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Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda Hardcover – August 16, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Insightful… Counterstrike… is not just another book about Sept. 11, Iraq or Afghanistan. Rather, it focuses on the various military and civilian agency responses to terrorism [with a] strong portrayal of the many unheralded United States victories…. Americans should take comfort in this book's reminder that their government can adapt to meet threats as they change, keeping them safer--if not necessarily safe--from terrorism. (Daniel Byman, The New York Times)

There is a flood of 9/11 books now coming onto the market, but Counterstrike by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker of the New York Times should be atop the list of anyone curious about how the U.S. government has grappled with the challenges posed by al Qaeda. (

Counterstrike' provides a detailed look at the changes that have occurred and the personalities behind those decisions, as well as the complicated global chessboard of terror networks and sympathetic governments that made adaptation so vital. (The Boston Globe)

This eye-opening account of how the U.S. government has vastly upgraded its counterterrorism efforts since Sept. 11 reminds readers that while the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates persists, so does the American will to strike back. (Joshua Sinai, The Washington Times)

In Counterstrike, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, reporters for the New York Times, warn that another catastrophic terrorist event is inevitable, but their behind-the-scenes account of the evolution of U.S. counterterrorism strategy gives officials the highest marks… Counterstrike is a glowing portrayal of the American intelligence community. (Robert D. Crews, San Francisco Chronicle)

Masterful … A fast paced, gripping story… A well reported, well written dive into the arcane world of counterterrorism over the past decade… [Counterstrike] is a significant contribution to our body of knowledge regarding our campaign thus far in the 'Long War' against al-Qaeda and affiliated groups. (Michael Waltz, Foreign Policy)

A must read… After ten years of conflict comes a book that, with amazing clarity, tells how the strategy for the "War on Terror" has dramatically evolved… The authors capture the successes, the failures, the opportunities and the still-lingering gaps over the past decade and look ahead to the nation's future challenges. (

The book [Counterstrike] sheds light on offensive U.S. cyber operations almost never discussed by U.S. officials. (

New York Times correspondents Schmitt and Shanker review events after 9/11, focusing on government and military counterterrorism experts who convinced administration ideologues to switch gears… [A] reassuring argument that, after an expensive and massive effort, terrorism seems on the decline. (Kirkus Reviews)

A remarkable detective story by two of the nation's best reporters. With meticulous research and fine storytelling, Counterstrike reveals who, what, when, where, and why in describing the long campaign by the United States government to demolish Al Qaeda and ultimately to kill Osama bin Laden. (Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of An Army at Dawn)

Counterstrike lays bare the provocative new ideas that are driving the war on terrorism. Generals often talk about changing the hearts and minds of people in faraway lands, but Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker reveal the importance of changing the hearts and minds of America's defense strategists. This is a groundbreaking intellectual history that is also a great read. (Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill)

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker dig deep to tell the story of the covert campaign to defeat Al Qaeda, from the CIA to the Pentagon. Counterstrike is a richly reported work that is a seminal account of the battle between America and Al Qaeda since 9/11. (Peter Bergen, author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda)

Filled with amazing characters and details, Counterstrike traces the evolution of America's strategy for stopping the next attack. It's a fascinating story and a great read, too. (Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War)

Counterstrike scores a direct hit. Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, two of America's most respected national security correspondents, provide pathbreaking reporting on and incisive analysis of the secret war against Al Qaeda after 9/11. This cogent history of America's elusive search for a strategy - essential reading for specialists and concerned citizens alike - should inform our national debate on how best to counter this most urgent threat. (Lee H. Hamilton, former congressman and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission)

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker have written a brilliant and important account of America's battle with Al Qaeda. It is an exceptional work in that it truly addresses strategic issues and not just the tactical fight. There are critical insights and recommendations provided in this book that make it a must-read for all those who want to understand how we must deal with this complex threat. (General Anthony C. Zinni, USMC (retired))

