Manhunt, The Ten-Year Search

Title:                      Manhunt, The Ten-Year Search

Author:                 Peter L. Bergen

Bergen, Peter L. (2012). Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search For Bin Laden From 9/11 To Abbottabad. New York: Crown Publishers

LCCN:    2012004258

HV6430.B55 B473 2012


  • Based on exhaustive research and unprecedented access to White House officials, CIA analysts, Pakistani intelligence, and the military, this is the definitive account of ten years in pursuit of bin Laden and of the twilight of Al-Qaeda.


  • Prologue: a comfortable retirement — 9/11 and after — Tora Bora — Al-Qaeda in the wilderness — The resurgence of Al-Qaeda — A working theory of the case — Closing in on the courier — Obama at war — Anatomy of a lead — The last years of Osama Bin Laden — The secret warriors — Courses of action — The decision — Don’t turn on the light — Aftermath — Epilogue: the twilight of Al-Qaeda.


Date Posted:      February 17, 2016

Reviewed by Hayden Peake.[1]

The measure of a great book is when a reader knows the ending and still enjoys the reading. Manhunt is a fine example, and it’s no surprise that Peter Bergen wrote it. He is one of the few journalists to have met Osama bin Laden and has written three other books about him and al-Qaeda.

Manhunt begins with a review of the CIA’s efforts to monitor al-Qaeda and bin Laden, which began in the mid-1990s, and then focuses on the work of Intelligence Community analysts to “track him down.” (p. 75) This is one of the few operations in which the role of analysts receives much-deserved prominence. After many dead ends, CIA analysts took the lead and developed what Bergen terms “the four pillars of the hunt”: bin Laden’s family, his communication with other leaders in his organization, his media statements, and his courier network. (p. 93) The first three came to naught, so the analysts decided to focus on the courier network. Bergen relates how information obtained from captured terrorists led to the identification of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti as the man to watch. After he was put under various types of surveillance, the compound at Abbottabad became the prime target. By January 2011, one analyst said she was 90 percent sure that bin Laden was there. When CIA Director Leon Panetta asked another, she said 70 percent. (p. 135)

When the president asked for options and courses of action, they were quickly developed. It soon came down to two: bomb the compound or send in the SEALs. Bergen recounts the sometimes heated discussions that followed before the president decided on employing the SEALs—without giving Pakistan prior notice. The chapter on the raid, “Operation Neptune’s Spear”, and how it was monitored in the United States is perhaps the most exhilarating in the book. Bergen describes the planning, rehearsals, and execution in detail. His version of bin Laden’s death differs somewhat from other accounts. (He did not have access to the only first-hand account[2] published.) Bergen visited the compound shortly before it was destroyed, so his descriptions of the layout have added veracity.

A number of events complicated decision making while planning of the operation was under way, and Bergen devotes attention to each. These included the attack on the CIA base at Khowst, the Christmas bomber’s attempt to bring down an airliner, revelations of plans to attack the New York City subway system, and the shooting of two Pakistanis by a US contractor working in Lahore. Bergen also includes a chapter on bin Laden’s last years, offering conjecture on his life in the compound and how he tried to manage al-Qaeda and communicate with his followers. (pp. 136ff)

The death of bin Laden and the impressive intelligence take that resulted from the raid will not, Bergen points out, end al-Qaeda’s attempts to pursue its goals. He concludes that Yemen is the most likely place from which operations will continue. (p. 260) But there is no doubt al-Qaeda has suffered a serious blow, and Peter Bergen has told that story very well indeed.

[1] Hayden Peake is a frequent reviewer of books on intelligence and this review appeared in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, pp. 109-110). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Di recto rate 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

[2] Owen, Mark (2012) with Kevin Maurer. No Easy Day: The Autobiography of A Navy SEAL: The Firsthand Account Of The Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden. New York, New York: Dutton

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