Find, Fix, Finish

Title:                      Find, Fix, Finish

Author:                 Aki Peritz

Peritz, Aki (2012) and Eric Rosenbach. Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed Bin Laden and Devastated al-Qaeda. New York: PublicAffairs

LCCN:    2011043638

HV6432 .P47 2012


  • Fire from the sky: the find-fix-finish doctrine in action — Atrophy: counterterrorism before 9/11 — The search for Mr. #3 — The finishing never ends: how far will America go? — Interrogations, intelligence, and war — Counterterrorism in a war zone — Bojinka redux: the need for good international cop work — An increasing preference for lethal ends — The enemy within — America’s future: shadow wars in Yemen and Somalia — Geronimo — To thine own self be true.


Date Posted:      November 5, 2015

Reviewed by Hayden Peake[1]

The concept of “find, fix and finish” will be familiar to those who have served in the military and have studied its history. The authors have used it here as a guide for thinking about how the United States has functioned in the war on terror. They show with many examples how the concept was used before 9/11 and how it has been adapted since then to deal with key members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Throughout, they demonstrate the key role of intelligence as it has adapted to the antiterrorist mission-including the use of rendition and various collection and interrogation techniques, the controversy surrounding them, and the use of intelligence obtained through these methods.

Their examples include operations in war zones and in “friendly” countries—Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia—to capture or kill wanted terrorist leaders, and against homegrown terrorists. Each case illustrates the complex legal conditions that must be met to pursue the target, whether overseas or in the United States. The successful hunt for Abu Zarqawi, one of the last important figures to be killed in an F-16 strike, shows what it takes to operate in a war zone. The case of Najibullah Zazi, who pled guilty to planning to blow up New York City subways, is an important domestic exemplar. On the joint action front, the authors examine at length the British-US efforts—Operation Overt—that caught UK homegrown terrorists planning to place bombs on aircraft flying to America. And then there is a special category of the bumbling terrorist-the “shoe bomber” and the “underwear bomber,” whose bad luck acted as wake-up calls.

There is a chapter on the killing of Bin Laden, in which the authors summarize how the evolution in tactics since 9/11 made success possible. They do not dwell on the assault itself, but rather discuss the clues and miscues that led to the operation. They also explain why the SEAL team was placed under the authority of the CIA, rather than that of the Defense Department.

The final chapter covers 13 lessons and succinctly reemphasizes points touched on earlier. Most are straightforward. A few examples will establish the tone. First, “too much bureaucracy impedes counterterrorism and harms national security.” And the characterization of Pakistan as “a critical but deeply unreliable ally” points to the difficulty the US government faces. A more controversial point is the authors’ recommendation that all captured terrorists be tried in US courts. Also really tough is their suggestion that we need a narrative to counter the jihadi message and persuade less-than-fully dedicated radical Islamists to change sides.

Find, Fix, Finish is documented by well-known, mostly secondary sources, so there is little new in it. Still, the insights and context the authors provide make this a thoughtful, worthwhile contribution.

[1] Peake, Hayden B. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (20, 1, Spring/Summer 2013, p. 114). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at


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