Book Reviews


Killer Elite

by Michael Smith

Review by Richard Sheppard


On the very day of 9/11/01, as the incredible reality of gargantuan skyscrapers destroyed sinks in, a co-worker stops to share a look of "this can't be happening." A lot of immediate reactions, including here, was, "bust it up, bust them out. Let's bust it big and bust a Button." The co-worker replied, to paraphrase, "the U.S. is going to hunt whoever did this down around the world. This will be a shadow war, and the U.S. will relentlessly hunt these people down and kill them."

It is now nearly 6 years since 9/11/01. The results are mixed: the U.S. sure has bagged its share of vengeance: Afghanistan first, and now Iraq where a smashing regime change is turning into costly regime building. The U.S. has scored many successes on the "manhunt" front, tracking, capturing, and killing many terrorists. Some big fish were floated, including Saddam Hussein and his two thug sons. The perpetrator of 9/11/01, Osama Bin Laden? Almost got him. Almost isn't good enough, although it's been over two years now -- maybe longer -- since Osama presented himself in a verifiable video tape. That leads many, including me, to conclude that he is dead. Allah is praised, if so!

Chock Full of Derring-Do by Brave Operatives

In the Killer Elite, author Michael Smith describes how the elite branches of America's national security apparatus and military forces operated before 9/11, and (crucially) since. Killer Elite is chock-full of derring-do by some brave, brave American operatives: be they civilian intelligence or armed forces personnel. From the 1980 Iranian hostage rescue failure at Desert One, through the "War on Drugs" in Columbia, and to today's worldwide anti-terror campaign, the Pentagon's super-capable/high-level covert-action "Intelligence Support Activity" department -- the "Activity" for short -- is the go-to organization fighting the shadow battle versus the terrorists.

So far as the terror war, the jury's out. The Dark Lord of the Defense Department (since resigned) Donald Rumsfeld asks the key question: "How can the Pentagon be organized to conduct manhunts?" It's not easy. Killer Elite presents some of the personality and bureaucratic battles as various existing government agencies and military units protect turf or inadvertently reveal operations and tactics. The account of America's 80's-era involvement in Lebanon, where America suffered two massive bombings and hundreds of casualties before getting the hell out, reveals how the best intentions can't guarantee success.

Yet there were/are successes: the tracking and killing of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar provided a template on how to corner (and in this instance, kill) a bad guy with huge resources. High-tech communications monitoring and signals intelligence, combined with determined Colombian law enforcement, ended Pablo's reign. While Osama may still be alive, the "Activity's" ongoing capabilities evolution offers hope that not every Islamofacist will evade justice. Unfortunately, the numbers game works against getting them all. And they need get lucky just once.

Penetrating Dastardly Plots

The Killer Elite is an insider look into how America is adapting to the grave threats that can spring forth at any time. It's dirty, nasty, dangerous work for America's finest, creative minds, and bravest intel and military operatives. But they're only human, and perhaps too often over-reliant on sophisticated non-human means to penetrate dastardly plots. The preferred method is to be inside the plot, or have an agent therein. "Insiders" have exposed the most recent terror-plots, and the terrorists adapt their tactics, too. It's a war that will last for decades, as some predict and others dismiss. 

If so, the race is on: will America's (along with some allies, one hopes) elite counter-terror forces and global intel apparatus be enough? Enough to prevent the ultimate threat to the American homeland, a nuclear detonation? It's a threat to consider, an occurrence worse yet to contemplate. The stakes are high, and brave, smart Americans are rising to the challenge of preventing Armageddon on American soil. They're protecting us, and it should be everyone's fervent hope that they stop at nothing; no resources denied, no congressional restraint applied, in tracking the deadliest terrorists. On balance, one gets an impression that if these elite intel/warriors were looking for us, we might not be in a settled enough position to do anything, let alone launch a horrific attack. Pray the terrorists are so busy staying alive that they have no time for anything else. And that when they do present themselves for targeting, they go bye-bye.