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Crush the Cell: How to Defeat Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves [Hardcover]

by Michael A. Sheehan
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 6, 2008 0307382176 978-0307382177 First Edition
Written by a man who is arguably the country’s most authoritative voice on counterterrorism, Crush the Cell demolishes, with simple logic, the edifice of false “terror punditry” that has been laid, brick by brick, since 9/11. A veteran of special ops, international diplomacy, and bruising clashes with federal law enforcement agencies, Michael Sheehan delivers in this book a two-part message: First, that we’ve wasted–and are continuing to waste–billions of dollars on the wrong protective measures, and second, that knowing the bad guys’ next move is paramount.

Somewhere in America, Sheehan maintains, are a number of terrorist cells, their members’ heads filled with schemes of mayhem and destruction. Motivated not, as some believe, by feelings of disenfranchisement, disdain for freedom, or economic envy but by a compelling ideological hatred, these individuals plot not just terror but paralyzing terror–the kind that can shut down a country.

Unwittingly aiding and abetting them are many (but not all) “terror experts” and members of the media who, for reasons that are partly self- serving, rate the bad guys’ capabilities far higher than they are, playing into terrorists’ hands with their hype. Spurred by the pundits’ inflated assessments, legislation follows that drains billions from taxpayers’ pockets and pours money into a bloated Washington bureaucracy championing needless programs.

Here, Sheehan shows why defensive fortresses don’t work, but offensive operational intelligence does. He also peels back the mystery surrounding terrorist cells, portraying them as, typically, a group of bumblers searching for a charismatic leader who has what it takes to conduct a complex symphony of violence. Sharing time in the narrative spotlight are not just agents of al Qaeda, but also frighteningly destructive lone wolves, cults, and radical movements.

In his career, Sheehan has operated in the mountain jungles of Central America, the back alleys of Mogadishu, and the teeming streets of New York City–but he has also participated at the highest levels of policy making at the White House, the State Department, and the United Nations. It’s his time protecting America’s most populous city as its counterterrorism czar, however, that yields this book’s most fascinating insights. As Sheehan reveals thwarted threats to New York’s bridges, subways, and landmarks, and recounts extraordinary simulations staged to gauge terrorists’ true abilities, we gain perhaps the clearest picture yet of what modern terror-fighting is all about.

Editorial Reviews


“Michael Sheehan has written the most sensible and coherent approach to combating terrorism to date, and at just the right time. He is a man of unique credentials and perspective, someone who has been dealing with the problem in one way or another his entire life, and his assessment of the threat and prescriptions for dealing with it are clear-eyed, grounded in hard experience, and convincing. I hope whoever next occupies the Oval Office first reads this book.”
—Mark Bowden, New York Times bestselling author of Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo and Guests of the Ayatollah

"Filled with startling insights, Crush the Cell is a dispatch from the front lines of our confrontation with Al Qaeda.  Like its author, the book is smart, tough, brave and relentlessly honest.  If you’re looking for truth, not hype, Mike Sheehan is your man."
—Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

“Michael Sheehan has worked every aspect of the counterterrorism story from senior positions at the State Department and New York’s Police Department to the frontline of Special Forces operations. He brings that unique blend of experiences and perspectives to Crush theCell, which is a clearly written and lively overview of the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates that is not only a great read, but will also inform policy makers for years to come.”
—Peter Bergen, New York Times bestselling author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama Bin Laden I Know

“Michael Sheehan has long been one of the most creative, original thinkers on the subject of terrorism. His personal experience, combined with a determined and original mind, make him unique and always insightful. I can't think of anyone else who brings such a fresh perspective to this vital field."
—Lawrence Wright, author of the New York Times bestselling and Pulitzer-Prize winning The Looming Tower

“During the 9/11 Commission investigations, we interviewed more than 1200 current and former federal officials. One of the most impressive —and as the records clearly demonstrated — most effective officials in the counterterrorist effort was Michael Sheehan. He ‘got it.’  If more Clinton or Bush officials had paid attention to him, the tragedy of 9/11 might have been averted. He went on to build the most effective counterterrorist intelligence unit in the U.S. within the New York Police Department. His new book will be read by Presidential candidates and all who wish to understand the threat we face.”
—John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy and Member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

"Michael Sheehan has worked on terrorism as a policy maker in the State Department, as a police official on the streets of New York, and as a Green Beret in the US Army. He is the real deal. In Crush theCell he tells us the difference between the continuing real threat from al Qaeda and the over-hyped, politically motivated scare tactics that have spawned a bloated counter-terrorism bureaucracy and industry."
—Richard A. Clarke, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Against All Enemies

“Mike Sheehan is the person I would most want at my side when trying to stop terrorists. . . . [In this book] he shows how much of America’s antiterror efforts are misdirected and how to fix them . . . A primer for the next president.”
—Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

About the Author

MICHAEL A. SHEEHAN has held the following positions: New York City Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism; Assistant Secretary General in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations; Ambassador at Large for Counterterrorism at the State Department; National Security Council staff officer at the White House; and commander of a counterterrorism hostage rescue unit in the U.S. Army Special Forces. A graduate of West Point as well as U.S. Army Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces schools, Sheehan was deployed in such hot spots as El Salvador, Panama, Korea, and Somalia before retiring from the military as a lieutenant colonel.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307382176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307382177
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #866,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical Answers from Sheehan May 13, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Full Disclosure: I have known Mike Sheehan for over 20 years and think highly of him.

Did you ever wonder just what those Homeland Security color codes mean? If you read Sheehan's book, you will know you can stop caring about them.

