For now, nothing should distract us from pursuing the War on Islamic
fundamentalist terrorism, and looking back to see what went wrong in the
past would surely derail our current efforts. If nothing else,
the presence of the last president's wife in the Senate, the second to
last president's son in the White House, and the senate campaign of the
former Attorney General would all seem to guarantee that any hearings on
the matter would quickly degenerate into blame shifting and partisan bickering.
But when you read this book and realize exactly how much even an independent
journalist was able to uncover about Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network
and their ongoing plans to attack the West, you will find yourself first
becoming infuriated and then demanding that someone in government, perhaps
many people in government, be punished for the monumental lapse in National
Security that allowed the 9/11 attack to occur.
In The New Jackals, Simon Reeve tackles a topic that at the time
sparked so little interest that the book was published by a university
press, the February 26, 1993 truck-bombing of the World Trade Center.
Thanks to one great piece of luck, the quick discovery of a piece of the
truck which made identification possible, and the incredible stupidity
of one of the plotters, who infamously returned to the truck rental place
to get back his deposit, authorities were able to determine those responsible
for the blast in fairly rapid fashion. But tracking down Ramzi Yousef,
the gifted bomb-maker who pulled off the attack and who planned many more
in the future, proved much more difficult, as he had already fled back
to the Middle East. His trail led throughout the Muslim world, from
Kuwait to the Philippines to Pakistan, and it is a testament to the doggedness
with which the professionals of the FBI pursued him that he was eventually
captured and returned to the States to stand trial.
Mr. Reeve not only provides the details of the investigation and subsequent
trial, he also gives a complete biographical sketch of Yousef and off the
man who it turns out what behind the scenes, providing guidance and training
to Yousef and his cohorts, Osama bin Laden. No one reading this book
would ever kid themselves that bin Laden and the determined band of fanatics
he had assembled would have let the matter drop after this first failed
attempt. In one of the most chilling moments in the book, Mr. Reeve
relates the scene as Yousef is helicoptered towards New York City, after
his arrest, riding with William Gavin of the FBI :
The chopper took off at 8:55p.m., circled the field
and then headed off towards Manhattan. Bill Gavin, the head of the
FBI in New
York, sat opposite Yousef, watching his blindfolded
young charge. The Sikorsky followed the Hudson River towards the
of Manhattan, and rounded the proud towers of the
World Trade Center at a height of 600ft. Gavin leant forward and
blindfold away from his eyes. 'Look down there,'
he said to Yousef, gesturing towards the twin towers. 'They're still
Yousef squinted and looked out of the window.
'They wouldn't be, if I had had enough money and explosives,' he replied
As we well know, to our eternal horror, the next time they did indeed
have enough explosives.
But the fact that we weren't ready for them raises a number of issues
which eventually have to be addressed in the public forum. Can the
Clinton administration seriously have believed that lobbing a few cruise
missiles around Afghanistan and the Sudan was going to deter future attacks?
Mr. Reeve, with none of the resources or intelligence gathering capabilities
of the American government at his disposal, makes it perfectly apparent
that here was a reasonably well organized, very well funded, tactically
adept, and deeply motivated, organization that was waging war on the West
in general and on the United States in particular. How is it possible
that the Clinton and Bush administrations and the members of Congress responsible
for overseeing Defense and Intelligence did not understand this rather
basic fact or at least did not treat it with the seriousness which it deserved?
It is the sad fact that much of what appears in this book is old hat to
us now, because we've been reading it in the papers ever day, but had a
president come forward and laid out only the case that Mr. Reeve makes,
never mind any classified information, and announced that he was declaring
war on Al Qaeda, while there certainly would have been grumbling, one has
to think that the American people would have supported him. That
this was not done, that we were taken unawares, that Al Qaeda was allowed
to carry out attacks on us with relative impunity, entitles us to some
answers about why not. In all likelihood, some folks need to lose
their jobs, perhaps many people, at the CIA and the State Department and
the National Security Council, and maybe at Defense and Justice.
We need sworn testimony from the people who bear responsibility for our
failure to adequately respond to the threat that Al Qaeda posed and they,
whoever they are, of whichever party, need to resign or be fired.
Of course, that's all water over the dam at this point, but there remains
one way in which the book can be used prospectively, rather than retrospectively.
There are a series of points at which we can discern the dangers of handling
incidents like the first World Trade Center bombing through normal court
channels. First, Mr. Reeve tells the story of how the Islamic radical
who assassinated Meir Kahane in New
York City in 1990 escaped the death penalty, after his attorney, William
Kuntsler, apparently bewildered the jury. Second, there's a maddening
scene where once Ramzi Yousef was turned over to American law enforcement
in Pakistan, he had to be flown nonstop to the States, lest a landing in
some other country create extradition problems. Finally, there's
the wealth of information about U. S. intelligence sources and methods
that became public over the course of the trial. All of these factors
need to considered as we decide how to handle any terrorists we capture
in the future.
Suppose that a jury handed down an "O.J. verdict" and let a terrorist
walk, would we allow this? Suppose Osama bin Laden was being flown
from afghanistan to the U.S. and bad weather or engine failure made it
advisable to land in France, would we risk the lives of the crew and law
enforcement officials on board in order to avoid landing, or would we land
and allow France to refuse to extradite him to a country with the death
penalty? Slobodan Milosevic is on trial now and has said he'll seek
to have Bill Clinton testify. How much will we allow terrorists to
expose in court, what witnesses are they entitled too? There are
a whole host of questions here that those who reflexively oppose military
tribunals appear not to have thought through to their logical conclusions.
Better, more comprehensive, books about Osama and Al Qaeda are sure
to come, now that we're all paying attention, but, in the meantime, this
one's pretty good. Be warned though, you'll be infuriated, particularly
when Mr. Reeve closes the book by warning that worse is to come, as it
Hmm, this review echoes my feelings on this book. Your military industrial complex hoovers up all available security dollars. If you had spent more money on human intelligence and less on spy satellites you may still have your towers.
Mr Reeve is a very young journalist and his book would make the whole US system look laughable if it wasnt so tragic.
The same kind of thing could happen in the UK but at least we recognise this kind of threat & try to interdict it - our security people often get killed in the process.
Even now we havent seen dramatic resignations or personal suicides that this catastrophic failure of intelligence would have caused in other countries.
Evidently - no one feels responsible for what happened - in the light of the fact that this book was written before 9/11 - this is a truly astonishing indictment of the US system. Everyone has clean hands !
Am I missing something here - someone please tell me !