Wright interviewed hundreds of people in researching this book including FBI and CIA officers who were intimately involved in hunting Al Qaeda, both before and after 9/11, members of overseas intelligence services, mainly in the Middle East, and former/ incarcerated members of terrorist organisations. He provides a substantial list at the end of the book.
Wright gives the history of Al Qaeda, it predecessors, the lives of its main players, how Bin Laden came to be fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets, his time in Sudan, his family relationships and how it came about that he would focus exclusively on targeting America and its assets. There's also a history of Ayman al-Zawahiri from childhood through to radicalisation, competition with Bin Laden and, eventually, merging with him due to financial necessity.
There are a few things that really stick in the memory:
- How remarkably lucky Bin Laden was to survive Afghanistan let alone to get to the point of carrying out the 9/11 attack;
- The remarkable incompetence of the CIA, which jealously kept information from the FBI that would likely have led to the uncovering of the 9/11 plot;
- The fecklessness of the Clinton administration in dealing with Al Qaeda after various attacks (note that I don't know whether any other administration would have acted any differently, unfortunately, though the wall between CIA and FBI was established at this time);
- The bravery of the FBI's John O'Neill to recognise Al Qaeda as a major world threat early on and push and push and push his superiors to give it a high priority. Tragically, O'Neill would leave the FBI shortly before 9/11 to take up a role as chief of security for the Twin Towers, where he would perish when he went back in to help people;
- The intrigue and politics between nations that are not necessarily recognised as allies; and
- The fact that the large majority of Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups, membership came from the middle class, which dispels the myth that it's poverty that drives them to commit such atrocities.
9/10 from your erstwhile book reviewer.