Reading notes from Lawrence Wright’s 2006 The Looming Tower

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

p. 14 – E. B. White quote:

[New York City], for the first time in its long history is destructible. … A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, [turn the underground passages into lethal chambers,] crumble the bridges, cremate the millions. [The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

[All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority.] In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.

— E. B. White, Here Is New York (New York: Little Bookworm, [1948] 1999) [on my blog]

p. 32 – eucalyptus repels flies
p. 63 – key moment in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabi clerics gave sole power to the king to declare jihad, entrenching them as key arbiters of power
p. 70 – (630 AD) in his siege of Taif, Muhammad used a catapult to breach the city walls, despite inflicting certain damage on women and children; al-Qaeda used this precedent as basis for killing noncombatants
p. 76 – “There seems never to have been a moment in his entire life when he gave way to the sins of the flesh, venal or ribald behavior, the temptations of liquor, smoking, or gambling. Food held little interest for him. He loved adventure and poetry and little else but God.” (on Osama bin Laden)
[Presumably, in NuCatholicism, he could be revered as an occult saint.]
p. 102 – “Azzam’s fatwa [1984] draws a distinction between a fard ayn and a fard kifaya. The first is an individual religious obligation that falls upon all Muslims…. Fard kifaya, on the other hand, is a duty of the community.” –> p. 110
p. 108 – “‘I wish I could raid and be slain, and then raid and be slain, and then raid and be slain,’ bin Laden later declared, quoting the Porphet.”
[cf. “Message to Iraqi People,” al-Jazeera, 18 October 2003]
p. 108 – “Death is art.” – Hasan al-Banna
[cf. Mitchell, Society of Muslim Brothers, p. 207]
p. 108-109 – “‘Islam is a declaration of the freedom of man from servitude to other men. Thus it strives from the beginning to abolish all those systems and governments which are based on the rule of man over men.’ Qutb makes the argument that life without Islam is slavery; therefore real freedom cannot be achieved until jahiliyya is eliminated. It is only when the rule of man has been eradicated and Sharia imposed that there will be no compulsion in religion, because there is only one choice: Islam.”
p. 110 – “In 1986 Bin Laden brought his wives and children to Peshawar, where they joined the small but growing community of Arabs responding to Sheikh Abdullah Azzam’s fatwa.”
p. 111 – “The northern slope of the Parrot’s Beak is called Tora Bora. The name means ‘black dust.'”
p. 119 – bin Laden had low blood pressure, always carried a bag of salt with him to lick; was given a small Kalikov AK-47 after the battle of the Lion’s Den ****
p. 123 – the entire sura of “The Cave” refers to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, seven Christian shepherd martyrs sealed in a cave by Decius – “Like Shukri Mustafa, bin Laden would fasten onto the imagery that the cave evokes for Muslims. Moreover, the modus operandi of withdrawal, preparation, and dissimulation that would frame the culture of al-Qaeda’s sleeper cells was established by Tafir wa Hijira as early as 1975.”
p. 126 – al-Zawahiri’s aims were al-Jihad in Egypt and al-Qaeda globally
p. 127 – bin Laden provided what Zawahiri needed: money (ca. 1986); Zawahiri provided what bin Laden needed: direction
p. 129 – “Before he left Cairo in 1987, Makkawi … told an Egyptian lawmaker about a scheme to crash an airliner into the Egyptian parliament.”
[cf. interview with anonymous Cairo political figure, to Wright: “I believe he [Makkawi] is the true father of September 11”]
p. 130 – Zawahiri groomed bin Laden to replace Sheikh Abdullah Azzam; “solid [training] base” = “[al] qaeda”; Azzam helped create Hamas, which was meant to provide an Islamic counterweight to Yasser Arafat’s secular PLO
p. 131 – “Like Azzam, bin Laden hated Yasser Arafat because he was a secularist.”
p. 135 – Azzam and Tameem… ??
p. 137 – General Boris V. Gromov crossed the Friendship Bridge out of Afghanistan into Uzbekistan on February 15, 1989
