Freelance investigative journalist Katz (The Hunt for the Engineer, 1999, etc.) throws some light on an obscure law enforcement agency’s unpublicized war with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.
While the FBI and the CIA provoke instant recognition among the general public, the Diplomatic Security Service, tucked inside the State Department, is actually as exotic and colorful as anything dreamed up by J. Edgar Hoover or Allan Dulles. Created originally to protect embassies at the beginning of the cold war, the DSS is now, the author claims, “in the vanguard” of the war on terrorism. Delving into encounters between the DSS and the minions of international Islamic fundamentalist terror in the 1990s, Katz claims as his big scoop the news that, contrary to previous press accounts, it was the DSS rather than the FBI that developed the capture of Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Unfortunately, Katz’s book has a cheap, exploitative feel: his prose never rises above tabloid level, and his research relies heavily on media clips. (At one point, he quotes in all seriousness an investigation mounted by People magazine; at another, to sketch a condensed portrait of Pakistan, he relies on a National Geographic article.) Matters improve when he zeroes in on his scoop, showing how Ramzi was outsmarted by two DSS agents in Pakistan, Bill Miller and Jeff Rine. (Katz extensively interviewed these two, as well as other DSS operatives.) Since the DSS by Katz’s own account has neither the resources nor the warrant to consistently pursue an international terrorist organization, the title is decidedly ironic. The relentlessness was all on al-Qaeda’s side; US intelligence agencies fought over prestige and territory while the terrorist network was preparing its greatest blow on September 11, 2001.
A convincing argument for giving the DSS more attention, but it adds little to the story of the US intelligence community’s dealings with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in the 1990s.