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The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  1,140 ratings  ·  152 reviews
On September 11, 2001, FBI Special Agent Ali H. Soufan was handed a secret file. Had he received it months earlier—when it was requested—the attacks on New York and Washington could have been prevented. During his time on the front lines, Soufan helped thwart plots around the world and elicited some of the most important confessions from terrorists in the war against al-Qa ...more
ebook, 608 pages
Published September 12th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,903)
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Bryan
This book completely changed my perspective about EIT, or enhanced interrogation techniques. I believed, hook, line & sinker all of the misinformation from the CIA, et. al. regarding the intelligence obtained using these methods. While I have not been supportive of the methods, I was convinced that the information we were gathering was in fact due to torture. From reading this book, however, I learned that all of the intelligence we supposedly gained from torture, was actually gained from tr ...more
Stephen Phillips
Interrogation represents intelligence collection in its most visceral form. Sitting in “the box” with one’s enemy, maintaining composure and decorum, all while outwitting them to the point that they provide valuable information against their will requires the skills of a chess master combined with a thespian. It is clear after reading The Black Banners that former FBI Agent Ali Soufan embodies this ability and more.

A Lebanese-American assigned to the FBI’s counterterrorism office in New York Ci
...more
Terry Earley
http://www.npr.org/2011/09/13/1404014...

This got 4 stars because it is a very important book written mostly in the first person. There is a great deal of detail, naming names and places, though much has been redacted by the CIA. It was tough getting through the beginning, but well worth slogging through the background part.

Soufan demonstrates that absolute power absolutely corrupts. After the tragedy of 9/11, the country was in the mood for revenge. Bush and his neo-cons were more than ready to
...more
William
A more correct subtitle would have been: Ali Soufan thinks Ali Soufan was a great FBI agent. This is not to say that the author is not knowledgable about the subject of Al Qaeda or that his experiences with the bureaucracy and methodology of the American intelligence system shouldn't sicken the citizen at large, but it is to say that the scope of this book is narrower than the title would lead one to believe. Additionally, while some of the redactions were easily dismissed, the absence of entire ...more
Terri
This has been the best book for blowing apart the supposed benefits of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques since Matthew Alexander's books Kill or Capture and How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq
When I finished reading this book I knew three things, that my understanding that the FBI and the CIA had learned to work together, under the same agenda, since 9/11, was wrong, and that I was still deeply against the use of
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Ray
Would I call the book exciting? Not exactly. Exasperating? Often, due to a combination of many CIA imposed redactions in the later chapters of the book, and partly due to being reminded of how poorly the "war on terror" was handled in its early phases. But if you asked if the book was informative, interesting, and well worth the read, the answer is absolutely!

The author, Ali Soufan, is a native Arabic speaker who spent eight years as an FBI special agent, from the time just before 9/11 and throu
...more
Steven Howes
This is a very interesting yet disturbing book that left me somewhat concerned about our country's future and its perception by the rest of the world community. The author is a former FBI agent who was born in Lebanon and is a naturalized US citizen. Because of his fluency in Arabic and as a practicing Muslim, he became heavily involved in the FBI's intelligence gathering efforts following the East Africa embassy bombings, the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, and then 9/11 and the hunt for Osam ...more
thewanderingjew
In the introduction to the audio, the author reveals that some of the book has been redacted by the CIA. He doesn’t believe there is any reason for this, the CIA has no jurisdiction once the FBI has approved it, which they did, but still, they have made requested changes. He does not believe there are any secrets revealed in the book, but allowed the redacting so the book could be published on time. He has vowed to fight back and restore the book to its original state.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, h
...more
Kenyon Harbison
If you read one single book about 9/11 and the U.S. conflict with Al Queda, especially the time-frame from 1997 until 2003, read this book.

Ali Soufan was an FBI investigator and interrogator. This is the guy whose old-school, non-"enhanced" interrogation led to the initial connection between Al Queda and 9/11. He conducted multiple interrogations that led to multiple arrests and convictions in courts of law of terrorists.

