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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Book - Sheds light on previously undisclosed intelligence strategies and tactics now being used against Al Qaeda
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...
Published on August 19, 2011 by Phil in Magnolia

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading about the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Pakistan
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...
Published on September 4, 2011 by Mal Warwick


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Book - Sheds light on previously undisclosed intelligence strategies and tactics now being used against Al Qaeda, August 19, 2011
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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.

- Capture of an extensive Al Qaeda members listing, and the decision by the military to share the information throughout the intelligence and military communities, allowing far more use of this data by a variety of agencies and thus resulting in a significant reduction in the number of suicide bombers.

- How we are able to go on to jihadi websites and post information and orders that are indistinguishable from legitimate orders issued by Al Qaeda leadership, resulting in dissent and confusion among the terrorists.

This book is enjoyable and fast paced to read, and in contrast to many other books written about our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it may actually lead to some optimism as we ask ourselves whether or not the war on terrorism is winnable, or not.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading about the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, September 4, 2011
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Mal Warwick (Berkeley, California) - See all my reviews
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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.

However, the overarching theme of Counterstrike is the gradual maturation of American counter-terrorist policy in the opening decade of the 21st Century, shifting gradually from one bent simply on using brute force to kill or capture terrorists to a much more sophisticated and broad-based policy of deterrence drawn from the playbook of the Cold War. As Scmitt and Shanker report, "Deterrence -- updated, expanded, even redefined -- is now official American policy for countering Al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist organizations."

At first blush, deterrence might seem futile against an enemy willing, even eager, to die for his beliefs. However, as Schmitt and Shanker reveal, there is a wide range of tactics available to delay or prevent terrorist attacks. Among these are multifaceted techniques such as cyber-warfare to disrupt the communications and financial transactions of the Al Qaeda network and creative actions by local CIA or military officers. (In the most amusing of the latter, American officers first set high bounty prices on Al Qaeda commanders, then lowered them to imply that the terrorists' importance had declined; soon, to prove their continuing importance, the terrorists revealed their locations by striking out against the Americans in impulsive and foolhardy ways. The result, of course, is that they were then either killed or captured.)

So, there is considerable substance in Counterstrike. The discussion of how deterrence policy evolved into the U.S. strategy against Al Qaeda is especially illuminating. Unfortunately, the structure and writing style don't enhance the reader's experience. The book is slow going, consisting largely of one long expository paragraph after another, relieved only by lengthy quotes from some of the hundreds of individuals the authors interviewed. Schmitt and Shanker might have benefited from a few lessons in nonfiction writing by a master of the craft such as Tracy Kidder, Erik Larson, or even Bob Woodward.

