A best-selling author explains the 10-year effort to find, fix and finish the world’s most-wanted terrorist
Bowden (Worm: The First Digital World War, 2011, etc.) devotes a taut chapter to the attack on Osama bin Laden, and he lavishly credits the courage and professionalism of the military men at the finish. But more than anything, he pays tribute and attention to “the effort and patience and will” of America’s intelligence network and counterterrorism professionals, to the often-overlooked virtues of a bureaucracy endlessly grinding away to connect the dots of information that would lead to the sheik’s lair. An effective opening chapter focuses on the day the Twin Towers fell and reminds us of the many then-obscure individuals who would rise to levels of immense power and responsibility during the long decade it took to kill bin Laden. Throughout those 10 years, through changes of administrations, the U.S. spent its time figuring out “exactly how to fight back” against an elusive, stateless enemy, employing tools old (on-the-ground human intelligence), new (supercomputers, drones) and improved (special ops) to eliminate al-Qaida’s mastermind. As he efficiently tracks America’s progress in this exquisitely difficult task, Bowden interleaves chapters depicting bin Laden’s increasing isolation and frustration in Pakistan. He also explodes a few myths surrounding the raid itself: the president’s “gutsy call” in fact had the near-unanimous support of his top advisers; there was no firefight at the compound; bin Laden was not in fact living in luxury, nor was he in effective control of his own organization; at least some of the information that led to his capture almost surely derived from torture or coercive interrogation.
A superb storyteller, Bowden captures the tense drama accompanying the final months of the bin Laden hunt, even as he underscores the quiet, essential work of years.