p. 139 – bin Laden always requested drug Arcalion
p. 142 – Massoud was Tajik
p. 148 – muttawa ??
p. 151 – “[Bin Laden] dated his hatred for America to 1982, ‘when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them.’ … This scene provoked an intense desire to fight tyranny, he said, and a longing for revenge. ‘As I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they may taste some of what we tasted.’
[cf. bin Laden videotape, al-Jazeera, 29 October 2004]
p. 171 – September 11, 1683 / September 11, 2001
p. 175 – “Abu Hajer’s two fatwas, the first authorizing the attacks on American troops and the second, the murder of innocents, turned al-Qaeda into a global terrorist organization.”
p. 184 – Islamic Group, 1992 shooting death of Farag Foda, a secular columnist, suggested in final column that the Islamists were motivated by sexual frustration –> p. 307
p. 186 – Sunnis probably absorbed suicide bombing from Shias
p. 232 – the hijira beings the Islamic calendar
p. 233 – a disputed [sic!] hadith: the armies of Islam will unfold black banners (like the flag of the Taliban)
p. 235 – “In Tora Bora, [Khaled Sheikh] Mohammed briefed bin Laden about his life since the anti-Soviet jihad … [when he had joined a cousin in the Philippines where] they came up with an extraordinary plan to bomb twelve American jumbo jets over the Pacific. They called it Operation ‘Bojinka’–a nonsense word that Mohammed had picked up when fighting in Afghanistan.”
p. 236 – ca. Dec. 1994 ? – Mohammed came to bin Laden with a plan requiring training pilots to crash planes into buildings
p. 241 – “In the face of vivid eyewitness testimony” about the July 1996 TWA Flight 800 crash, the FBI was baffled how to present its forensic case to a skeptical public.
p. 263 – bin Laden’s kidney disease “a persistent and unsubstantiated urban legend.”
[cf. interview with Rahimullah Yusufzai; and p. 119 notes about blood pressure]
p. 268 – SA’s Turki made deal with Taliban to hand over bin Laden: money and trucks. The Taliban, along with several hundred Arabs sent by bin Laden,  used them to retake Mazar-e-Sharif, a bastion of Persian-speaking, Shiite minority, the Hazaras. Bribes –> only 15000 Hazara soldiers guarding the city; defenseless; Taliban raping and killing for two days, those fleeing were bombed by Taliban planes; hundreds of others were sealed in shipping containers and baked alive in the desert sun; UN estimate: 5000-6000 dead
p. 271 – “One of the lessons Zawahiri had learned three years before was that an initial explosion brought people rushing to the windows, and many were decapitated by flying glass went he real bomb went off.”
p. 273 – “Soufan was the only FBI agent in New York who actually spoke Arabic, and one of eight in the entire country.”
p. 274 – the death of “Rosie”, after she had kept another man under the rubble in good spirits in Nairobi, was a crushing blow to the rescue workers [August 1998]
p. 279 – ‘Owhali, suspect from 1998 Nairobi attack, “We have a plan to attack the U.S., but we’re not ready yet…. We need to hit you outside the country in a couple places so you won’t see what is going on inside. The big attack is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.
p. 242/292 – CIA Scheuer: KILL OSAMA, eff the Saudi princes and DC politics!
p. 296-297 – “Bin Laden did not even make the FBI’s most wanted list until June 1999. O’Neill had come to feel that there was a pace to the al-Qaeda attacks, and he told friends, ‘We’re due.'” … He knew how much symbols and timing meant to bin Laden, and the millennium presented an unparalleled opportunity for theatrical effect.” … on December 14 a border guard in Port Angeles, Washington, stopped Algerian Ahmed Ressam, who was loaded with timers and urea-sulfate explosives.
p. 307-308 – Mohammad Atta’s conflicted sexuality was just as important as a clash of civilizations –> p. 184 ********
p. 312 – January 15, 2000 – the CIA “neglected to inform either the FBI or the State Department that at least one known al-Qaeda was in the” USA. Why? “As always, the CIA feared that prosecutions resulting from specific intelligence might compromise its relationship with foreign services…. There were many in the agency who hated O’Neill and feared that the FBI was too blundering and indiscriminate to be trusted with sensitive intelligence. And so the CIA may have decided to hide the information in order to keep O’Neill off the case.”
