Category Archives: Book Review

The Memoir of a British Spy in Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 July 2019

The main issue with that Nine Lives has to overcome is the one that has attended Aimen Dean (a pseudonym) since he went public in March 2015 with an interview he gave to the BBC, claiming he had been a British spy within Al-Qaeda between 1998 and 2006. That issue is overcoming the doubts about his story. Nine Lives goes a long way to solving this by bringing in Paul Cruickshank, the editor-in-chief of CTC Sentinel, one of the premier academic resources in the terrorism field, and Tim Lister, a terrorism-focused journalist with CNN, as co-authors. As well as helping structure the book from Dean’s memories, the two co-authors note they had been able to “corroborate key details” that convinced them: “In the years immediately leading up to and following 9/11, Aimen Dean was by far the most important spy the West had inside al-Qaeda”. Continue reading

When Terrorism … Isn’t

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 15 April 2019

In February 1979, police in south-eastern Australia arrested six people. The suspects were members of the Croatian nationalist scene that agitated against Communist Jugoslavija and they had planned to commit a series of attacks against symbols of Marshal Tito’s regime that could have killed hundreds of Australians. Except they hadn’t, as Hamish McDonald, a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald, shows in Framed (2012). Despite the “Croatian Six” being convicted for terrorism and spending a decade in prison, the reality of what had happened was nearly the exact opposite—and at least some powerful people in the Australian government knew or suspected as much from the get-go. Continue reading

The Shah, the Cold War, and the Islamists

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 March 2019

Abbas Milani’s The Shah gives a portrait of Iran’s last monarch, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, and the impact that his downfall forty years ago continues to have in the Middle East, notably the emboldening of the Islamist movement. Continue reading

The Fall of the Shah and the Rise of Islamism

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 January 2019

Forty years ago yesterday, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah (King) of Iran, left his country for the last time as a year-long revolution crested. A month later, the remnants of the Imperial Government collapsed and Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was swept to power after his long exile, establishing the first Islamist regime. Andrew Scott Cooper’s 2016 book, The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran, charts how this happened. Continue reading

Who Killed Kennedy?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 18 September 2018

To even pose the question is, for most of us, to be already well-advanced down the road of madness that leads to saying the U.S. federal government murdered President John F. Kennedy. Dr. David Kaiser’s The Road to Dallas (2008) rejects such vast conspiracy theories, as it does the notion of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer. Kaiser instead argues for a more limited conspiracy, led by the mob bosses of mid-20th century America, and originating in the grey-zone where that world met the Cuban exile community and the Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts to bring down Fidel Castro. Continue reading

What Questions Remain About 9/11?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 September 2018

In less than a week, it will be the seventeenth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s “Plane’s Operation”, the assault on the United States. It is a vertiginous enough reflection that many of us have been alive more years since 11 September 2001 than before it, and positively alarming that many of those who will soon move into the government, media, and other leading societal institutions will have been born after an event that still shapes so much of the international scene. As Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan put it in The Eleventh Day: The Ultimate Account of 9/11 (2011), we are left with “the brief name ‘9/11’,” the context and meaning stripped away all this time later. The book is a useful overview of an event that should always be to some degree fresh in mind, though it is not without its problems in its analytical sections. Continue reading

Reviewing the Iraqi Surge and Awakening

Book Review: Carter Malkasian, ‘Illusions of Victory’, Oxford University Press, 2017. pp. 280.

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 4 July 2018

Carter Malkasian sets out in Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State to upend the conventional understanding of the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) movement, known at the time as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in Anbar province of western Iraq. Continue reading