Objective TROY

Title:                      Objective TROY

Author:                 Scott Shane

Shane, Scott (2015). Objective TROY: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone. New York : Tim Duggan Books

LCCN:    2015016819

HV6430.A5 S53 2015


Date Posted:      January 31, 2017

Caveat. Perpendat itaque lector cavendum (civilis).[1]

Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[2]

The objective was Anwar al-Awlaki; his codename was TROY; the weapon of choice was the drone; the mission was successful. Why was it necessary and was it legal? Investigative journalist Scott Shane addresses these and many related questions in Operation TROY.

Born in the United States, al-Awlaki enjoyed the student life at Colorado State until suddenly giving up engineering for religion in late 1990 during Desert Storm. A gifted orator, he rose rapidly and was soon preaching at a mosque in San Diego before becoming a popular imam of his own mosque in Northern Virginia. After 9/11, the FBI discovered that two of the hijackers had worshipped in al-Awlaki’s San Diego mosque and he became a person of interest. Among other things, the Bureau discovered al-Awlaki’s penchant for prostitutes, which they documented in full. When he learned they knew, he bolted to London and then to Yemen. It was there that he rose to lead al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula and instigated the Christmas 2009 underwear bomber’s attempt to bring down an airliner. By 2010, he was “openly calling for killing Americans, including civilians” and his slick magazine Inspire and YouTube sermons were winning converts. He was soon added to the “kill list.” (p. 284)

Objective TROY covers the legal, moral, and political elements of that decision from the intelligence, public, and White House perspectives. While the White House remains officially silent about many aspects of the operation, the potential for civilian casualties and the use of drones in general are discussed at length. (p. 285) Shane uses the president’s own speeches and extensive staff interviews to convey the decisionmaking quandaries that presented themselves. Not all the legal issues are resolved, but he quotes the president’s judgment that, “I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.” (p. 310) But that did not quiet the critics: they insisted that drones were somehow immoral; that al-Awlaki’s effectiveness had not been diminished; and that his legacy persists, inspiring even more jihadis. (p. 302)

In his efforts to discover “the toxic mix that had turned al-Awlaki into an outlaw” (p. 290) and led to his death, Shane interviewed his associates and family members. Their views on the legality of his death are sobering. Anwar’s younger brother, Ammar, Shane writes, claimed the CIA made a “brazen pitch” to enlist his help finding his brother; he declined. (p. 267) Attempts by a former jihadi who penetrated al-Awlald’s entourage by helping him find another wife also failed. Efforts by other intelligence agencies were extensive but also unsuccessful. In the end it was an unspecified agent who revealed the target’s location. (p. 289)

Objective TROY is a fine account of the al-Awlaki case in all its dimensions.

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[3]

Shane, who covered terrorism for the New York Times, examines Anwar al-Awlaki: an American citizen, imam, and propagandist assassinated by the US under secret order. Awlaki was a fanatic and a traitor, and as a terrorist he became a high value target like any other terrorist—with a drone-borne Hellfire missile settling the score. Shane tells how Awlaki went from peacemaker and post-9/11 White House guest to a Yemen-based instigator of terrorism, including the Fort Hood soldier-shooter Nidal Hasan in November 2009 and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, a month later, and even in death, his online teachings inspired the Boston Marathon bombers and were quoted by ISIS.

Shane struggles to parallel Awlaki and Obama [and not succeeding], turning this account into an inside-the-Beltway hand-wringing reporter’s book. Objective Troy is a moral challenge of how one handles terrorism when terrorists emerge from our midst.

[1] On occasion, personal loyalties and opinions can be carved in stone and defended with a vengeance — at times with some venom thrown in. In these situations, the actual importance of the subject matter is dwarfed by the amount of aggression expressed. Retain a sense of proportion in all online and in-person discussions. [From The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies.]

[2] Peake, Hayden in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Spring 2016, p. 121). 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, Other reviews and articles may be found online at http://www.cia.gov

[3] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p. 135 ).


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