Book Review: Shadow War: The Untold Story of How America Is Winning the War on Terror


by Richard Miniter

Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2004. Pp. 248. Append notes, biblio., index. $27.95. ISBN:0-89526-052-2

Released just months before the 2004 election, veteran journalist Richard Miniter’s book examines whether or not the Bush administration’s grand strategy is working against global Islamic terrorists. Although we are well into the second administration, Miniter’s support for the Bush doctrine will be no less controversial today than it was last fall.

The reader will find no exquisite gems of insight in this work, the core chapters of which comprise only 180 pages. A quick but generally informative read, some research isn’t particularly compelling (citations include the Debkafile and unnamed officials). The appendices, which take up most of the remaining pages, are mostly once-sensitive, but typically useless memos that have been scanned. The only particularly useful appendix is an article Miniter wrote detailing the links between al Qaeda and Iraq.

Old news is regurgitated throughout the book: bin Laden may have escaped to Iran temporarily, Richard Clarke’s complaints about pre-9/11 priorities, the Genoa plot to assassinate the president, and the tragic death of John O’Neill. Miniter’s description of the complicated relationship between Sudan and the United States seems sympathetic to the Sudanese, as he tells the tale of a supposed 2002 plot to assassinate the president and how Sudanese intelligence assisted the CIA to determine the plot was bogus.

The real outstanding investigative reporting is the information detailed about American operations in Africa and terrorist operations at sea. These are underreported fronts in the Global War on Terrorism. Miniter skillfully reports how African nations, including Mali, Morocco, Chad, and Algeria, have cooperated with the United States to capture al Qaeda-linked terrorists and foil deadly plots. The claims that al Qaeda has a fleet of cargo ships and had an “admiral” are somewhat circumspect. There is some doubt that al Qaeda “owns” this “fleet,” as there are many pirates operating in the region that would transport just about anything for a fee. One particularly interesting passage recounts how Morocco and the United States prevented al Qaeda from sinking ships in the Strait of Gibraltar—with Miniter editorializing that Moroccan authorities were able to acquire roving wiretaps with greater ease than that of American authorities even under the Patriot Act. Equally exciting is the fast-spaced discussion of how allied nations tracked down and boarded a number of cargo ships in the Mediterranean, one carrying an inordinately large quantity of explosives.

The final chapter seems out of place. It basically covers the Madrid bombings on March 11, 2003, describing them with impressive detail. The focus is on the aftermath and how the Socialists were able to defeat Prime Minister Aznar’s Popular Party, which supported the American-led liberation of Iraq. Miniter’s research effectively defends Aznar’s initial assumption that ETA was behind the attacks, exposing a memo authored by Spanish intelligence explaining why they believed ETA was most likely responsible. This chapter serves as a warning to democracies that terrorists can dramatically affect the electoral process (although Miniter postulates that the Socialists may have won anyway)—and cautions that the extent to which a terrorist attack can affect an election is largely up to how politicians react. Miniter also advises the United States “to admit it is fighting a two-front war,” one front against al Qaeda, one against the anti-war movement at home.

Miniter has some points well worth remembering. First, “the Iraq War was not a distraction from President Bush’s War on Terror, only a distraction for the press,” which has barely covered the front in Africa. Second, he believes media bias is more due to a “failure of imagination” in understanding intelligence than in any sort of ideological motivation. Third, he writes before the election that President Bush was torn between maintaining the secrecy of

Reviewer: Tristan Abbey   

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