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Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright: The Failure to Prevent 9/11 Essay

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Updated: Jan 30th, 2019


Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is aimed at examining at the origins of Al-Qaeda, the development of this terrorist organization, and the main events that preceded the September 11 attacks. To a great extent, this text can show why intelligence agencies failed to avert this threat.

This text can also illustrate the inefficiencies of many law-enforcement organizations. The readers can understand the underlying causes of their inability to respond to potential risks as quickly as possible. Moreover, the examples offered by the writer can show what kind of roles that intelligence agencies should play, especially in the world in which globalization becomes more and more important.

Overall, this book contains many examples which are important for describing the work of intelligence agencies. However, this work can throw light on the individual narratives of people who were involved in these events. Much attention should be paid to such people as John O’Neill or Ali Soufan. These narratives can have an indelible impression on the readers who may want to learn more about the underlying causes of the September 11 attacks. These are the main aspects that can be identified.

The failure to prevent the September 11 attacks

The central question which the author explores is the failure of various governmental organizations to recognize the threat and avert the attack which took a great number of lives. One of the main problems that the writer identifies is the lack of cooperation between agencies that could possess information about the activities of Al-Qaeda or its supporters.

It should be kept in mind that the people, who perpetrated this attack, did not go completely unnoticed by the intelligence officers. In particular, they knew that in 2000, some members of Al-Qaeda had a meeting in Malaysia (Wright, 2007, p. 310). Moreover, two of these people, named Hazmi and Mihdhar later went to the United States (Wright, 2007, p. 312). In their turn, CIA officers failed to inform FBI about the arrival of these people in to the country.

The main tragedy is that Hazmi and Mihdhar were the terrorists who were directly involved in the September 11 attacks. There were several factors that contributed to this fateful error. It is important to speak about the conflicts between such agencies as FBI and CIA. The senior officers were unwilling to share information with one another because these organizations had slightly different roles and priorities.

For instance, CIA officers regarded Hazmi and Mihdhar as potential sources of information about Al-Qaeda. This is why they did not want them to be arrested immediately. Nevertheless, they were not aware about the intentions of these people. This is the main mistake that they made while planning their operations. To a great extent, they failed to assess the danger that these people could pose. Furthermore, very often they treated the FBI agents as inferiors.

They did not believe that their colleagues could cope with Al-Qaeda (Wright, 2007). So, the lack of cooperation is probably the main problem that can be distinguished. It seems that Lawrence Wright provides in-depth insights into the bureaucratic inefficiencies and personal conflicts which resulted into the eventual catastrophe which changed the lives of many people. This is why this book is worth attention.

On the whole, these bureaucratic problems become even more evident if one looks at the frantic struggle of John O’Neill. This person was able to evaluate the potential threat that could be posed by Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, he did not possess the necessary information and authority that could enable him to pinpoint the source of threat. This is the man difficulty that he had to cope with. By focusing on the experiences of this person, Lawrence Wright is able to highlight the destructive nature of bureaucracy.

Moreover, it is possible to mention the story of Ali Soufan who was an FBI undercover agent. He was working hard to learn the names of Al-Qaeda members in the United States. He had to work only this task only because the CIA officers failed to inform FBI about Hazmi and Mihdhar. The main problem is that his efforts proved to be fruitless because he found the necessary information when it was too late.

Furthermore, Soufan was virtually destroyed when he learned that the names of some terrorists had been familiar to intelligence officers for a long time (Wright, 2007, p. 362). The stories of John O’Neill and Ali Soufan can produce a very strong impression on the readers since they show how individuals may be forced to struggle with organizational deficiencies and bureaucracy. This is why these problems should not be overlooked.

Moreover, John O’Neill and other law-enforcement officers were working in an environment when criminal groups began to operate at an international level. These groups did not work within the jurisdiction of a single country.

In turn, governmental agencies were not ready for this change because they did not have the authority to transcend national borders. So, they did not adjust to the process of globalization. This is one of the underlying factors that should be taken into account. The September 11 attacks prompted many countries to join their efforts in order to cope with terrorism.

One can say that this book can be important for understanding the nature of organized crime and the struggle against it. This challenge can be effectively overcome only if intelligence and law-enforcement agencies become less bureaucratic. They have to maintain closer contacts with one another; otherwise, they may not respond to potential dangers as quickly as possible. This is one of the most important themes explored by Lawrence Wright in his work. It seems that the author’s discussion is detailed and interesting.

The role that should be played by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies

Additionally, this book can demonstrate the roles that intelligence agencies should play in order to protect the national security. First of all, they should closely monitor every person who can be related to any terrorist organization. This task has to be one of their topmost priorities because this surveillance can reduce the risk of potential attacks.

This is one of the aspects that can be identified. The officers should keep in mind that terrorist organizations have become very complex. For instance, Al-Qaeda is a decentralized institution in which agents and coordinators have the capacity to plan operations and choose the methods that are most optimal for some terrorist attack (Wright, 2007, p. 318). In other words, these individuals are relatively independent of their commanders.

Overall, in his book Laurence Wright examines the organizational structure of Al-Qaeda, and his comments are insightful. One should not assume that by arresting or killing the main leaders of terrorist organizations, they can eliminate possible threats. Such a view can only lead to the delusion of security.

