Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns That Killed Osama Bin Laden and Devastated Al-Qaeda

  • Published

Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns That Killed Osama Bin Laden and Devastated Al-Qaeda by Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach. PublicAffairs, 2012, 320 pp.

Find, Fix, Finish is a behind-the-scenes look into the counterterrorism campaign waged since 12 September 2001, the day after al-Qaeda attacked the United States of America. This campaign ultimately led to the capture of Osama bin Laden and continues into the present day. The authors argue that prior to the attacks of 11 September 2001 (9/11), the United States lacked a comprehensive strategy and the capabilities to disrupt terrorist networks from a counterterrorism perspective. The book offers a microlevel account of the policies adopted and then executed by the Bush and Obama administrations, detailing how this doctrine, although at times controversial, shaped the new battlefield—one not often seen or reported on the nightly news.

The coauthors have a substantial background in the subject. Aki Peritz, a senior national security adviser for the Third Way think tank, attained this position after several years of working at the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Counterterrorism Center. Prior to assuming duties as a deputy assistant secretary of defense, Eric Rosenbach taught counterterrorism at the Harvard Kennedy School and served as a staff member for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where he led oversight of US counterterrorism programs. Due to the nature of the information contained within the book, it underwent several prepublication reviews—including one by the CIA. Consequently, some portions are redacted, indicating that it once contained sensitive information not suited for publication. In the reviewer’s opinion, the redacted text does not detract from either the book’s content or its ability to accurately reveal details of the events.

The book begins by defining the find-fix-finish cycle: find the enemy, ensure that he stays in that location, and then defeat him (p. 4). Most of our society’s focus is on the “finish” aspect because that remains the most commonly reported portion during a news cycle and because that is where the action is. However, Peritz and Rosenbach do a nice job illustrating that the “find” and “fix” elements are critical pieces of this cycle. Without these cultivation steps, the “finish” does not happen.

The coauthors present several case studies on the hunt, capture, or killing of high-value targets, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, they discuss how the United States quickly realized that al-Qaeda’s number-three commander was filling the role of operations director. This revelation led to a systematic dismantling of the terrorist organization’s infrastructure by directly targeting the individual(s) holding that position, thus crippling al-Qaeda’s ability to conduct substantial operations.

Peritz and Rosenbach also offer significant details about some of the most controversial security policies implemented since 9/11, including the use of enhanced interrogation methods on high-value detainees, the employment of remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted killings, and the housing of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Interestingly and most timely in relation to current events, they also examine the use of roving wiretaps via the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Acts (FISA) and the use of FISA courts to authorize the monitoring of electronic communications related to the surveillance of international terrorist suspects (p. 173).

The book relates the lead-up to and execution of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. To their credit, the coauthors abstain from tying individual administration policies to the event’s success to avoid injecting partisanship into the discussion. They frame the book to adequately capture the achievements of the years leading up to the operation along with the dismantling of interagency barriers, political leadership, and pure chance. Peritz and Rosenbach conclude with some lessons learned that could serve as foundations for future strategy planning and policy making in this realm, based on events that have unfolded over the past decade.

In aggregate, Find, Fix, Finish resembles a scholarly text, presenting several case studies throughout. Given the amount of detailed and potentially controversial material, the coauthors do an exceptional job of citing their sources, offering a bibliography that runs to more than 40 pages. The material presented is impressive, but this publication is not for novice readers, who, for example, may have difficulty keeping track of the many foreign names identified and subsequently referenced throughout the events depicted in the book’s case studies. However, the work should prove useful to experienced readers with a significant interest in defense, counterterrorism, foreign relations, and/or government policy. A minor criticism is that the text contains some misspellings and out-of-place wording (p. 218)—surprising in light of the number of reviews it underwent prior to publication. Overall, though, Find, Fix, Finish is a highly recommended and educational behind-the-scenes study by two individuals close to this side of the fight.

Capt Jason S. Henderson, USAF
Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."