After reading the last riveting page of âThe Looming Towerâ? [Knopf: 2006] by The New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright, something tugged at my memory. One of those annoying nudges that wonât let goâso I was relieved when I remembered it was a book I had read a few years earlier.
That book was called âCharlie Wilsonâs Warâ? [Atlantic Monthly Press: 2003] written by veteran 60 Minutes Producer George Crile. (I have since learned that Charlie Wilsonâs War is going to be a major motion picture, starring Tom Hanks, with a release date of 2007. I donât know if the fact that Hollywood is weighing in diminishes my little book review but I thought I should tell you that).
“Charlie Wilsonâs War” and “The Looming Tower” should be read together. They are parts of a whole or maybe a partial whole if such a concept exists.
“Charlie Wilsonâs War” tells the truly incredible story of a womanizing, hard drinking, partying US Congressman and the huge role he played in âthe CIAâs secret war in Afghanistanâ?. That congressman was Charlie Wilsonâand this very tall Texan with a booming voice became enthralled with the idea of the colorful mujahideen, who, armed with ancient weapons, risked their lives to fight off the Soviet superpower that had invaded their country in the 1980s.
See why it has all the makings for a movie with Tom Hanks?
Wilson sat on the powerful Defense Appropriations subcommittee and with one phone call was able to increase funding to the mujahideen but a great deal more money was needed and thatâs where the CIA comes in. At the time, according to author George Crile, the CIA was backing anti-communist causes in Central America, like the Contrasâin fact, until Wilson convinced them to focus on Afghanistan instead, the CIA believed Central America was the focal point of the Cold War.
Once on board, the CIA came to believe that Afghanistan was an excellent project for them– and by focusing on the mujahideen, the Muslims might forgive the US for having supported the Shah of Iran and, of course, continued support for Israel.
Wilsonâs influence and role is so big that when the Soviets are booted out of Afghanistan and the Cold War is officially declared dead, the 6â8â? Texan was honored at CIA headquartersâ a hallowed place where outsiders are rarely welcomed.
While Crileâs book echoes the role of the CIA in Afghanistan, Lawrence Wrightâs “The Looming Tower”* talks about the rise of radical Islam and gives a lot of credit to the FBI for their anti-terrorism activites.
Most intriguing is the description of the Egyptian educator Sayid Qutb, who attends a university in the American Mid-West, appears to like the school and the people, when he actually despises everything about what he views as the superficiality of American culture. After leaving the US and returning home to Egypt, Qutb becomes famous as an intellectual writing about what later became well known as Islamic Fundamentalism. His work attracted many followers, who in turn became more and more radicalizedâfinally interpreting as moral, the killing of anyone who is not a true Muslim, the present definition of a Muslim terrorist.
Given an understanding of the roots of modern Islam, the author Lawrence Wright moves on to terrorist bombings including two American consulates in Africa, the bombing of the Cole, the ultra modern naval vessel that was refueling in Yemen, and the 1993 bombing of the Twin Towers.
These events bring in John OâNeill, the FBI chief of counter terrorism and his futile attempts to find and charge all of the major terrorist culprits.
(John OâNeill and Charlie Wilson share many personal traits: both were larger-than-life characters, womanizers, spending more money than either had.)
Author Lawrence Wright makes it clear that the FBIâs John OâNeillâs efforts are continually frustrated by the CIA– by the wall of silence that falls between the FBI and this other powerful spy agency. OâNeill, after resigning from the FBI, went on head up security in the Twin Towers where, ironically, he died on 9/ll.
*I have just learned that ABC-TV will be airing “The Path to 9/11” a miniseries, with Harvey Keitel starring as FBI counter terrorism chief John O’Neill.