(From [...])
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great Fiction, November 23, 2011
By 
Neil Bacon "Patriot" (Williamsburg, VA USA) - See all my reviews
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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." The real story is that down on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq things worked well because lives were on the line and the commander was willing to make a decision despite a lack of consensus. When things got back to DC, they stopped working. Doesn't matter how many memos go out from the WH, when they hit the bureaucracy they stop. Read this book if you want an outline of what we should be doing, but don't kid yourself it is actually happening.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WIDE-RANGING, HIGHLY- DETAILED ASSESSMENT OF OUR 21ST CENTURY ANTI-TERRORISM EFFORTS, August 17, 2011
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RSProds "rbsprods" (Deep in the heart of Texas) - See all my reviews
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Five REVEALING Stars!! Authors Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker give a wide-ranging and engrossing look at our secretive and expansive efforts to fight a new type of war against terror in the days following 9/11. When the Bush administration was caught off guard by a deep strike at the heart of some of America's most treasured institutions by the evil Osama bin Laden and his forces, the administration was pushed into a change of direction in both collating and sharing internal intelligence between revitalized/reorganized agencies, sometime unconventionally, and in fighting the major terrorist enemy of Al Qaeda and its offshoots that extended far beyond what had begun in the Clinton administration. When we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, this new type of war was 'templated' over conventional war on the battlefield, from the highest levels to the lowest combat units. The authors trace the rise of an interesting cast of characters, thru 3 presidential administrations, who changed the approach from "kill or capture" of high valued targets in Al Qaeda to a new overall approach that has even expanded our philosophy of nuclear war to include the WMD implications of the war on terrorism, as in the case of Bush's National Security Presidential Directive 46. The many successes and frustrations of the Bush administration were handed over to the Obama administration and its own particular strategy, ultimately leading to the killing of the top man in Al Qaeda and the further expansion of the continuing war on terror from countries such as beleaguered Pakistan to our own efforts on US soil to prevent attacks and contain internal threats. While the book sometimes dwells at length on the backgrounds of unfamiliar but colorful terror-fighting personalities involved in the Bush and Obama administrations and doesn't fully connect the dots about incidents that have come to light in recent years, the authors unearth an awesome amount of new information (such the "Two + Seven" strike at Al Qaeda leadership and the stunning "Taji" and "Sinjar" intelligence treasure troves in Iraq) that makes this book both an eminently worthwhile read that adds significantly to our store of knowledge and shows us where we are headed in the future of the war on terror. Clearly, the anti-terror pace and successes of the Bush and Obama administrations may surprise many readers as they take it to Al Qaeda. Highly Recommended. Five FASCINATING Stars! (This review is based on a Kindle download in 'text-to-speech' , iPhone, and Mac modes.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent research and analysis, October 31, 2011
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Having served (2004-2010) as Director of Terrorism Studies at West Point, I've read, written and taught courses about the topics addressed in this book. This is the first time, however, that I've read such a well-researched, engaging and insightful account of how the U.S. has been quietly and successfully exploiting the inherent vulnerabilities of a terrorist network. It also illustrates the absolute necessity of working closely with other countries (both officially and unofficially) to identify and utilize new ways of diminishing al-Qaeda's capabilities to organize or inspire terrorists attacks. Pay special attention to the discussions on the application of deterrence theory, countering ideology, and network warfare. Reading this book will very likely give you a sense of optimism about the eventual demise of al-Qaeda.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The History at the Center of the War on Terror, August 25, 2011
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Of all the books published about the "Global War on Terror" since 9/11, this may well be the most important.

Since the events of that day, hundreds of books have been published on al-Qaeda and the wars that it started with that horrible act of terrorism. Yet none come so close to capturing the central aspect of those wars than Counterstrike. During the past 10 years of continuous combat against this threat, the stories that have made it into the public sphere focus most on the conventional fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet anyone who studies the war against al-Qaeda will agree that these actions are at best tangential to, and at worst distractions from, the real fight against al-Qaeda's core and its ability to attack the US and its allies. The real fight takes place far from the public eye, and is being fought by men and women who's names almost never come to light--when they do, its only in the aftermath of catastrophic failure (to wit, the only names of CIA agents that have come to light are those who were killed in the line of duty, such as Mike Spann or the agents killed at FOB Chapman, detailed in Joby Warrick's outstanding new read, "The Triple Agent").

Counterstrike is the first book to delve directly into the secret war being waged against al-Qaeda all across the globe, and to tie together the numerous disparate actions taken by the men and women on the front lines with the policy makers in Washington who crafted the grand strategy. In this regard it can be seen as a sequel to Steve Coll's Ghost War, as Counterstrike picks up right where Coll's superb history leaves off.

Counterstrike offers an unparalleled look into the execution of modern national security policy. Highly recommended for anyone interested in terrorism and US national security.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, May 10, 2013
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This review is from: Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda (Hardcover)
It does a great job of setting up the characters and letting the readers know who they are and what their jobs were prior to 9/11 and then how their jobs and actions took place during the War on Terror.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Lesson on how U.S. protects itself, April 22, 2013
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Right after 911, this country was completely unorganized to wage war against Al Qaeda. Once more, our CIA infrastructure was greatly diminished through stupid Congressional acts and politics. Most of this book is devoted to how the various security agencies eventually came together to work together and to understand how Al Qaeda works, its structure, its recruitment, its propaganda, and its power. The author also reveals the use of advanced technology (some very new) to collect, analyze, and correlate information -- absolutely fascinating.

