OPERATION THUNDERBOLT: FLIGHT 139 AND THE RAID ON ENTEBBE AIRPORT, THE MOST AUDACIOUS HOSTAGE RESCUE MISSION IN HISTORY by Saul David

(Well wishers at Ben-Gurion Airport to welcome the return of hostages from Entebbe)

After recent events in Paris and San Bernardino the world’s heightened awareness of possible terrorist attacks has been raised ever further.  We have all heard about failed attempts to blow up airplanes by the “shoe bomber,” and the “underwear bomber,” and of course 9/11.  We live in a world where fears of flying have increased, but it is not a unique feeling as is evidenced by Saul David’s new book OPERATION THUNDERBOLT: FLIGHT 139 AND THE RAID ON ENTEBBE AIRPORT, THE MOST AUDACIOUS HOSTAGE RESCUE MISSION IN HISTORY that recounts the hijacking of Air France’s Flight 139 on June 27, 1976 originating in Tel Aviv, with a stopover in Athens and a final destination in Paris.  The flight spawned the Israeli rescue of 102 people out of an original total of 253 passengers and flight crew after the plane was diverted from Athens, where the hijackers boarded and forced the pilots to fly to Benghazi, Libya before proceeding to Entebbe Airport outside Kampala, Uganda.  The reader should remember that the hijacking of Flight 139 was not an isolated event as the 1970s witnessed terror attacks across Britain and Ireland, as well as those related to the Middle East and Africa.   At the time Uganda was led by the dictator Dr. Idi Amin Dada, a former paratrooper in the British army, who had come to power by a coup in 1971, and was in cahoots with the hijackers.    Like today, the passengers of Flight 139 were quite aware of a possible terrorist attack if the plane stopped in Athens, but like most, they threw caution to the wind resulting in the Israeli raid and the death of four of the hostages, one Israeli commando, Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 45 Ugandan soldiers and the hijackers.

(Defense Minister Shimon Peres congratulating Israeli Defense Force members for their successful raid)

The plane was seized by an offshoot of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that had pioneered the hijacking of airplanes as a means of striking Israel, which did not bode well for a passenger list dominated by Jews and Israelis. David present a day by day, and at times, hour by hour description of the hijacking allowing the reader to enter the mindset of the passengers as the plane was seized, flown to Entebbe, and their incarceration in the old terminal at the airport.  We witness the feelings and emotions of the hostages as they were separated by Jews/Israelis and others, and as they dealt with the release of 40 hostages, then another 100 or so, leaving just Jews and Israelis to face their fate.  The hostages go through many highs and lows during their detention and David provides many insights into how they tried to cope with their situation.  David takes the reader inside the Israeli government as they debated their response to terrorist demands for the release of 53 prisoners, 40 of which were held in Israel and other countries.  What emerges is a major disagreement between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who favored negotiations with the terrorists if a military response was not available, and Defense Minister Shimon Peres, who advocated for a rescue mission and no negotiations.  Rabin was placed in a quandary because he wanted to limit concessions but there was a precedent for a prisoner swap dating back to the Yom Kippur War when Israel traded imprisoned terrorists for Israeli war corpses.  Feeling the pressure of the hostage’s families, how could Israel not trade prisoners for people that were alive?

(Lt. Colonel Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was killed leading the raid on Entebbe)

David presents a detailed description of how the Israeli intelligence community and military ferreted out information and went about planning the rescue mission.  We meet a number of important characters led by Major Muki Bester, the head of Sayeret Matkal (the Unit), Israel’s most efficient reconnaissance unit that had previously trained Ugandan soldiers, Yoni Netanyahu, the Unit commander, Brigadier-General Dan Shomron, one of the major architects of the rescue, Lieutenant-Colonel Ehud Barak, another Unit commander and future Prime Minister of Israel among numerous others.  The major problem that military planners faced was refueling.  The Hercules C-130 airplanes needed to refuel because of the distance between Israel and Kampala, in addition, the weight of equipment and soldiers made it impossible for the planes to fly roundtrip.  After a few tense days, the Kenyan government agreed to allow the Israeli planes to refuel in Nairobi because the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence arm had foiled an attempted shoot down of an El Al airliner over Nairobi Airport, and their desire to get even with Amin who was smuggling weapons across the Kenyan-Ugandan border.  The key to the crisis came on July 2 when Amin, who enjoyed the attention, announced that the deadline for a decision regarding the prisoner swap would be extended three days while he chaired a meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Mauritius.  This gave the Israeli military a window to plan, train, and implement a rescue attempt.