Thus, one should not assume that the assassination of Osama bin Laden can render Al-Qaeda harmless. In his book, Lawrence Wright illustrates the complexity of terrorist organizations. This issue should be considered by policy-makers who attempt to ensure the security of American citizens. This issue is relevant to the governments of other countries that are exposed to the threat of terrorism.

Moreover, in this book, Lawrence Wright shows that the activities of terrorist organizations cannot be easily localized. For instance, the author shows that the bank accounts of Al-Qaeda could be found in various places such London, Khartoum, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Dubai, and so forth (Wright, 2007, p. 186).

Furthermore, many terrorist are closely familiar with the western culture. In this case, one can speak about internationalization of crime. Thus, they have derived benefits from the process of socialization. One can effectively struggle against such organizations if, there is cooperation between intelligence agencies of various countries.

The necessity of this cooperation is emphasized by Lawrence Wright who notes that CIA received valuable inside information from the intelligence services of other countries such as Saudi Arabia (Wright, 2007, p. 315).

This is one of the points that can be made. This issue remains relevant nowadays. At present, many countries have to struggle with the threat of terrorism. If the law-enforcement agencies of these countries share information with one another they can be more effective in their struggle against these militant groups. This is one of the tasks that policy-makers need to take into account.

Additionally, intelligence officers must focus on individuals or states that provide funding to terrorist organizations. It should be taken into account that Al-Qaeda as any other terrorist group is dependent on the availability of financial resources. Bin Laden was able to assume the positions of authority because he achieved significant results as a fund-raiser for Al-Qaeda (Wright, 2007, p. 97).

Thus, it is important to limit the flow of money to terrorists. Financial assets are essential for recruitment and training of terrorists, housing, ammunition, and many other things without which these groups cannot function effectively. Lawrence Wright is able to demonstrate that this aspect of counter-terrorism must not be overlooked.

When speaking about Lawrence Wright’s book, one should pay attention to the powerful and authentic narratives created by the writer. The author speaks about the life of people who played an instrumental role in planning the September 11 attacks. Among them, one can distinguish Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. These people began to express anti-American views long before the September 11 attacks.

Moreover, it was clear that these people could pose a potential danger to the national security of the United States. In this case, one can speak about the bombings of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi (Wright, 2007, p. 270). Moreover, Ben Laden declared a fatwa against the United States in 1996. In other words, he began to position himself as the enemy of America. Thus, every step taken by Al-Qaeda should have been scrutinized with great caution.

This argument may appear to be self-evident, but this principle is often overlooked even by experienced officers. As it has been mentioned before Hazmi and Mihdhar were allowed to enter the country. So, it is critical to mention that intelligence officers should timely identify such individuals and render them harmless. This is the most crucial task that they have to cope with. It is essential for averting potential terrorist attacks that may be staged by people who can act as skillful administrators and coordinators.

Much attention should also be paid to the ideological aspects of terrorism. For instance, it is possible to speak about the role played by Sayyid Qutb who supported the idea of jihad against the United States. This person attempted to give ethical and rational justifications for killing American people. Much attention should have been paid to his book called Milestones which is important for justifying Islamic fundamentalism (Wright, 2007, p. 29).

To a great extent, his hatred of the United States can be explained by the irrational fear of every society that can differ from his highly ideals. His writings influenced the worldviews of Osama bin Laden. Thus, one could assume that the danger of this person could not be underestimated. Besides, it is vital to understand the ideological motives which can influence the actions of a militant group. In his book, Laurence Tower attaches importance the ideological dimensions of terrorism.

So, it is important to mention that intelligence agencies have to perform the following roles and functions: 1) surveillance of people who can be related to terrorist activities; 2) cooperation with other law-enforcement agencies; 3) limiting or eliminating the funding that can be available to terrorist groups; 4) arrest of people who pose a threat to the United States or its allies. These functions are critical for the protection of American citizens.

In the book, Lawrence Wright does not try to offer step-by-step solutions to the challenges faced by intelligence and law-enforcement professionals.

Nevertheless, the examples that he offers are very eloquent and thought-provoking. The problems discussed by the writer have profound implications for international relations and the functioning of many governmental agencies, especially those ones that are responsible for the prevention of crime. This is why this text can be of great use to many officials who must safeguard the homeland security.


Thus, one can say that Lawrence Wright identifies very important problems which remain relevant to many contemporary societies which can be exposed to the threat of terrorism. There are several aspects that can distinguish this book among others. First of all, the author gives a detailed analysis of the inefficiencies that could have made the September 11 attacks possible. However, the examples provided by Lawrence Wright can illustrate the roles that intelligence and law-enforcement agencies should play.

These are some the main issues can be singled out. Overall, Lawrence Wright’s book can be of great interest to many readers. For instance, it can of great value to people who want to learn more about the work of law-enforcement organizations. However, this text is also a powerful narrative of people who were directly or indirectly involved in the September 11 attacks. These are the main arguments that can be put forward. The main strength of this book is it combines detailed analysis with interesting stories.

Reference List

Wright, L. (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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