He also paints a picture of an FBI and an old-fashioned form of interrogati
...more
Vanessa
Jun 03, 2012 Vanessa rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vanessa by: Jessica Ramirez
A FBI agent who investigated the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda pre and post 9/11 publishes his notes on interrogating terrorists. There are some interesting politics, but mostly just information on interrogation and how the US figured out who carried out attacks and how. A friend recommended this book to me because she thought it was very interesting, but I found it pretty dry. I'll have to follow-up with her about which parts she thought were interesting. Soufan uses his stories of interrogatio ...more
Michael Meder
I gave this book 5 stars. It is *THE* explanation of why the CIA's rendition program didn't work. Sure, lots of loud mouths complained about how bad rendition was, but not because of any facts that they had, they just took to complaining. This book explains who the players were, and who was successful in getting information from the terrorists, and who the amateurs were, and why they didn't get correct information from the terrorist about anything.

No, I don't believe that dealing with the terror
...more
Wayne
This is a book I would consided owning. A book that I would want to have on my shelf ready to reference if I needed to.
Ali Soufan was one of the FBI's leading experts on al-Qaeda and their leading expert on interrogating high value detainees, both before and shortly after 9/11. He writes of the successes that he and his team had while using traditional criminal interrogation techniques. Inexplicably even as he was in the middle of an interrogation with a cooperating witness, the CIA decided that
...more
Socraticgadfly
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 c
...more
Christina
I began reading the book only in order to gain information about Al Qaeda. As it turned out, I gained new insight into the argument against torture. Although it seems that not engaging in torture is only for humanitarian purposes, it it also for practical purposes. Mr. Soufan repeatedly shows how informed and experienced interrogators not only gain more information without torture but gain more reliable information. He also shows how once someone starts down the road of “harsh” interrogations, o ...more
Doctor No
If 9/11 & terrorism interests you, this is the book that you must read.
Brian Tibby
While the book is longer than it needs to be and isn't as well written as you'd think it'd be based on the co/ghost-author, it's an interesting read and an important book that shows how wrong the first eight years of the war on terror was and how poorly the Bush administration handled counterterrorism, detainees, and interrogation methods. While it sometimes reads a bit too memoir-y and the author clearly has some personal issues with the CIA (most of which are based on legitimate professional r ...more
Jsavett1
Thank goodness for FBI agents like Ali Soufan. In our society of partisan discourse in which no one is saying anything but everyone is talking, Soufan is a voice of wisdom, truth, and reason. It's too bad, for EVERYONE, that the CIA didn't see him that way. I recognize that this book is from Soufan's perspective; however, if even 50% of what he writes is true, what I just learned is deeply disturbing and really interesting.

So there are two ways to think about this book for me: 1. an exploration
...more
Perry Martin
Narrated by Neil Shah this book is a true account of FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan. Soufan started investigating the USS Cole bombing and was still doing so on 9/11/2001. He was soon involved in the search for Bin Laden. Ali's story tells of the conflict between the FBI and the CIA. According to this book the CIA kept information from the FBI that could have captured Bin Laden years earlier than he was.

Soufan was an investigator and after several successful interrogations he became the FBI's most
...more
Serge
After watching "Zero Dark Thirty" I got an impression that the use of torture was somehow effective. I still considered the use of it as unbecoming for a civilized nation not matter the results. Fortunately, this books debunked the myth that torture was effective in counter-terrorism. In fact, the use of torture was counterproductive, and the invaluable information was achieved by finding ways to relate to the suspect, not degrading him. Yet, the Bush administration, in a conniving manner, credi ...more
Murtaza
Ali Soufan was unique among post-9/11 government interrogators for refusing to employ torture, and also for being one of the few Arab speaking Muslims doing counterterrorism work for the FBI. While he is ultra-nationalistic he was also relatively principled in his behavior, and seems to genuinely believe and strive for the higher values America espouses.