(Ugandan dictator, Dr. Idi Amin Dada, who cooperated with the Palestinian and German hijackers)

David provides an almost minute by minute account of the raid from takeoff in Sharm el-Sheik at Israel’s southern tip all the way to Entebbe.  As the first Hercules landed things did not go as planned as Netanyahu insisted on taking out two Ugandan sentries, thus forgoing the element of surprise. However, the IDF was able to improvise, and in the end the raid was an overall success.  All the terrorists were killed, as were numerous Ugandan soldiers, but with five casualties, including a number of wounded.  Once the hostages were secure as part of their agreement with the Kenyan government the Israelis destroyed 11 Soviet Migs of the Ugandan air force parked in front of the old terminal as a concession to the Kenyan government for its cooperation.  Once the planes landed in Nairobi, they were refueled and the wounded were taken care of.  David provides an aftermath explaining to the reader some of the interesting ramifications of the rescue operation.  As one could have been expected the United Nations condemned Zionist aggression.  Idi Amin had Dora Bloch, an elderly hostage who had been hospitalized and was not freed, was murdered by Amin in an act of revenge.  The French worried about their position in Africa and the Arab world remained very subdued in its public statements following the operation.  Idi Amin was overthrown in 1979 and was provided with a “golden parachute” by the Saudi Arabian government.  Lastly, and most importantly it showed the world what could be done to stop terrorism, and a number of western countries developed their own version of the Unit.

Although the Entebbe raid has been explored by many books, three full length movies, and a number of documentaries, military historian, Saul David has written an engrossing narrative that encapsulates all aspects of the seizure and raid.  David interviewed numerous hostages and has full command of government sources and other materials.  The result is a carefully constructed book that reads like fiction.  The problem is that it is a true story that hopefully will not be repeated in our current climate of fear and terrorist operatives.

(Wounded Israeli hostage carried by stretcher upon arriving in Tel Aviv following the raid on Entebbe)

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DISCIPLES: THE WORLD WAR II MISSIONS OF THE CIA DIRECTORS WHO FOUGHT FOR WILD BILL DONOVAN by Douglas Waller

(William Donovan, the man who headed the Office of Strategic Services  during World War II)

At a time when people are concerned with government spying on its citizens, it is useful to examine how two world wars and the Cold War led to the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Douglas Waller, a former correspondent for Time and Newsweek, and the author of WILD BILL DONOVAN: THE SPYMASTER WHO CREATED THE OSS AND MODERN AMERICAN ESPIONAGE has revisited the origins of the CIA by examining the men that William Donovan trained as intelligence operatives who went on to head America’s foremost spy agency.  In his new book, DISCIPLES: THE WORLD WAR II MISSIONS OF THE CIA DIRECTORS WHO FOUGHT FOR BILL DONOVAN, Waller follows the careers of Allen W. Dulles, William Casey, Richard Helms, and William Colby, and their interactions with Donovan as their careers  culminated in Langley, Va.  When I first picked up the book I was concerned that Waller would rehash a great deal of the same material he covered in his biography of Donovan.  To my satisfaction this is not the case.  There is some repetition, but the book can stand on its own merits as Waller has written a wonderful adventure story that weaves together the experiences of the “disciples.”  Based on archival material, the most prominent secondary sources, and pertinent memoirs the book is an excellent read for spy buffs and the general public.

Waller begins the book with short biographical sketches of each individual and the similarities in their backgrounds.  Waller points out that there was a common thread that ran through Dulles, Casey, Helms, and Colby.  Each was smart, intellectual, and “voracious readers, thoughtful, and creatures of reason….these were strong, decisive, supremely confident men of action, doers who believed they could shape history rather than let it control them.”  When one follows their careers Waller’s description appears extremely accurate.  Though their personalities differed; Dulles comes across with a much larger ego who rubbed many in power the wrong way; Casey, more of an introvert who worked behind the scenes and new how to navigate the bureaucratic morass of government; Helms and Colby, more adventurous and hands on, the result of which was they all would ascend the intelligence ladder at different rates to finally emerge as leaders in their own right.  All had important relationships with Donovan; some more testy, particularly Dulles who wanted Donovan’s job as head of the Organization of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, but in the end they worked together and laid the foundation for America’s post war intelligence operations.

