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Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander Hardcover – Unabridged, December 27, 2005
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Spectacular Advance Praise for Jawbreaker
“The hunt for Osama bin Laden is the story of courageous CIA officers, like Gary Berntsen, repeatedly finding him and U.S. political and military leaders refusing to kill him. Berntsen’s excellent book Jawbreaker—which CIA leaders tried to suppress to protect America's bipartisan political elite and its military sycophants—precisely describes the eleventh such opportunity since 1998, and again shows that uniformed bureaucrats masquerading as U.S. generals let him escape from Tora Bora rather than risk the lives of U.S. soldiers. Read this heartbreaking book, keep it safe, and reread it after al-Qaeda detonates a nuclear device in America. You will then know who signed the death warrant for tens of thousands of your countrymen.” —Michael Scheuer, bestselling author of Imperial Hubris and Through Our Enemies’ Eyes
“Jawbreaker is a real page turner . . . Berntsen was the CIA’s ‘go to guy’ when it came to leading in Afghanistan, owing to his exceptional operational and leadership skills in situations involving the threat of immediate danger. Berntsen is brave and bold and a true American hero.” —Cofer Black, former Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Counterterrorism Center
“The Afghan campaign of 2001 was the CIA’s finest hour. Jawbreaker is the story of that victory and of the handful of clandestine service officers who organized one of the swiftest, most economical and most decisive military operations in history. Jawbreaker is both a thrilling read and a timely reminder of why America needs a clandestine service, and what we owe to those who serve in it.” —James Dobbins, Director of International Security and Defense Policy, Rand Corporation; Former U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan
About the Author
Gary Berntsen spent more than twenty years as an officer in the Clandestine Service and served in an array of Field Command assignments. He has been awarded both the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Intelligence Star.
Ralph Pezzullo is a former journalist, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, and is the author of At the Fall of Somoza, Plunging into Haiti, and the mystery novel Eve Missing.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book would normally lose one star for failing to be current with the varied sources pertinent to the story, including Sy Hersh's excellent story on how Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gave the Pakistani's an air corridor with which they evacuated close to 3,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders over the course of one night. I believe the author of this book when he says that Bin Laden was not among those so evacuated--Bin Laden's style would be to distrust a Pakistani offer of air evacuation, and to want to lead his men directly over ground to sanctuary.
Before detailing my extensive notes on this book, let me just note that it cannot be fully appreciated if you cannot read between the lines (for myself, as a former clandestine case officer, this is perhaps easier, but I find the whining about redaction from some reviewers to be naive--the redacted sections are veils, to be sure, but helpful in being shown). This book is also best appreciated if you have first read Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History;Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 and The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA's Final Showdown with the KGB as well as the book by the author's predecessor in field command, First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan I have reviewed all those books--if you don't want to buy and read them, at least read the reviews as preparation for a full appreciation of this book. If you can find it, a used copy of The Black Tulip: A Novel of War in Afghanistan is both fun read and provides atmosphere.
A few points really jump out at me and make my fly-leaf notes:
1) The author takes a reasonable shot at "First In" by pointing out that he led a team into the area in 2000 to deliver radio intercept training to the Northern Alliance.
2) He carefully documents that George Tenet's "declaration of war" was meaningless, and not backed up by either resources or management commitment. Tenet was a world-class posturer obsessed with pandering to the President and unwilling to actually lead the operators. The author provides what may be one of the best and most factual accounts of Directorate of Operations petty politics, backstabbing, and minor jealousies. The author specifically slams the Latin America Division Chief for being a chickens--t who ordered his officers to NOT volunteer after 9/11 even if they had relevant languages and experiences, and he accuses both Tenet and Jim Pavitt, then the nominal head of the Directorate of Operations (nominal because I never considered him to actually be competent) of panicking after 9/11 and as the Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) leadership pushed the envelope and did the right things. My impressions of Cofer Black and other CTC leaders jumped up several notches on the basis of this book, and for that alone it is very worthwhile.
3) The most important strategic observation made in this book is the author's documented denouncement of George Tenet's poor judgment in closing stations in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Tajikistan, among others, leaving CIA blind and without localized resources in the most critical years leading up to and following 9/11. The author demonstrates that he is more than just a case officer with a superb quote on page 312 in which he not only calls for a global clandestine presence, but recognizes the value of having a national cadre of "trained experts who speak the languages and show sensitivity to native cultures" and also calls for a dramatic increase in "student, cultural, and scientific exchanges" with other societies. In this context, while glossing over the CIA's general lack of languages, he noted that the Special Forces people sent to help him had no languages skills at all (relevant to this battle).