About the Author

Eric Schmitt is a terrorism correspondent for The New York Times and has embedded with troops in Iraq, Somalia, and Pakistan. Schmitt has twice been a member of Times reporting teams that were awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Thom Shanker, a Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, routinely spends time embedded with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shanker was formerly a foreign editor and correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, based in Moscow, Berlin, and Sarajevo.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091038
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mal Warwick on September 4, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One of democracy's most remarkable characteristics is the sheer volume of closely guarded information that can be reported and published without resulting in jail time or torture for the authors. Counterstrike, a remarkable bit of longitudinal reporting by two veterans of the New York Times, brings to light a host of insights and behind-the-scene details about America's decade-long campaign against Al Qaeda and its affiliates and imitators.

The principal theme of Counterstrike is how in the course of the past decade "the government's force of professional counterterrorism analysts has grown from a group small enough to know each other's phone numbers to a vast army linked by supercomputers processing thousands of bits of data in nanoseconds." And, by no means incidentally, spending tens of billions of dollars in the process.

Schmitt and Shanker reveal without editorial comment the strong contrast between the management styles of our last two Presidents: "While Bush showed an apetite for tactical and operational details -- [for example,] the number of spies working against Al Qaeda in Pakistan . . . -- Obama wanted to understand the strategic nature of the threat and demanded to know when his personal orders were required to break through resistance across the intelligence and security community to make things work at the tactical and operational level." The bureaucratic squabbles, most notably during the tenure of Secretary of Defense Runsfeld, are another theme that stands out.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This new book, Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda, tells the story of previously unknown activities within the U.S. military, together with the various spy agencies, and law enforcement, that are now at work and achieving great success in combating terrorism worldwide.

This is the first book (that I am aware of) to describe these efforts, and it does so in great detail, pulling together all of the bits and pieces of these efforts and presenting them in a fast paced and gripping story.

We are generally familiar with how our country uses unmanned drone aircraft to surveil our enemies and strike at them in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This book describes how complimentary efforts of the intelligence community have become even more important.

This work was led initially by individuals who recognized after 9/11 that there was a need for new ideas to transform these bureaucracies. There was recognition that tactics of deterrence, used successfully in the Cold War, could be adapted for the war against terrorism. Quietly and behind the scenes, they developed new techniques for our efforts against terrorism, which have had great impact.

Here are some samples of the stories given in the book to illustrate this:

- Information obtained from thumb drives captured in December, 2006, which outlined Al Qaeda strategy against the recently launched surge in Iraq. The Al Qaeda targets included bakeries, and garbagemen, because they wanted garbage to pile up to show that the U.S. was failing. Knowing this, the U.S. was able to anticipate the effort and head it off.
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33 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Neil Bacon on November 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lots of anecdotes about this "new strategy" that is frankly non-existent. This book reports plans to influence al-Qaeda without having done the homework to determine if they were ever implemented or if al-Qaeda was indeed influenced. As a result, this book misses the big story of why these great plans never got out of DC -- which is a tale of inside the beltway interagency rivalry and indecision. I was involved in a number of the ops reported in this book from the military side. We developed literally hundreds of influence campaigns only to get objections from State, NSA, CyberCommand, Justice or CIA which prevented us from implementing them. The objections were usually that "the military shouldn't be doing that" or something was "in someone else's lane," not that they wouldn't be effective or that they were illegal -- everyone agreed they would be both effective and legal. The fear that someone else was in charge prevented agreement. When we offered to hand the plan to any other agency to implement, no one had the resources or will to pick it up.

Many of the unnamed sources reported they did things that flat did not happen -- for instance raising and lowering rewards on al-Qaeda operatives. I don't know how many plans I saw that included that as one facet of the ways to influence a target, but I don't know of even one in which it was really done. The story sounds like it was taken from a bunch of beltway interviews from guys who thought things were going on or wanted to brag about their role, but really weren't in a position to know how little was really happening as a result of their "planning meetings.
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