(Allen W. Dulles, headed American intelligence operations against Germany during WWII and as CIA Director under Eisenhower launched numerous covert operations)

Waller traces the career of each of the disciples and what stands out is their roles during World War II.  Donovan was charged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create an espionage operation during the war by choosing him as the Coordinator of Information, a position that would morph into the head of the OSS.  Waller examines the rise of Allen Dulles first, tracing his career from World War I, his experiences as a diplomat at Versailles, and his relationship with his brother, John Foster, and their law firm Sullivan and Cromwell.  Dulles emerges as a self-confident individual who sought total control of all operations. Posted to Berne, Switzerland during the war, Dulles developed important sources though he was at times over the top with his predictions.  On a number of occasions he resented Donovan, but in the end went along with his boss.  William Casey’s education as a spy began as a lawyer in the 1930s where he became an expert on the tax code dealing with War Department contracts.  This attracted Donovan interest and he would recruit Casey for the OSS in 1943.  Casey, an organizational expert was sent to London where he worked under David Bruce, and implemented a management style that would lead him to oversee intelligence assets and commando operations in France and Germany.  Richard Helms joined the navy after Pearl Harbor and worked on strategies to deal with German submarine warfare.  By 1943 he was forced into OSS Psyops and by the end of the war he was sent to London to organize operations in Germany for the post war period.  William Colby, the most liberal of the four and a supporter of FDR, studied in France in the late 1930s, witnessed the Spanish Civil War, and developed a hatred for communism.  He would become a commando during the war and showed tremendous physical courage behind enemy lines in France and Norway.

(Richard Helms after a career in intelligence dating back to WWII became CIA Director in the 1960s and was eventually fired by President Nixon)

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how Waller introduces individuals who interacted with the OSS, and in particular the “disciples” during the war.  FBI Head, J. Edgar Hoover despised Donovan seeing him as a threat and unleashed his own agents to spy on the OSS.  We meet Julia Child, later known as “the cooking guru” for woman in the 1950s.  Along the way Arthur Goldberg emerges as a link to European labor movements, who would later serve on the Supreme Court.  British spymasters come and go throughout the book, particularly William Stephenson who at one time had an office next to Dulles in Rockefeller Center.  Fritz Kolbe, the OSS’ most important agent who allowed Dulles to penetrate the German Foreign Office in Berlin and whose work saved the lives of many allied soldiers takes a prominent role.  These and many other individuals and their own stories lend a great deal to Waller’s narrative.

(William Colby was a trained commando during World War II and parachuted into France and Norway who later became CIA Director under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford)

Waller does a nice job showing how the careers of the “disciples” intersected with Donovan during the war.  For example, Donovan’s visitations to commando training, witnessing Colby’s preparation for parachuting into France.  Dulles and Casey intersected as both were smuggling agents into France to link up with and supply the French resistance.  Casey was in charge of monitoring commando drops like Colby’s into France.  Casey also funneled Dulles’ intelligence reports to Washington, and in a number of cases felt that they were highly exaggerated. Helms finally left for London in early 1945 and was supposed to organize Dulles’ mission for Germany, but because of Hitler’s last ditch effort in France in the Ardennes, he never carried out the assignment and wound up with Casey overseeing agents in Germany.  In fact Casey and Helms shared an apartment in London at the time!   Colby and Casey would meet at General George S. Patton’s headquarters in September, 1944 as Casey became Donovan’s eyes in Europe and eventually would replace David Bruce as head of London operations, an appointment that Dulles greatly resented.  Donovan felt that Dulles was a poor administrator and lacked the leadership skills that Casey possessed.

Waller spends a great deal of time on the actions of American commandos behind German lines.  He describes Colby’s training in detail and takes the reader along with these men as they parachute into France and Germany, exhibiting courage and discipline as they try to reinforce the French resistance, and later gather intelligence in Germany to try and bring the conflict to a faster conclusion.  Waller also spends a great deal of time discussing the infighting among the “disciples” and their private lives.  By doing so the reader gains insights into each of these men and it helps explains how their post-World War II careers would evolve into directorships of the CIA.

