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The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda Hardcover – September 12, 2011

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The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda + The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 + Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Penguin Books)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393079425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393079425
  • ASIN: 0393079422
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"one of the most valuable and detailed accounts of its subject to appear in the past decade." -- The Economist

"an absorbing account of America's fightback after 9/11, full of revealing or amusing details ... cheering as well as fascinating, because it reveals the dedication of those who defend us, as well as the weird frailties of those who try to kill us." -- The Sunday Times

“Most Americans first heard of FBI agent Ali H. Soufan in the spring of 2009. That’s when he testified from behind a black curtain in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room …The testimony was explosive … Now Soufan has fired another salvo … detailed descriptions of what unfolded behind the closed doors of the world’s interrogation rooms …Soufan’s story provides a new and important window on America’s battle with al-Qaeda.” --Washington Post

“To those inside the U.S. government Soufan has long been something of a legend. He conducted the most effective and fruitful interrogations of Al Qaeda suspects during the war on terrorism, and save for some inexplicable failures by the CIA, he and his team might well have prevented 9/11. Soufan has since left the FBI and written a gripping account of his experiences, brimming with details about Al Qaeda and its historical development.” -- Harpers Magazine

"It is packed with facts that rarely, if ever, have appeared in the media; and it is written in an anecdotal style reminiscent of a Tom Clancy espionage thriller that is easy and enjoyable to read." - Middle East Policy Council

From the Back Cover

"Superb. An education. And the best book on al Qaeda out there, bar none." - Robert Baer, former CIA official and author of See No Evil, Sleeping with the Devil, and The Devil We Know.

"Unfortunately, we only have one Ali Soufan. Had American intelligence listened to him, 9/11 might never have happened. No one did more to unravel the story of al-Qaeda than Ali Soufan. Thankfully, he's left another legacy in this book. Anyone who wants to know what really happened should read it. It's an inspiring but wrenching story told from the heart of a great American." - Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Customer Reviews

Mr. Soufan did an excellent job writing this book despite the redactions.
Ernst Mary
In Chapter 23, they made the following redaction: "... CIA Chief [2 words redacted], Matt, ..." on one page.
Brian Meyette
I read lots of books, and most of them get loaned out to others with the hope that they won't come back.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 138 people found the following review helpful By E. Lee Zimmerman TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've made it a point to never pen a review immediately after finishing a book. I do this because, as a critic, I don't want to feel as if I'm unintentionally overrating or underrating any author's effort. I try to let the work sink in a bit, to have it seep through all the corners of my brain, to soak it across all my consciousness. I do this in hopes that I'll give a more cogent, a more salient, and a more respectful analysis of the work. The longer I allowed Ali Soufan's "The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda" to float around in my head, the more frustrated I grew ... frustrated with the tale ... frustrated with the participants ... and even frustrated a bit with the author.

For starters, it's a tremendous and personal work. Clocking in at just over 600 pages, it's a wealth of history about al-Qaida and the terrorist organization's various major (and a few minor) players. And, as Mr. Soufan repeatedly suggests to those around him, "it all starts back in 1979 when ..." He provides outstanding context for the background, and he allows the story to build reasonably from there. Consequently, the book is a comprehensive accounting of names, dates, and places, and, no doubt, it's penned by one committed and impressive mind that have synthesized a vast canvass of data into the effective conclusions that our narrator does. In his bid to tell the definitive insider's story of 9/11, Mr. Soufan clearly is the best-educated, best-prepared, and best-suited to enlighten all of us with where the mindset of such an act began, and the first half of his book goes to great pains to bring the reader up-to-speed on how a few decades of history climaxed with that seminal moment: the destruction of the two World Trade Center towers.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As someone who has studied similar events for much of the same time and subject as Ali Soufan, I must say his analysis is first rate. He has a great understanding of the world of Al-Qaeda and the threats it represents not just to the U.S., but to the entire world. I see many of the reviews mention the redactions present in the book, and I have to say, while I find them annoying, I don't think they take away from the overall meaning of what he wanted to get across in the book. They tend to be omissions to keep either important secrets secret or embarrassing tidbits. The first, is none of my business and the second can probably be figured out by conjecture. In either case, there are ways around it. I find that when people leave large, redacted parts in a book, they are trying to cast a conspiratorial air around the book, giving it an added unimportant gravitas. The reader automatically thinks, well what am I missing? The damn government censoring again!

While Mr. Soufan's war stories are actually quite interesting and thrilling in some cases, better than a movie, I would have preferred more on the nature of Al-Qaeda and the threat it presents. The first 40 pages of this book are worth the price of admission because of the fascinating history of the organization and its justifications for its existence. I would like to have seen more of this, since he appears to have been right in the middle of the whole battle. This is why I gave the book three stars instead of four. It is an excellent book, however, covering most of the battle with Al-Qaeda from the first bombing of the World Trade Center, to the Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, to the bombing of the USS Cole, to 9/11 and everythign since.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David M. on October 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was floored by The Black Banners. While it's a slow read due to the density of information packed in its nearly 600 pages, the content inside is remarkable. It clearly spells out the history of Al Qaeda and the evolution of events leading up to September 11th, and the resulting effects on US intelligence gathering, told from the inside perspective of a "true insider". Ali Soufan's role in hunting down these terrorists was pivotal to so much of the information that we've all heard on the news and that shaped U.S. policy in such a material way. To hear the source of so much of the information that informed U.S. foreign policy for the past 10 years describe it from inside is a precious gift. We owe a debt to Soufan for his brave service to our country, and for sharing it so directly through this book.

The book recounts the events that Soufan experienced over this time at the FBI, including his leadership of the USS Cole Bombing investigation, finding out that the CIA deliberately withheld critical information on the Sept 11 hijackers that could very well have prevented the event, the Bush administration deliberately withholding Al Qaeda's connection to the Cole bombing, and its pressure on the FBI to connect Iraq to Sept 11 despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. He also speaks out strongly against the enhanced interrogation techniques in the post-Sept 11 world, citing his experience as an unwilling participant in the very first of these interrogations, and his active efforts to stop them.

What struck me most as I read it was that Al Qaeda was a 400 person organization at the time of Sept 11th, and most of the resources of the group went to support services to mask the terrorist operations.
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The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda
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