Blind Spot

Blind Spot: the Secret History of American Counterterrorism
by Timothy Naftali
340 pgs + 40 pgs notes and index

A fascinating look at history behind the scenes, from the start of the fore-runner to the CIA during WW2 up to and including Sept.11.2001. The first two thirds of the book focus on the gradual rise of terrorism as a distinct area of concern within the US government and the White House. The last third of the book focuses on the new free-agent terrorism of the 90s and the reaction to bin Laden. The notes are extensive and show the associate professor’s thoroughness. Very few things are unattributed or unsourced, which makes it a credible study.

What makes it fascinating is the glimpse into way governments and the public reacted to terrorism in the 60s and 70s. Planes were being hijacked every three weeks in 1968 – mostly to Cuba, and this continued into the 70s. Most of these were resolved through negotiations or paying ransom.

Reading this so close to the anniversary serves as a useful counterweight to the wave of dramatizations and propaganda that are being churned out (at least Stateside) right now.

The conclusion we can draw from the various attempts at fighting terrorism though the last thirty years is that military attacks on a non-state entity don’t deter terrorists from striking back. Denying them funding and bases to operate from do work. Diplomacy and covert actions work better than military strikes. The only way to win in the long run is to make suicide bombing a less attractive prospect.

The paperback edition has a second afterword written in 2006 where progress and the diversion into Iraq is discussed. The FBI’s new information sharing system is mentioned in passing as a positive development. Alas it has failed.

“How much harder are we making this for ourselves?”
Much it appears.

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