The final section of Waller’s narrative focuses on American intelligence policies and actions during the Cold War as the OSS evolves into the CIA and focuses its attention on the communist threat.  Once President Truman forces Donovan into retirement Dulles takes over the newly created CIA and his reputation for mismanagement will result in what Blanch Wiesen Cook, in her book DECCLASSIFIED EISENHOWER, refers to as the “coup presidency.”  Dulles would launch covert operations in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, and the disastrous U-2 Incident, all resulting in his eventual downfall.  Dulles was succeeded by Helms, who unlike his predecessor believed in tight organizational control.  His mantra was “that there should be no surprises on his watch” and he was very popular within the agency.  Helms would be fired by Richard Nixon in part because he refused to cooperate with break-ins and cover ups associated with Watergate.  Colby’s tenure as director is most remembered for his testimony before the Church Committee in 1974 as leaked CIA documents called for congressional action.  Colby was the most politically liberal of all the “disciples” and this played a role in his cooperation with Congress which he was vilified for by Helms and Casey.  But, as Waller correctly points out his testimony probably saved the CIA from a wholesale reorganization that would have ruined its effectiveness.  The last of the “disciples,” William Casey took over the agency under Ronald Reagan and he tried to create the atmosphere that existed under his hero, William Donovan, who like his mentor “kept the door open to all ideas for operations, even the wacky ones.”  Casey wanted to recreate the can do culture of the OSS from WWII for the 1980s, focusing on the communist menace instead of the Nazis.  This would result in repeated machinations in dealing with Afghanistan, Central America, and the Iran-Contra scandal in particular.

(William Casey was a successful “spy master” during World War II who became CIA Director under Ronald Reagan)

Waller has written a fascinating account of the men who followed Donovan as leaders in American intelligence, and current implications for some of the policies they pursued.   Today we are faced with the ramifications of Edward Snowden’s leaks and issues over NSA and other surveillance.  It would be interesting to speculate how these gentlemen would respond to these issues.

(Major General William J. Donovan who led America’s intelligence operations during World War II)

 

INFAMY: THE SHOCKING STORY of the JAPANESE INTERNMENT IN WORLD WAR II by Richard Reeves

(The message American Japanese were confronted with after Pearl Harbor)

At a time when Donald Trump harangues the American electorate with his views on prohibiting Muslims from entering the United States in reaction to the horrific attack in San Bernardino, CA we find the Republican candidate as well as political pundits pointing to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 which created “internment camps” for American Japanese during World War II.  If we are to accept what Trump says, then FDR’s actions set a precedent for going against the freedom of religion amendment to the United States Constitution.  With the repeated reference to the plight of American Japanese during the war on cable and network news it is propitious that veteran journalist and biographer, Richard Reeves’ latest book, Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese Internment in World War II has recently been published.  The story that Reeves unveils was not a shining moment for the United States, a moment that saw the US government wait decades to apologize for, and make somewhat of a restitution (in 1988 President Reagan signed a bill paying each living survivor of the camps $20,000).  Having visited the Heart Mountain Japanese Internment camp, located outside Cody, WY this past summer I find Reeves’ approach to his topic, providing a window into what life was like for the victims of America’s racist and xenophobic policy towards its own citizens extremely important.   The author bases the core of the book on the stories of the evacuated families who “were caught between those heroes and villians” who either used the situation for their own political or economic agendas or those whose values were repulsed, who spoke out against what was occurring.

(Japanese arriving at Heart Mountain, WY  internment camp in 1942)

From Reeves’ account the reader is introduced to a number of American Japanese families as they react to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the government’s actions against them.  First, they must deal with “white” anger that is visited upon them through violent acts and destruction of their property.  Second, after FDR issues the executive order, they are rounded up by the military and police and are sent to assembly camps for a few months until the government could build the camps that eventually would house 120, 313 inmates.  Reeves’ is correct as he develops the political process that led to the executive order, in that, as he did with America’s response to the Holocaust, FDR wanted to separate himself as much as possible from the final decision delegating responsibility to American military officials rather than taking a public role himself.  Once the ten camps were built between March and October, 1942, the inmates were moved and families had to live in barracks with no plumbing.  Reeves’ describes in detail the effect on American Japanese families; loss of dignity, loss of property, loss of self-identity, and of course loss of civil rights.  Reeves has mined memoirs, documents, and conducted numerous interviews in creating an accurate narrative of what actually happened in the camps, events leading up to internment, and what the inmates experienced following their release.