p. 313 – The CIA “was drowning in a flood of threats and warnings. Alec Station had begun with twelve employees in 1996, a number that had grown to about twenty-five when the Malaysia meeting occurred.” – aka “the Manson Family”
p. 316 – the rendition of Ramzi Yousef – “The SWAT guy gives him a nudge and says, ‘You see, it’s still standing [i.e., the WTC].’ And Yousef says, ‘It wouldn’t be if we had more money.'” [January 2000?]
p. 318 Al-Qaeda had developed a management philosophy: “centralization of decision and decentralization of execution.”
[cf. al-Hammadi, “The Inside Story of al-Qa’ida,” part 4, 22 March 2005]
p. 319 – October 12, 2000 – USS Cole preparing to get underway, a fiberglass fishing boat approached
p. 331 – “The strike on the Cole had been a great victory for bin Laden. … But there was no American response. … Bin Laden was angry and disappointed. He hoped to lure America into the same trap the Soviets had fallen into: Afghanistan. His strategy was to continually attack until the U.S. forces invaded; then the mujihadeen wold swarm upon them until the entire American empire fell from its wounds.”
p. 337-338 – “Massoud addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, in April, 2001. He spoke about the danger that al-Qaeda posed to the world. He also told American officials that his own intelligence had learned of al-Qaeda’s intention to perform a terrorist attack against the United States that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies of East Africa. .. In addition to the gleeful chatter than the NSA was picking up about a major attack (‘spectacular,’ ‘another Hiroshima’), … intelligence agencies from Arab, with better human sources, issued dire advisories. … The Taliban foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, confided to the American consul general in Peshawar and the United Nations in Kabul that al-Qaeda was planning a devastating strike on the United States.”
p. 342 – “By withholding the picture of Khallad standing beside the future hijackers [in Malaysia], however, the CIA blocked the bureau’s investigation into the Cole attack and allowed the 9/11 plot to proceed.”
p. 343 – same…
p. 344 – July 5, 2001 – Dick Clarke ** assembled representatives of various domestic agencies — the FAA, INS, Coast Guard, FBI, and the SS among them — to issue a warning. “Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon”.
[cf. multiple interviews with Wright]
p. 346 – O’Neill retired from FBI but knew his reputation was too sullied for an NSC job, so he got a position as a consultant at the WTC. Friends congratulated him, “At least now you’ll be safe. They already tried to bomb it.” And O’Neill replied, “They’ll try again. They’ll never stop trying to get those two buildings.”
p. 348 – in 2001 O’Neill began praying the breviary daily; he seems to have stopped in August 2001
p. 350 – Bin Laden in a recorded speech that was discovered in Hamburg after 9/11, quoted the fourth sura three times, “an obvious signal to the hijackers who were on their way” – “Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower.”
p. 355 – September 10, O’Neill told his friends that “something big was going to happen. ‘We’re overdue,’ he said again.”
p. 370 – Bin Laden: “I was the most optimistic. Due to the nature of my profession and work [i.e., construction], I figured that the fuel in the plane would raise the temperature in the steel to the point that it becomes red and almost loses its properties. So if the plane hits the building here–he gestured with his hands–the portion of the building above will collapse. That was the most we could hope for.”
[cf. John R. Bradley, Smoking Gun Tape, {LINK ROT: I can’t access Bradley’s page, which seems to have been colonized by Japanese ads, and I can’t even find the “smoking gun” bin Laden document; will need to keep digging.}]

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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2 Responses to Reading notes from Lawrence Wright’s 2006 The Looming Tower

  1. Boy howdy, Christopher, thanks for that!

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