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

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  1,543 Ratings  ·  178 Reviews

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 thwar

Hardcover, 572 pages
Published September 12th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 1st 2011)
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Raghu Yes, it does. However, the author quit FBI in 2005 itself and Osama was killed in 2011. So, the details are perhaps through second hand sources.
Mark Hesselgrave The Looming Tower is the better book in my opinion. Deeper history and more gripping unfolding of the story. I didn't finish The Black Banners. To me…moreThe Looming Tower is the better book in my opinion. Deeper history and more gripping unfolding of the story. I didn't finish The Black Banners. To me it revolved to much around the author himself, and not enough about broad events.

If you prefer first person more conversational accounts, you may prefer The Black Banners.(less)

Community Reviews

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Ali Soufan was an FBI Special Agent in charge of Al Qaeda-related research and attacks when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11. He knew and had worked closely with NYC FBI Special Agent John O’Neill before O'Neill resigned to work in the towers as security chief there. Born in Lebanon, Soufan is an Arabic-speaker that gave him more immediate access to informants and materials collected as a result of raids on plot suspects. This is his story of how the investigation into the U.S.S. Cole ...more
Oct 20, 2012 Bryan rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 05, 2012 Stephen Phillips rated it it was amazing
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
Terry Earley
Sep 13, 2011 Terry Earley rated it really liked it

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
Mar 06, 2012 Ray rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-favs
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
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
Dec 05, 2012 William rated it it was ok
Shelves: other
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
Oct 19, 2011 Wayne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Steven Howes
Jun 03, 2013 Steven Howes rated it really liked it
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
Jun 02, 2015 Murtaza rated it really liked it
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
May 12, 2012 Christina rated it it was amazing
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
Brian Tibby
Sep 24, 2011 Brian Tibby rated it really liked it
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
Shekhar Joshi
Jul 05, 2017 Shekhar Joshi rated it liked it
This book is highly detailed about the operations conducted in Yemen by the FBI in the aftermath of USS Cole bombing in 2000. There are serious redactions in the book and they made the whole reading experience very distracting.

The insights put forth by Ali on the methods of interrogation is definitely an interesting read. If you are looking for an early history of Al Qaeda then this book does not cover that part, Ali has hardly mentioned anything about the formation of Al Qaeda and its objective
Dec 12, 2013 thewanderingjew rated it liked it
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
Jul 03, 2017 Raghu rated it really liked it

There have been a large number of essays and books on Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks over the past ten years. There are perhaps as many theories and conclusions about what the Al-Qaeda is like and what its goals are and why Muslims join them as well. Browsing through them and reading some of them in depth, I find that many of them are contradictory to one another. Some say that Al-Qaeda is a hierarchical, well-organized outfit while others say it is dysfunctional and ridden with internal dissens
Feb 05, 2012 Socraticgadfly rated it it was amazing
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
Kenyon Harbison
Nov 29, 2011 Kenyon Harbison rated it it was amazing
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
Perry Martin
Nov 23, 2014 Perry Martin rated it it was amazing
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 mos
Feb 27, 2014 Serge rated it really liked it
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
Michael Meder
Dec 30, 2011 Michael Meder rated it it was amazing
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
May 06, 2012 Vanessa rated it it was ok
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
Shea Mastison
Sep 10, 2012 Shea Mastison rated it it was amazing
Alongside Michael Scheuer's "Imperial Hubris," this is one of the books that I think is indispensable to any American wishing to get a good grasp on the War on Terror. Ali Soufan is extraordinarily genuine; and you will find yourself rooting for him in his contemporary memoir detailing his work in the FBI--specifically on al-Qaeda and the more regional Islamic groups affiliated with them.

I recommend this book to all of my friends; especially if you'd like to better understand the quagmire Americ
Meghan Davis strader
Dec 13, 2016 Meghan Davis strader rated it it was amazing
This was an incredibly accessible book that walked through the timeline of Soufan's time with the FBI. Since it was a memoir instead of a security briefing, the information was easier to remember. It has many cautionary tales and mistakes listed that should all be learned from...but won't be as the politics of the US imply that admitting and learning from a mistake means you were wrong. And pointing out the mistakes within politics means you are disloyal. I hope more people read this book as it ...more
May 22, 2014 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book [2 words redacted] good overall, [3 words redacted] CIA redactions made it a pain [4 words redacted] read.

[77 words redacted]
[14 words redacted]
[3 words redacted]

Also, a lot of conversations [1 word redacted] unnatural, [2 words redacted] beneficial [2 words redacted] Soufan in hindsight, [4 words redacted]. The information regarding interrogations [2 words redacted] enhanced techniques seldom work [4 words redacted] though.

Hint: if you don't like the redacted nature of this review, d
Jun 01, 2016 Ayoub rated it really liked it
Soufan ends the debate about which interrogation techniques are most effective, even during the so-called ticking bomb situation, questioning and interrogation should rely on research, mutual respect and knowledge.
Jul 09, 2012 Greynomad rated it it was ok
Its too bad that the author was more concern with name dropping then just writing a book
Justin Tapp
Nov 19, 2016 Justin Tapp rated it it was amazing
(I finished this book concurrently with other books examining Al Qaeda and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and this review should be read in the context of the other books. A list of many of the books is at the bottom of this post.)

This book is a good picture of the hope and frustrations of an FBI agent in investigating Al Qaeda terrorism prior to 9/11 and trying to prevent an event like 9/11 from happening, and dealing with its increasingly brutal and complicated aftermath as America rushed
May 28, 2017 Joe rated it really liked it
"FBI rules, CIA drools!" - former FBI agent
Ben Silver
Jul 07, 2017 Ben Silver rated it it was amazing
Outstanding novel. Very important message and lesson within.
May 17, 2017 Dinazitawe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
كتاب رائع يوثق الكثير. عدد الصفحات كبير نسبيا لكن لاتحس به وانت تقرا كانها رواية.
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Good Cop Bad Cop 3 10 Sep 14, 2012 02:24PM  
  • The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia
  • Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida since 9/11
  • The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA
  • 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
  • The Longest War: A History of the War on Terror and the Battles with Al Qaeda Since 9/11
  • Bomb Hunters: Life and Death Stories with Britain's Elite Bomb Disposal Unit in Afghanistan
  • The Interrogator: An Education
  • The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
  • Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan
  • Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War
  • Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror
  • Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan
  • Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander's Account of the Hunt for the World's Most Wanted Man
  • The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War: A Screaming Eagle in Afghanistan and Iraq
  • SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden
  • The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran
  • The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
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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