This book was interesting for detailing his own personal achievements at the FBI as well as for its history of Al Qaeda up to and after 9/11. Of
...more
Vikas Datta
A most important addition to the literature on the "Global War on Terror" but making for scarcely comfortable reading chronicling as it does the wide gulf that separates perceptions of America from the rest of the world, the berserk responses that some Americans are capable of, and the bureaucratic turf-fighting and wrangling that bedevils a capable and sufficient response to the malaise of terrorism. Mr Soufan paints a engrossing, page-turning account of investigations of terrorist outrages, st ...more
Tom O'brien
If you have ever been on the fence about "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" you definitely need to read this book. Fascinating story of one man's experience as an FBI agent tracking, interrogating and investigating al-Qaeda over 20 pivotal years.

Ali Soufan tells this story in a really beautiful, human way. He brings us into the room with him as he does intellectual battle with al-Qaeda operatives to gather actionable intelligence.

I'll admit that I was kind of on the fence about EIT - but not af
...more
Ryan Atwood
This book was very informative and I really enjoyed reading it. I was actually really touched by some of the stories in the book as well (not what I expected!). Ali is a great American and I am proud to have had him as part of the FBI during a key period in history.

Also, as a conservative who believed the rhetoric put out by the Bush administration about EIT programs, I was very thankful to get the truth behind EITs and their lack of success. I'm not surprised that an organization like the CIA w
...more
Eric
What started as exposing al-Qaeda, turned into, in my mind, exposing how very little we ought to trust federal law enforcement - of any flavor. I'm very glad to have listened to the book, and I would probably be almost as glad to listen to the proponents of EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques) make their case. I think America owes Ali Soufan its gratitude, but perhaps not its worship. Between DHS, CIA, FBI, NSA, and those in between I figure we're well on the way to oblivion unless we starve ...more
Greynomad
Its too bad that the author was more concern with name dropping then just writing a book
Nate Freidig
Very interesting accounting of the emergence of Al-Qaeda and the government's attempt to get a handle on them.

Ali comes across as self-righteous and with a very high opinion of himself, but based on his admittedly one-sided account, his techniques appeared to be effective and probably helped thwart additional attacks on US soil. The CIA and to a much lesser degree the White House look quite inept in the book, which probably led to a portion of the redactions they requested. The redacted parts ar
...more
Chris Webb

A book that will change the way we think about al-Qaeda, intelligence, and the events that forever changed America.

On September 11, 2001, FBI Special Agent Ali H. Soufan was handed a secret file. Had he received it months earlier—when it was requested—the attacks on New York and Washington could have been prevented. During his time on the front lines, Soufan helped thwart plots around the world and elicited some of the most important confessions from terrorists in the war against al-Qaeda—with

...more
Jackmccullough
Who planned and carried out the bombing of the USS Cole? How about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? What about numerous other attacks, either successful or foiled?

That we know in detail not only who did these things, how they were planned and financed, and how they were carried out is due in large part to the efforts of Ali Soufan and people working with him. You may have seen him on 60 Minutes, heard him on Morning Edition, or heard him on Terry Gross, but The Black Banners is still w
...more
Kent
This is the book to read to get details on the behind-the-scenes interrogations of al-Qaeda and on the failures of CIA intelligence gathering and information sharing which led to the U.S.'s failure to detect the 9/11 plot.

Despite significant redactions of the text mandated by the embarassed CIA (particularly the chapter on the CIA's interrogation of Zubaydah), Soufan's story reveals the al-Qaeda story from its earliest origins right through 2009 activities, and includes a chapter on the intellig
...more
Patrick C.
This highly detailed account of al Qaeda and America's investigation (both before and after 9/11 by a former FBI Agent may be the most informative and revealing yet about this complicated history. It is also an in depth explanation of methods for effectively questioning al Qaeda suspects and a well-argued polemic against "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EIT).

It is also very disturbing to learn, in detail, how lack of cooperation from the CIA and Defense Department compromised these investiga
...more
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Good Cop Bad Cop 3 10 Sep 14, 2012 02:24PM  
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  • Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--from 9/11 to Abbottabad
  • Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan
  • How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq
  • Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah's Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel
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  • Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan
  • The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran
  • The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth
  • Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla
  • SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden
  • Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces
  • Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander's Account of the Hunt for the World's Most Wanted Man
  • Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft And Special Ops On The Frontlines Of Afghanistan- And The Path To Victory
  • The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
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.
More about Ali H. Soufan...

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