This is the book that helps you understand how a small group of dedicated men have so damaged and befuddled us and how we can defeat them without destroying the fabric of our lives. Sheehan discards the pedantic in favor of the practical. He is prescriptive without pretense. He explains why he thinks Hezbollah has not struck outside the Middle East in years, but admits he does not know if or when they might reach across the seas again.

Michael Sheehan has hit the balance point. He makes it clear that the terrorists dangerous and can do terrible damage. But he does so with no effort to terrify. His personal experience, from having his own boots on the ground to cabinet-level policy issues and back down to rubbing elbows with street detectives, gives Sheehan the ability to craft practical solutions that fit policy considerations at the highest level.

He reminds us that al Qaeda has been creative and persistent, but also bumbling (overloaded the boat; forgot to bring the gun).

His overall message: We can beat these guys if we keep calm, think about our actions, take our hits and stay with it.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good but Disappointing June 29, 2008
By Teri S.
Having heard a brief interview of Michael A. Sheehan and a few of his more thoughtful insights on dealing with terrorism, I was anxious to pick up a copy of his book and see what more he had to say. If the balance of his book was at all similar to his few interview responses then indeed, here was a fresh voice amidst the drone of officialdom.

What a disappointment.

The author's 20 years in the Army as a Special Forces officer, counterterrorism adviser and National Security Council staff member indeed gave him a wide perspective from which to develop his own views and recommendations for dealing with terrorists. But that is what leaves one so wanting.

Of all the time Sheehan spent around real soldiers, the majority of his book is devoted to throwing rocks at other government agencies (primarily the DOD, CIA and FBI) for their inability to predict and counter real terrorism threats. How odd that these criticisms would come from a junior diplomat who served tours at the United Nations and State Department--two institutions of limited worth and even less accomplishment, Mr. Sheehan's service notwithstanding.

He serves up most of his criticism for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. How he came to develop his animus toward the FBI is probably a function of the time he spent at NYPD. The NYPD has been a notorious critic of the FBI and its easy to understand how that attitude can spread among the ranks--with or without justification.

The farther along I got in the book, the more obvious it became that the author had some serious coping issues with the FBI. Oddly enough--and to Sheehan's credit--he admits as much.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Bad, But Lacks Clarity and Focus August 5, 2009
Overall not bad, but rambles a little. If you are a national security or CT professional I strongly recommend this book. For everyone else, all of the main points and recommendations are summed up in the last chapter.

As someone who targeted terrorists in Iraq for over a year I was hoping to learn some new TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) that could be applied to crushing terrorist cells. Oddly, the book focused more on Mr Sheehan's recent experiences at the National Security and NYPD level that seemed to have little to do with actually pursuing terrorists.

The book also made some recommendations that were somewhat vague. For example, the author says we must prevent terrorists from entering the country (obviously). Advocates for a border fence (I think), but then states that they are ineffective unless defended on both sides such as the Korean DMZ. I was left a little confused. Exactly what type of border security do you advocate?

The author also has the background and experience to understand constitutional restrictions placed on government and law enforcement, but then states "we must shut down web sites (no matter who runs them) that make available information on bomb making and other forms of violence." A rather broad, ambiguous, and unconstitutional statement I must say.

Overall I agree with the premise of crushing terrorist cells as the best form of defense, but the book never quite lived up to the title.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Will you get to the point already! October 19, 2009
By K Smith
The author obviously had an interesting career and he would like to share it will all of us. As an memoir it is a good read. But how we can "crush the cell"? It does not get there until the very end and with loads of sarcastic comments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crush The Cell February 6, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Contained some facts I did not know about terrorism and counterterrorism. Straight-forward, readable prose. Marred by incessant self-praise, self-aggrandizement, and name dropping by the author. Little in the way of how to crush the cell.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Crush The Cell
This is hardly a neutral review as the author is my son. However if you are concerned about terrorism and how to control it.
this is a goodd place to start. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Mickey Finn
1.0 out of 5 stars Crush the Ego!
Admittedly, Sheehan does a fairly good job of providing a historical overview of terrorism throughout the world. Read more
Published on September 17, 2009 by M. Kaminsky
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Crush the Cell was three books in one -- an overview of terrorism and its history (okay), an autobiography of his career in counterterrorism (rather self inflating, to the point of... Read more
Published on September 17, 2009 by S. Loper
1.0 out of 5 stars Much Less Than Meets the Eye
Michael Sheehan has had a diverse and serious career in the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency field. He is a good professional and worthy of respect. Read more
Published on February 12, 2009 by Zut Alors
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside-the-box thinking about preventing terrorism
Crush the Cell has practical suggestions by an experienced insider with an impressive resume which, surprisingly, Mr. Sheehan shares at the back of his book. Read more
Published on December 14, 2008 by Thomas W. Sulcer
1.0 out of 5 stars What is his point?
Having read the reviews, I will not read the book. I need to know what are the principles, what suggestions does he make, in order to make us safe. Read more
Published on July 4, 2008 by Sanford Aranoff
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Insightfull read. Exploits the deficiencies in homeland secrutiy and explains how to get the best value out of our countries current intel resources. Read more
Published on June 28, 2008 by Douglas A. Preece
5.0 out of 5 stars What Americans need to know
Must read for Americans who want answers to issues involving Combatting Terrorism and what they need to ask their elected representatives.
Published on June 23, 2008 by Eugene N. Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars What makes this book stand out in a crowded field?
What makes Michael Sheehan's new book, "Crush the Cell," different from the many other literary works addressing the threat of terrorism confronting our country and the world? Read more
Published on June 15, 2008 by G. Gillette
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