4) The author and CTC leadership get huge face with me for having the brains to go out and recruit native language speakers without college degrees, giving them the GS-13 and GS-14 grades normally reserved for PhDs. I absolutely admire the author for taking on the CIA's personnel bureaucracy and telling them in essence, "the college degree can come later, right now we need the languages and the Muslim attributes." Absolutely spot on, this is the kind of inspired *leadership* we need in clandestine operations.
5) A few minor notes that add to the scholarship in the area of clandestine intelligence and counter-terrorism:
a) CIA relied on Northern Alliance helicopters instead of having its own capable of providing more reliable transport. This was fixed later, but the bottom line is that both CIA and the US military are completely lacking in not having a squadron of mixed aircraft (helos, VSTOL, and gunships) optimized for high altitude operations (10,000 feet to 18,000 feet).
b) Clean fuel was the major safety hazard--this taught me that one of our first priorities needs to be setting up a Forward Area Refueling Point (FARP) and having a trained fuel master responsible for ensuring clean fuel is available to all of our clandestine and special operations flights in and out of denied areas.
c) The author slams Tenet and Deutch (and David Cohen) for putting intelligence analysts in charge of stations overseas. An analyst is no more capable of managing clandestine operations than a ballerina is of coaching a football team.
d) The author documents that the Nairobi Embassy bombing was tipped in advance, but the informant was blown off (as were the two who told FBI about 9/11 in advance).
e) The author knows that our compartmentation rules are stupid, and shared *everything* with his military counterparts in the field. This worked.
In Afghanistan, for this campaign, unlike in Somalia or Iraq, the clandestine service worked as advertised. Wish that it were so for the rest of the world.
Berntsen provides not only an exciting story (must-read, page-turner) as well as a lesson on how to operate in the field. Berntsen was THE field commander who ran the most effective campaign in U.S. history. It was quick and it was fast and it was also, by the way, economical. Berntsen and his team was outnumbered by 1,000 to 1. And yet they were able to improvise and to apply the resources at hand and prevail over an enemy that was sworn to kill as many Americans as possible ... and did exactly that on several occasions (the embassy bombings, the Cole, and finally on 9/11 with the killing of 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). The enemy had planned and practiced and they had defeated the Russians and before them the British. Yet Berntsen describes in detail how "IN LESS THAN TWO MONTHS [my emphasis], approximately 110 Agency officers and 350 SF soldiers on the ground with seventy million dollars and the support of U.S. airpower and the help of our Afghan allies" had done what no one else had ever been able to do.
You feel Berntsen's frustrations when time and again bureaucrats back in the U.S. sabotaged the campaign with their need to "be the boss" even though they ignored the accurate information they were receiving and bitterly resented the successes by people who were actually in contact with the enemy.
The bureaucrats' mantra seemed to be: "Well, just because field operators ask for something, doesn't mean we have to give it to them."
You can see how Berntsen applies some basic principles: thoughtful audacity; speed of action; preparation for action and then rapid improvisation when actual real-life events intrude and conditions change; recognition of when change actually occurs.
Please get this book! This is a vital book if you are merely interested or, especially, if you have a family member in the military or working in any of the Homeland Security-related fields. Give this book as a gift to a son or daughter; this is history in the making.
We need to learn from Gary Berntsen. He lays out some very important lessons that you can actually experience through his eyes.
The bureaucrats at the CIA hate this book. It exposes them for what they are!! They are jealous and envious and are willing to sabotage our own safety for their own personal career ambitions. Even though four years have elapsed, the bureaucrats are still running things -- Berntsen describes how they let Osama Bin Laden escape and ... we still haven't caught him...
Get this book!! It is important that you read it quickly and pass it and its vital points to others who will continue the fight against the terrorists and against the bureaucrats.
There's more. Much more. For example, Berntsen was part of a CIA team that was in Afghanistan with plans to kidnap a OBL lieutenant in early 2000, but was pulled out when people in CIA headquarters got nervous. Thanks.
Jawbreaker should be required reading for all Americans over the age of 18. All U.S. Senators and Congressmen should be ordered to read it twice.