work demonstrates precisely how counterproductive they can be to the stated objectives, and he's entitled to his opinion as the evidence shows.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Pretty darn good Feb. 8 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As someone who has studied similar events for much of the same time and subject as Ali Soufan, I must say his analysis is first rate. He has a great understanding of the world of Al-Qaeda and the threats it represents not just to the U.S., but to the entire world. I see many of the reviews mention the redactions present in the book, and I have to say, while I find them annoying, I don't think they take away from the overall meaning of what he wanted to get across in the book. They tend to be omissions to keep either important secrets secret or embarrassing tidbits. The first, is none of my business and the second can probably be figured out by conjecture. In either case, there are ways around it. I find that when people leave large, redacted parts in a book, they are trying to cast a conspiratorial air around the book, giving it an added unimportant gravitas. The reader automatically thinks, well what am I missing? The damn government censoring again!

While Mr. Soufan's war stories are actually quite interesting and thrilling in some cases, better than a movie, I would have preferred more on the nature of Al-Qaeda and the threat it presents. The first 40 pages of this book are worth the price of admission because of the fascinating history of the organization and its justifications for its existence. I would like to have seen more of this, since he appears to have been right in the middle of the whole battle. This is why I gave the book three stars instead of four. It is an excellent book, however, covering most of the battle with Al-Qaeda from the first bombing of the World Trade Center, to the Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, to the bombing of the USS Cole, to 9/11 and everythign since. This is the battle from the front line, from the law enforcement officials' perspective. It is interesting, it is gripping, but for a scholarly look at Al-Qaeda, a little lacking. Definitely read The Looming Towers as a companion to this book. But do read this book. You will not be disappointed.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An American hero, and an intimate inside look at the FBI Oct. 9 2011
By David M. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was floored by The Black Banners. While it's a slow read due to the density of information packed in its nearly 600 pages, the content inside is remarkable. It clearly spells out the history of Al Qaeda and the evolution of events leading up to September 11th, and the resulting effects on US intelligence gathering, told from the inside perspective of a "true insider". Ali Soufan's role in hunting down these terrorists was pivotal to so much of the information that we've all heard on the news and that shaped U.S. policy in such a material way. To hear the source of so much of the information that informed U.S. foreign policy for the past 10 years describe it from inside is a precious gift. We owe a debt to Soufan for his brave service to our country, and for sharing it so directly through this book.

The book recounts the events that Soufan experienced over this time at the FBI, including his leadership of the USS Cole Bombing investigation, finding out that the CIA deliberately withheld critical information on the Sept 11 hijackers that could very well have prevented the event, the Bush administration deliberately withholding Al Qaeda's connection to the Cole bombing, and its pressure on the FBI to connect Iraq to Sept 11 despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. He also speaks out strongly against the enhanced interrogation techniques in the post-Sept 11 world, citing his experience as an unwilling participant in the very first of these interrogations, and his active efforts to stop them.

What struck me most as I read it was that Al Qaeda was a 400 person organization at the time of Sept 11th, and most of the resources of the group went to support services to mask the terrorist operations. In lieu of a set of careful, surgical actions to find and eliminate this threat, the U.S. embarked on a heavy-handed decade of efforts that misdirected and distorted the situation, creating many new threats to American security and values along the way.

This book is a must read for anyone looking to understand this time in the world from one of the people who helped to shape our history.
83 of 104 people found the following review helpful
Nice Job Ali Sept. 15 2011
By Sasebo - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I worked with Special Agent Soufan just after 9/11, although I don't have insight into everything in this book, from what I've read it's an accurate summary of events. Also, Soufan was an honorable guy, great to work with.
36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
The most significant contribution to date Sept. 15 2011
By Richard Arant - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author was blessed to have had this much excitement and experience packed into his time with the FBI. He takes readers along a long journey which keeps building momentum page by page. His faith in "traditional" interrogation techniques is most refreshing in these murky times when so many are willing to compromise with and adopt evil to fight evil. I have always found first and second generation Americans to be the most ardent believers in American values, probably because they are Americans by choice, not Americans by accident of birth, still unjaded, and know what the rest of the world is like in reality.

I have faith that many more such memoirs are in the pipeline as key players retire from the war that defined their generation, but I suspect few will be packed with such minute detail. Few of us can even dream of having Ali Soufan's successes, but everyone who has had the honor of representing the American people by talking face-to-face with the enemy shares his exhilaration and enthusiam. The experience is life-changing.

I have never seen a truly functional bureaucracy, but I hope that talented young Americans will see that careers in the FBI, CIA, NSA, and State Department are their best shots at exciting and productive lives. Some careers mean more than money.