In all the hullabaloo about Osama Bin Laden’s demise over the past 10 months, the world seems to have passed by the brilliant mastermind of al Qaeda's greatest hits: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, still awaiting his long delayed “trial of the century” at Guantanamo.
Now, two former Los Angles Times reporters, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, are here to remind us how important he really was.
And more: “The Hunt for KSM,” as its subtitle promises, takes readers “Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind.”
In the authors’ riveting telling, moreover, the capture of KSM was far from an unalloyed triumph. And because of that, his conviction is uncertain.
“[M]istakes made during the hunt, capture, imprisonment and interrogation of KSM ...,” the authors say in a promotional announcement for their Apr. 1 Washington book-signing, “could jeopardize his upcoming prosecution...”
Due out next week, "Hunt" has received enthusiastic advance notices.
"Superlative storytelling and crackling reportage define a pulse-pounding narrative tracing the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," said Kirkus.
The pursuit of KSM "unfolds with suspenseful immediacy in this engrossing saga," Publishers Weekly said.
Someday we’ll get the full story on Bin Laden’s liquidation at the hands of Navy SEALs last May. But from what’s been reported, there are two immediate parallels between his saga and KSM’s.
As with Bin Laden, the U.S. missed chances to roll up or wipe out KSM before the two unleashed their terrorist whirlwinds on New York and Washington.
Second, as with Bin Laden’s chosen safe haven amid senior Pakistani military officials in Abbottabad, KSM chose Rawalpindi, headquarters of the Pakistan Armed Forces, to hide out.
How did we get him? A rat, of course. And a lot grinding.
The key informant, an ethnic Iranian whom the authors dub “Baluchi,” landed on the CIA’s doorstep in 2002 offering to squeal on his “friend.”
A snap? Hardly. In the year it took to find KSM after that, much went wrong.
Indeed, in the authors’ account, it’s amazing the CIA, FBI and Pakistanis were able to stop feuding and trust each other long enough to catch anybody, much less al Qaeda's operations chief. At times, bitching between the FBI and CIA personnel reads like Munch’s transfer to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Most FBI agents were way over their heads in exotic, chaotic, alien Karachi, where much of the hunt was centered, bewildered by the strange food, dress and customs--never mind the cacophony of Urdu, Dari, Farsi, Arabic and 19th-century British--and cold-shouldered by their CIA “sisters.”
Few lasted more than a few weeks, McDermott and Meyer relate.
“One supervisor from Newark showed up one day, got wrapped into all the infighting and security concerns, and went home the next day."
For a long time, KSM was nowhere and everywhere, “a ghost.” The counterterrorism boys and girls were always a step behind.
But then they caught up. How?
As they say, the devil’s in the details. And they are fascinating.