Book Review: The Hunt for KSM

The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer 

I received a review copy of The Hunt for KSM from  Hachette Book Group and was pleased to see that the authors, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, are investigative journalists, one of whom, Meyer, has extensive experience reporting on terrorism, while McDermott is also the author of the 9-11 highjackers book, Perfect Soldiers. So, I was looking forward to reading this book. My observations:

  • In the matter of style, McDermott and Meyer have opted to craft a novel-like narrative of their research, which makes The Hunt for KSM a genuine page-turner. While counterterrorism wonks used to a steady diet of white papers may become impatient with the format, they already know a great deal about operational methods of Islamist terror groups and the general public, who are apt to be engaged by the story, do not. While enjoying the yarn about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the villain behind 9-11 and his downfall, the general reader picks up a great deal of important information.
  • McDermott and Meyer deserve kudos for their fair and balanced handling of Pakistan – and I say this as a severe critic of the Pakistanis. While pulling no punches about the perfidy of Pakistan’s elite, the ties of the ISI and their religious extremist parties to terrorist groups including al Qaida, they give credit where credit is due to Pakistanis who made the difference in assisting the United States and it’s investigators in tracking down KSM and his AQ associates . “Colonel Tariq” of the ISI, in particular stands out as a courageous and sympathetic figure.
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed emerges in the story as a master adversary, part Bond villain, part sinister clown, who confounded the efforts of the FBI and the CIA for years with his prodigious ability to organize and orchestrate geographically diverse terrorist networks, fundraising, logistical support, bombings and murder like a one-man KGB while remaining as elusive as a ghost. His abilities, daring, good fortune and defiant resilience in captivity are impressive enough in McDermott and Meyer’s telling that they unfortunately tend to overshadow the fact that KSM is an enthusiastic mass-murderer. A facet that comes out to it’s true ghastly extent only in their description of KSM personally beheading kidnapped reporter Daniel Pearl.
  • The bureaucratic bungling and stubborn infighting of the FBI and CIA, with assistance from the DoD and Bush administration on particularly stupid decisions related to the interrogation and reliance upon torture while excluding AQ experts and experienced KSM case investigators from talking to KSM, makes for a profoundly depressing read. It contrasts poorly with the dedication and sacrifice demonstrated by law enforcement agents Frank Pellegrino, Matt Besheer, Jennifer Keenan and those who aided them.

The Hunt for KSM closes with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as he is at the present time, on trial at Guantanamo Bay, a story with a climax but not yet an epilogue.

Well written, concise yet dramatic, The Hunt for KSM is warmly recommended.

2 comments on this post.
  1. J.ScottShipman:

    Hi Zen,
    .
    Was on the fence about this book, but will now give it a look.
    .
    Thanks for a very good review! 

  2. zen:

    Much thanks Scott – it is a pretty fast read too. good for a Kindle purchase for a trip