Reeves does a commendable job introducing the major political and military figures who were at the core of the story.  Lt. General John DeWitt, an army bureaucrat and former Civilian Conservation Corps organizer, a man untrained militarily for his position, but was the head of the western command of the US Army in December, 1941. DeWitt believed that “A Jap is a Jap…You can’t tell one Jap from another.”  According to Reeves, DeWitt was not an especially bright individual who usually parroted the last opinion he heard as his own.  His second in command was Captain Karl Bendetson, who changed the spelling of his last name to hide his Jewish roots, and developed the plan that would result in the internment program.  Other important individuals include California Attorney General and later Governor, Earl Warren whose racist ideas led him to support internment.  However, later in his career as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court he oversaw Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, KA decision, and headed the most liberal court in American history.  Walter Lippmann, the well-known columnist whose column of February 13, 1942 pressured FDR to act as he argued if nothing was done a surprise domestic attack would occur as the enemy within was waiting for the critical moment to act.  Eleanor Roosevelt warned that Americans should not overreact and succumb to public hysteria.  Attorney General Francis Biddle who refused to implement the plan, Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes fought behind the scenes against the internment program, referring to them as “fancy-named concentration camps.”  Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson who agreed the action was unconstitutional but rationalized, as many other officials did, the camps were designed to protect American Japanese from the violence of vigilantes.  As Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy summed up, “If it is a question of safety of the country and the Constitution…why, the Constitution is just a scrap of paper to me.”

(The reality of internment for Japanese children)

What drove the policy was fear and greed.  Fear of a possible Japanese invasion of the West Coast, a fear that should have disappeared after the Battle of Midway in June, 1942 when the damage to the Japanese fleet was such that they could no longer threaten the West Coast.  A part from fear, was greed; as California businessmen, fisherman, and farmers resented their American Japanese, and as Reeves describes saw an opportunity to seize property and profits once internment began.  Greed also motivated regular citizens as American Japanese were forced to sell their property and possessions at ridiculously low prices when they were given only 48 hours to get ready, and were told they could only bring what they could carry.

The conditions at the outset were abhorrent as the government was not prepared to receive so many inmates.  At the outset they were sent to race tracks, fairgrounds, and livestock auction sites until camps could be built.  The description of the constant odor of horse manure and urine reflects how American Japanese citizens were treated.  The program was instituted to prevent a “fifth column” of Japanese from hurting the war effort, but as historians have found, none ever existed.  To the credit of the inmates they did their best to show what patriotic Americans they were by dutifully responding to government orders, and peacefully cooperating as they were being rounded up and dispatched to camps.  One of the most interesting facets of the book is Reeves’ description of how the inmates did their best to make a bad situation better as part of their contribution to the war effort.  They created a “small town” atmosphere in the camps by developing hospitals, schools, movie theaters, to improve their situation.  No matter how ill-treated the inmates were, they tried to respond positively and make as little trouble as possible.  There were dissenters, and Reeves describes the law suits and legal battles that led to Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of FDR’s order.  Even a civil libertarian justice like William O. Douglas supported internment.

Importantly, Reeves explores the role of the American Japanese who were either born in the US, the Nisei, and the Kibei, those born in the US, educated in Japan and had returned.  The US military had a tremendous need for Japanese linguists and the role American Japanese played in the war in the Pacific was extremely important.  The linguists were used as interrogators, “cave flushers,” (men who went into the caves that Japanese soldiers had hidden in during island warfare and tried to convince them to surrender), combat, and other areas.  Perhaps their most important contribution to the war effort was in military intelligence.  The Japanese government felt that their language was so difficult that it was impenetrable.  As a result their codes were halfheartedly developed allowing the US to break them resulting in the victory at Midway, the death of Pacific Commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the man who developed the plan and carried out the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and a number of other important victories.  Historians agree with Reeves that the intelligence contributions of these American Japanese saved American lives and perhaps shortened the war.  Another major contribution by American Japanese was as soldiers as the war progressed.  By 1943 they were seen as a solution to some manpower issues and the government began to encourage enlistment and later a draft.   Inmates were hesitant because of how they and their families were treated, in addition to the loyalty oaths they were expected to sign.  In all, 25,778 Nisei served in the military during World War II, roughly 13,500 from the mainland and the remainder from Hawaii.  Of that figure 18, 143 received combat decorations.  Between the 442nd  Regimental Combat Team that excelled in northern Italy and France, success as pilots, and their intelligence work, they made an important contribution to the war effort despite how they were despised by so many.

