For the last non-fiction Tuesday of the year, I'm reviewing Enemies Within by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman.
Format read: Hardcover (owned)
Synopsis via Goodreads:
In Enemies Within, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman lay bare the complex and often contradictory state of counterterrorism and intelligence in America through the pursuit of Najibullah Zazi, a terrorist bomber who trained under one of bin Laden’s most trusted deputies. Zazi and his coconspirators represented America’s greatest fear: a terrorist cell operating inside America.
Apuzzo and Goldman lift the veil of secrecy to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of our counterterrorism measures. This real-life spy story—uncovered in previously unpublished secret NYPD documents and interviews with intelligence sources—shows that while many of these programs are more invasive than ever, they are often counterproductive at best.
After 9/11, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly initiated an audacious plan for the Big Apple: dispatch a vast network of plainclothes officers and paid informants—called “rakers” and “mosque crawlers”—into Muslim neighborhoods to infiltrate religious communities and eavesdrop on college campuses. Police amassed data on innocent people, often for their religious and political beliefs. But when it mattered most, these strategies failed to identify the most imminent threats.
Enemies Within tackles the tough questions about the measures that we take to protect ourselves from real and perceived threats. Apuzzo and Goldman take readers inside America’s sprawling counterterrorism machine while it operates at full throttle. They reveal what works, what doesn’t, and what Americans have unknowingly given up.
Things that worked:
* The books decision to closely examine the life of Najibullah Zazi
As with the recent book on the Mumbai Attacks of 2008, The Siege, this work wisely examines the life of its lead terrorist. However, his travels in Pakistan and meetings with al-Qaeda leaders are covered in great detail. This book demonstrates how a young Afghan-American kid from New York could undergo the improbable journey that would eventually lead to his radicalization.
The detailed analysis of his journey to extremism is an important one, for anyone looking to understand just how individuals, any individuals, can have their mindset changed in such a way.
* Detailed reporting on the cross-country FBI operation
From the moment the first tip landed, the FBI’s Denver Office was on a race against time to prevent an attack on New York. The book details their actions and their mistakes along the way, all of which ultimately prevented the attack. The authors also do a good job of showing how the FBI team came perilously close to exposing their own surveillance and blowing the entire operation.
Bottom line: being in the FBI is not an easy job by any means, and the authors show both sides of the spectrum. This is an important analysis and inside-look, considering the amount of criticism the intelligence community has received recently in the news.
* Critical examination of the NYPD Intelligence Unit
The authors’ critical analysis of the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit raises many questions over its efficacy. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence provided here to suggest that the unit is a taxpayer boondoggle, one that produces little of any real intelligence or law enforcement value, profiles citizens based solely on race and religion, and ultimately alienates New Yorkers in many underserved neighborhoods.
You may ultimately support the tactics of this unit, but the authors have done their job in questioning an organization that since 9/11 has escaped any form of public skepticism or tangible oversight.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
The one thing that truly disappointed about Enemies Within was the lack of information on the NSA’s Prism program.
As an aficionado of security studies and contemporary history, I was able to comprehend how the program would have identified the prospective bomber. However, the lack of any real analysis as to how Prism identified Zazi robs this crucial linkage of its substantive impact.
For a book so dedicated to critiquing the role of intelligence and how the loosening of the Lilliputian bonds that restricted its growth may have gone too far, it seems unfair to pass over the key role that the NSA program played in this case.
According to the authors, it was Prism that led to the first and only tip that Zazi was a threat to the homeland. Without it, given the advanced stage of the plot, only a bomb malfunction (as with the 7/21/05 failed attacks on London) would have prevented mass carnage. To not critically analyze its role, for better or worse, was - in my personal opinion - a missed opportunity.
The FBI utilized tried and true methods of surveillance, investigation, forensics, and interrogation to thwart the Zazi plot, and convict the plotters. It is true that the frantic nature of the cross-country manhunt did ultimately alert the target, something that should not have been allowed to happen.
However, police work is often messy and real-world situations are never something that a person can control, only prepare for as best they can. The FBI’s efforts, fully legal and constitutional, remind us that Americans really do not need to trade security or liberty for one another.
About the authors:
They have shared the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, a George Polk Award, the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, and the Edgar A. Poe Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association. Apuzzo has covered organized crime, corruption, and law enforcement in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington. Goldman has covered crime and government for newspapers in Virginia and Alabama. He reported from Las Vegas and New York for the AP.