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Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism Hardcover – May 3, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0465092819 ISBN-10: 0465092810 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (May 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465092810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465092819
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,769,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Blind Spot is that rare phenomenon: a great work of original research on a subject of great importance that is also lucidly written." Wall Street Journal" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

Advance Praise for Blind Spot:

"An engrossing narrative of mistakes, missed opportunities, and the occasional triumph, Blind Spot surprises and enlightens. Timothy Naftali's provocative analysis of US counterterrorism should force a profound reappraisal of our current efforts. This important and fascinating work is necessary reading for policymakers and the public alike." -Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom

"You are going to want to read this book. With Blind Spot, Timothy Naftali has done everyone interested in the history of U.S. efforts to fight terrorism a great favor: he has combed through all the archives, interviewed all the key participants, and dug up a great many stories that have never seen the light of day before and put them all in one terrifically readable place. The result is a book that weaves the full tapestry of American efforts against the world's worst terrors, illustrating both the revealing details as well as the larger image of America's long unwillingness to take this threat seriously until the horror of 9/11 forced us to do so. Anyone who wants to understand that story will be well-rewarded by starting with this smart, splendid book." -Kenneth M. Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm, former director for Persian Gulf Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council

"In this fascinating, well-researched, and important book, Timothy Naftali has done an excellent job of using the lessons to history to illuminate one of the central issues of our time." -Michael Beschloss, author of The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945

"The best book yet on U.S. counterterrorism. America's current problems can be properly understood only if they are put in long-tern perspective, and Tim Naftali does this brilliantly. Blind Spot is a must-read." -Christopher Andrew, author of The Sword and the Shield

"The blind spot in Timothy Naftali's important book was the inability of American presidents, despite frequent warning, to recognize the danger posed by Osama Bin Laden. That a huge failure occurred has been obvious since 9-11, but Naftali, a leading scholar of American intelligence organizations, has something bigger on his mind than the now-familiar missed clues and failures to communicate. In this deeply researched book certain to spark controversy, Naftali argues that successful intelligence campaigns against Nazi and Soviet spies prove the United States knows how to run counter-terror operations. But until 9-11 the blind spot kept American presidents and the American people alike from seeing that the time had come to make hard decisions to fight new enemies already gathering to strike." -Thomas Powers, author of Heisenberg's War and The Man Who Kept Secrets

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on October 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It would probably be useful to potential readers to explain what this book is not before discussing what it is. It is not a "secret history" in any sense nor is it a diatribe against either the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) or the Executive Branch of government. The book is a sober and sobering history of how the U.S. has dealt with issues of State and non-State terrorism from World War II through the catastrophe of September 11 2001. Naftali also does a great service by noting the obvious similarities between the operating techniques of counter-Espionage and counter Terrorism (especially domestic).

In this book Naftali chronicles the failure of our political and national security systems to effectively protect American lives and property from terrorist threats. Naftali does record those rare successes against individual terrorists such as Abu Nidal, but the thrust of his book is that on the whole we have had difficulty countering terrorism in any form. He gives a fairly detailed case study of the series of terrorist attacks against U.S. personal in Lebanon during 1983-1984. The perpetrators of these attacks were members of Hezbollah, a Shia terrorist organization sponsored by Iran and enabled by Syria. In the case of the bombing of the U.S. Beirut Embassy in 1984 as it turned out, if the CIA had reviewed its available evidence, especially imagery they would have seen that a mock up of the U.S. Embassy had been constructed and was being used to train for car bomb attacks against the real thing. This is not a matter of "connecting the dots"; it is a matter of knowing the target (in this case Hezbollah) and building rational indications lists.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dukhi Lashenenkov on November 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
While many recent works on terrorism focus almost exclusively on the most recent incarnation (Islamic jihadists), Naftali reviews the much broader historical counterterrorism landscape. Perhaps most interesting is the historical parallel he draws between the difficult decisions the Clinton and Bush II administrations faced prior to 9-11 and those faced by the Johnson and Nixon administrations. The author does a tremendous job of reinforcing that terrorism and U.S. efforts to combat it are nothing new, and that policymakers often find themselves faced with the same difficult decisions and repeating the same mistakes as their predecessors. Those readers who wish to read more than this book offers about counterterrorism policy since the late 1990s should read Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and Peter Bergen's Holy War, Inc.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By James D. Wilson on November 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent compilation of the various U.S. government responses to the threat of terrorism, starting with the end of WWII and continuing up to 9/11. It wins a "5" on timeliness, "4s" on content and writing, down-graded mainly because of puny policy recommendations. It was especially valuable to me in pointing out how vulnerable we are during the periodic interregums, as new Presidents and their minions attempt to put their own stamps on government. It was more valuable pointing out the difficulties successive Presidents and their staffs faced in trying to get authority to conduct the kinds of operations that seem to be necessary to fight terrorist acts. The tension between freedom from government scrutiny and the freedom from terrorism posed insurmountable obstacles before 2001. Finding the appropriate balance remains a key issue for this country.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By L. Slezak on August 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The recounting of contemporary histroy seems to focus more on the activities of the Republican administrations with a glossing over of the activities (or lack thereof) of the Democratic administrations. The most interesting fact related about the Carter administration is that they found it expedient to stall actions on counterterrorism by encouraging the debate of whether one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. I lost trust in the author's accounts when, after describing the importance of Abu Nidal and efforts against him in the 80's, he tells us that "Abu Nidal later died of natural causes in Baghdad". I still remember that those "natural causes" were reported by Iraqi Intelligence, in the months before the US invasion of Iraq, as "5 self-inflicted gunshot wounds". It seems very convenient to describe that as "natural causes" if you want to avoid the subject that Abu Nidal might have been performing some function in his years in Baghdad.
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Format: Paperback
It was an interesting read as the topic ranged from WWII on to 9/11, (mainly international terrorism as he does touch on the 1970’s rash of hijackings but does not discuss the domestic terrorism of that time).
I have to point out some major mistakes though, such as:

• Naftali mistook 9/11 flight 93 (which crashed in Pennsylvania) as "Flight 83."

• Naftali stated that terrorist Abu Nidal died of “natural causes” in Baghdad, (Nidal, who had many enemies including mainstream PLO, was shot in Baghdad in 2002).

• Naftali stated that aircraft from the USS Vincennes shot down Iranian airbus 655 in 1988. The fact is that a surface to air missile was launched from the Vincennes.

• Naftali also mistakes al-Qai’da terrorist “Abu Zubayday for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zubaydah, (really more of a freelancer than al-Qai’da), worked as the gate keeper to Afghan based terrorist camps-including bin Laden’s camps. Naftali states it was Zubaydah who escaped to Iraq and set up a resistance to US forces in 2003. Zubayday was captured in March 2002, Zarqawi, the leader (of what is now ISIS), was killed by US forces in 2006.

I think they were major mistakes, but found the book entertaining regardless.
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