I bought this book to learn about Al Qaeda, but I came away feeling a lot more secure given the growth of proper policies/process, the use of massive supercomputer for signal analysis, facial recognition, tracking, phone connection analysis, tracking, probable terrorist connections and locations, correlation of all data, and field ops support.

As the author rightly points out, the current day problem is the "radicalization" of thousands of Americans into homeland terrorists.

This is not a school text book. If you want to learn about these topics in a fast moving, fast read, I recommend this book highly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read !, January 30, 2013
This is one of the most insightful, detailed and riveting books I've read on our (America's) fight against global terrorism. I am amazed at how well the authors tied everything together. When my grand-kids ask me about the 9-11 attacks, and how we responded to the challenge, this book will be absolutely indispensable!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a glimmer of light, August 26, 2011
By 
Charles A. Krohn (Panama City Beach, Florida) - See all my reviews
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This book is a lighthouse.

It answers questions many have pondered since 9/11: did we learn anything from the attack and what are we doing to leverage our advantages? While questions remain, the greater issue is how we cope with a rapidly changing electronic environment where seconds count. Anyone remotely interested in these issues will read this book to decipher who are heroes and villains.

I'm pleased the authors acknowledge the inherent conflict between the intelligence community and the war fighters. Intelligence operatives want to know as much as they can about our adversaries, without tipping their hand. That information can be used to confuse, mislead, intercept and interrupt enemy operations. The fighters, however, want to attack targets with as few friendly casualties as possible as soon as possible, because that's their mission. Still, unless these two communities can find a way to collaborate, neither can optimize its capabilities.

There are lessons to be learned, certainly. The wiki-leak exposures suggest war fighters might do more to keep intelligence reports within safe hands, without compromising its ability to strike. The defense community might acknowledge it cannot operate independently in a self-contained mode, a challenge to its culture.

After Rumsfeld created the undersecretary of defense for intelligence position, I mentioned to Steve Cambone that this may be Rumsfeld's most lasting and important contribution to national security. It finally authorized someone in the Pentagon to speak with other of the nation's senior intelligence officials on a more equal footing.

After the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, I directed my associate in the Army's public affairs office, a Pashtun by birth, to seek out the head of the Afghan desk to offer what help he could. Following is how he recalled the event. It's worth a read, to show just how unprepared we were to understand culture and customs.

THE YEAR, 2001; THE PLACE PENTAGON.

"Professor, can you please go to the Afghan Desk, and talk to the newly
appointed Afghan Head."

"Sure," I said to the Deputy Chief of OCPA (Civil), a political appointee, and a
good friend. "What am I supposed to be talking about?"

My friend asked me to just feel the Head out. I agreed, and went out to do his
bidding. At the Afghan Desk, I introduced myself and was taken to the person in
charge. I was expecting a grizzled veteran of Afghanistan; I got a young man of
about 30 years, very pleasant, and very nice to talk to. Wow! He must be a real
hot shot to be sitting in such a chair; probably graduated top of his class in
Political Science. Boy! Was I wrong?

He was an Afghan, so I addressed him in Pashto. It turned out that he did not
know a word of Pashto, and said so. I switched to Dari. His answer was more
astonishing, "I am trying to learn that language, but I barely know a few
sentences, so could we speak in English?"

I looked across at a white gentleman with rather grey hair, who was with him in
the office. He shrugged his shoulders and in fluent Pashto said, "Don't look at
me? I just work here." It turned out that this person had spent some time with
State in Afghanistan.

"Have you ever gone to Afghanistan?" I asked the Head.

He said that he had never been; besides, he was American and didn't like to be
associated with Afghans.

I could see that the conversation was going nowhere, so I took my leave from
both of them and went back to my friend in OCPA. Then I related everything to
him. He looked at me in absolute amazement.

"Are you serious?"

Yes, I was; the government, I don't know?

Am I crazy, or is the world wacky? Talk to me!!
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Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda
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