Could 9/11 have been prevented? By former FBI special agent Soufan’s account, the answer is a resounding yes.
In this heavily redacted memoir—some pages contain nothing but crossed-out lines—the author recounts a long career on the trail of al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups, a quest that sometimes seems to have begun before those groups were even up and running. There is not a whisper of self-promotion in his narrative, but it is clear that Soufan was on the case early and often. He writes, for instance, that on reading of a fatwa signed by Osama bin Laden and Muslim clerics in 1998, he wrote a memo to headquarters recommending that the FBI “focus on the threat he posed to the United States. Al-Qaeda came into focus even earlier on: “Al-Qaeda trainers were on the ground during the Battle of Mogadishu (also known as Black Hawk Down)”—a defeat of American forces that bin Laden declared not only a great victory but also proof that the American enemy was weak and lacked the stomach to fight back. Not so, insists Soufan, though given the ineptitude he portrays within FBI and other intelligence agencies, it seems amazing that the country managed to survive the last couple of decades; 9/11 was virtually foretold, and yet federal agencies did nothing. Fortunately, he writes, the enemy was also incompetent, particularly when it came to training operatives in how to use explosives. Remarked one prisoner of a training program in Afghanistan, “we’re graduating more people to heaven than out of the class.”
The author concludes that al-Qaeda is on the decline, but more groups like it are on the rise. Soufan provides a sobering, sometimes maddening view from the front lines.