From Publishers Weekly
In this troubling portrait of the war on terror, America's intelligence agencies confront not just al-Qaeda but the Bush administration's politicized incompetence. Journalist Suskind (The Price of Loyalty
) follows the triumphs and failures of the "invisibles"—the counterterrorism experts at the NSA, the FBI and especially the CIA—as they painstakingly track terrorists' communications and financial transactions, interrogate prisoners and cultivate elusive al-Qaeda informants. Unfortunately, he contends, their meticulous intelligence-sifting went unappreciated by administration policymakers, especially Dick Cheney, who formulated an overriding "one percent" doctrine: threats with even a 1% likelihood must be treated as certainties. The result was "the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response," most glaringly in the trumped-up alarm over Iraqi WMDs. In dramatizing the tensions between CIA professionals and White House ideologues, Suskind makes his sympathies clear: CIA chief George Tenet, pressured to align intelligence with administration policy, emerges as a tragic fall guy, while President Bush comes off as a dunce and a bully, likened by some observers to a ventriloquist's dummy on Cheney's knee. Suskind's novelistic scene-setting—"Condi looked up, impatiently"—sometimes meanders. But he assembles perhaps the most detailed, revealing account yet of American counterterrorism efforts and a hard-hitting critique of their direction. (June 20)
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In November, 2001, Suskind writes, Vice-President Dick Cheney announced that if there was "a one percent chance" that a threat was real "we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response." He added, "It's not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence." This view of a White House dangerously indifferent to facts is familiar from, among other sources, Suskind's "The Price of Loyalty," but he adds much here that is disconcerting, particularly regarding the embrace of torture. (It's hard to shake the image of Bush asking, literally, for Ayman al-Zawahiri's head, which the C.I.A. briefly thought it had found in a riverbed in Afghanistan.) Suskind, whose main source seems to be the former C.I.A. director George Tenet (to whom he is very kind), has made news with revelations about Western Union's coöperation with the C.I.A. and about a plan to release cyanide gas in subways, although it's not clear that this threat was more real than other phantom! s the White House chased.
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