Review: The Looming Tower–Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

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5.0 out of 5 stars Brings us from 1940's to date, superb writing
September 29, 2006

Lawrence Wright

Edit of 11 Sep 08 to add links. the rest of the world (at least one quarter of the Germans, most Arabs, mixed ratios elsewhere) is quite certain that 9-11 was either made to happen by the US Government, or allowed to happen (my own view, with Silverstein adding controlled demolitions and Gulliani helping destroy the crime scene quickly).

This is an extraordinary, gifted piece of work that covers a broader swath of history, a deeper cultural well, and more detailed personal portraits of the key players, than any other book I have read in this area. It joins Louise Richardson's “What Terrorists Want,” Dick Clarke's “Against All Enemies,” and Professor Pape's “Dying to Win” as a core reference on the rise of suicidal terrorism.

I especially liked the historical survey from the 1940's through the 1960's (Six Day War), 1970's (Sadat and rise of Arab despots), 1980's (arming of the jihadists in Afghanistan) to the 1990's (Sudan as home base).

Towering sentence: 9-11 began in Egyptian prisons–“torture created an appetite for revenge.” It was the combination of Saudi government money and Egyptian prisoners and revolutionaries tortured by that government, and then inspired by jihad in Afghanistan, that created a global remobilization of terrorism.

Penetrating insight: Arab governments funded jihadists to get their rabble-rousers out of town, but no one gave any thought to how this was creating a permanent “stateless vagrant mob of mercenaries.”

The level of detail across the book is very good, and presented in an easy to read and compelling fashion. For all that I have read, here are a few gems from this particular book:

1) Despite Clinton's claims, US simply did not take Al Qaeda seriously until late 1990's, and then the lionized Bin Laden with the Tomahawk attack, in the process enriching Bin Laden by $10 million, the price he got from the Chinese for the unexploded Tomahawk missiles that failed.

2) FBI blew it in 1996 (the book does not mention the two walk-ins that the FBI brushed off in 2000 and 2001), CIA refused to share key information with FBI, NSA refused to share Bin Laden transcripts with CIA or the FBI, the grotesque incompetence and bureaucratic idiocy–even for someone like myself who has worked for the CIA, is simply unbelievable.

3) US support to Israel, US tolerance of Israeli genocide against Palestinians, is hands down more aggravating to the Arabs than US presence in Saudi Arabia, but it was the latter that began Bin Laden's radicalization. The US seriously misunderstood the negative impact of staying on in Saudi Arabia, and Dick Cheney's violation of his promise to pull out of Saudi Arabia when Iraq was displaced from Kuwait, can be said to be directly responsible for pushing Bin Laden over the edge.

4) Muslim Brothers of Egypt have mastered “civil affairs” and are able to sponsor hospitals, schools, factories, and welfare societies at the same time that they sponsor a violent secret side.

5) Both communism and capitalism are despised by the fundamentalists for their materialism; this slightly outranks the secular Arab dictators. Jews, England, and America are in for a rough time.

6) The author has done a really fine job of investigating and recounting details of Bin Laden's life including his illnesses, his genius, and his occasional possible loss of sanity.

7) The Saudi government is a hollow shell waiting to implode; Saudi Muslims are 1% of the global Muslim population, but Saudis fronted 90% of the money for mosques and maddresses all over the world, exporting radical Wahabbism over more balanced Islamic variants that tolerate Jews and Christians.

8) Al Qaeda playbook written by an Arab trained by US Special Forces.

9) Bin Laden was happily retired in Sudan, he was re-energized out of retirement by US forces staying in Saudi Arabia, and by the King stripping him of his citizenship.

10) US economic interests world-wide, not just cultural targets within the USA, are part of Bin Laden's total plan. He believes that the US will fragment over time, as the Soviet Union did (see my review of Joel Garreau's “Nine Nations of North America”_.

11) 1994 was the first time airplanes into the World Trade Center were discussed with Bin Laden. 2001, seven years later. My personal view, based on this book and others, is that we are about to be hit again, and I would not be surprised if it were a combination of a Taliban attack on Kabul, a nuclear or bio-chemical event in the US, and precision attacks on Saudi oil pumping stations.

12) Egypt recruits boy spies on their parents by drugging them and sodomizing them, taking photos, and threatening to publish the photos. Charming…..just the kind of stuff George Bush Junior wants to legalize.

The author concludes the book with a very good nine page description (one paragraph each) of the key characters in this saga. It's not over, by a long shot–as this and other books document, terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy, and we cannot beat Bin Laden by playing into his hands with heavy handed occupation in Iraq and lightweight easily over-run forces in Afghanistan. The next twelve months could see a great deal more damage done to the West by disparate allies from Iran to Hezbollah to Al Qaeda to white supremacists to a new break-out of terrorism in Asia.

Other books that complement this one:
The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq
9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA, Fourth Edition
Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory

Why We Fight
9/11 Mysteries Part 1: Demolitions

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