Spectacular events such as Osama bin Laden’s assassination make headlines, but this book makes a case that intelligence (both tactical and cerebral) leads the battle against international terrorism.
Nearly a decade into the war on terror, “American forces are racking and stacking terrorists like cordwood,” but making little progress. Acknowledging this, New York Times correspondents Schmitt and Shanker review events after 9/11, focusing on government and military counterterrorism experts who convinced administration ideologues to switch gears. Despite President Bush’s belief that terrorists, welcoming death, could not be deterred, these experts insist that they craved respect from colleagues, successful actions, admiration and contributions from the Islamic world, and progress toward the millennium. Although these provided successful deterrence tactics, time-honored “winning hearts and minds” efforts have persuaded few Muslims of American benevolence. While the 2007 troop surge gets credit for suppressing Iraqi insurgents, a bonanza of documents and computers seized in several raids provided specific targets. Ignorance made 9/11 possible; today, supercomputers and thousands of analysts struggle with the avalanche of data as we monitor cell phones, e-mails, websites and other communications worldwide. All this attention has “dumbed down” terrorist networks which now favor smaller attacks, locally planned. America remains at risk, mostly from disaffected individuals, but the authors emphasize that the greatest barrier is persuading people that terrorism, like crime, can never be eliminated. Unlike other nations, America reacts to even failed plots with outrage, recriminations, denunciation of the current administration and demands for more protection.
A mildly reassuring argument that, after an expensive and massive effort, terrorism seems on the decline.