Another area that stands out is Reeves’ discussion as to how the inmates reacted once they were finally released.  Many felt they had nowhere to go as they realized returning to their homes and businesses on the West Coast was very problematical.  Others, mostly elderly, did not want to leave because they had settled into camp life, and the fact that housing, food, and comradeship were provided, as over time they began to feel more secure.  As Reeves accurately perceives it became “assisted living” for many.  Reeves does a remarkable job describing the experiences of the inmates who tried to return to the West Coast after the war, finding their property was destroyed or stolen, and being brought face to face with the remnants of the racism that had led to their incarceration.  It is interesting to note that 88% of American Japanese lived on the West Coast before the war, and after the war it declined to 70%, in a sense following FDR’s goal that the former inmates would be scattered throughout the United States after the war to avoid trouble.

(US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren)

It is important to note that six weeks after FDR’s reelection on December 18, 1944 the Supreme Court ruled that the government and the army acted constitutionally when it came to mass detention in the Korematsu case.   The day before the decision came down the government released everyone from the camps.  Interestingly, that decision had been reached a year before, but as usual for FDR, politics came first, and he would not allow the release until after his reelection.  The decision itself was predicated on a 6-3 vote supporting the mass incarceration.  Writing in dissent, Justice Frank Murphey wrote that the decision is a “legalization of racism, all residents of this nation are kin and in some way by blood and culture to a foreign land.  Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of a new civilization of the United States.  They must be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to all of the rights and freedoms granted by the Constitution…Such exclusion goes over the very brink of constitutional power and falls into the ugly abyss of racism.” Perhaps Donald Trump should read this dissenting opinion, and Reeves splendid book before spewing his seemingly constant racist remarks.

THE HANGING GIRL by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Hanging Girl (Department Q Series #6)

(the site where most of the novel takes place)

In his sixth installment of the adventures of Department Q, Jussi Adler-Olsen presents his main protagonist in the series, the incorrigible detective, Carl Morck with a very unusual case.  The Hanging Girl centers around the obsession of Sergeant Christian Haberstaat, a detective on the island of Borholm in Denmark.  It seems that almost two decades ago, Haberstaat found the body of a young lady, hanging from a tree branch, in what appeared to be a hit and run accident.  Haberstaat could not accept that outcome and spent years investigating what he knew was murder, sacrificing his own family and ending his marriage.  Right before his retirement party Haberstaat reached out to Morck, a former colleague, for help leaving the message, “Department Q was his last hope,” which Morck ignored.  At the retirement party, Haberstaat, again obsessed about the long forgotten murder, took out a revolver and committed suicide.  Morck, Rose, and Assad, his trusted colleagues in Department Q head to the island of Bornholm to investigate the original accident and determine whether in fact Haberstaat’s conclusion was accurate.  Upon arriving in Bornholm a number of important things occur.  First, the police really do not want to revisit the case, second, Haberstaat’s son, now thirty-five years old commits suicide, and thirdly, his ex-wife is still bitter and blames her ex-husband for her ruined life.  Once Adler-Olsen has set the stage for the novel, the plot line moves smoothly and immediately catches the interest of the reader as all the previous Department Q novels have done.

Adler-Olsen also develops a parallel plot that involves a cult figure named Atu Abanshamash Dumuzi who heads a guru type of spiritual school called the Nature Absorption Academy that recruit’s both woman, and to a lesser extent men.  One in particular emerges as very important, Wanda Phinn, a divorced former Jamaican long distance runner who was living in London and is recruited by Atu to come live on the island of Oland in Sweden.  It turns out that another woman, Pirjo, who has been working with Atu for twenty years and is very protective of him, creates an environment where any woman who she deems a threat to her position will encounter grave difficulties.

As the story evolves, Adler-Olsen integrates the latest member of Department Q, Gordon into the mix of those trying to figure out what happened to the victim that Haberstaat had tried to uncover for so many years.  Gordon, according to Morck was thrust on the group by the new Chief of Homicide, Lars Bjorn, a former colleague that Morck had clashed with many times in the past and who exiled Department Q’s offices into the basement of Police Headquarters.  It is interesting to speculate about the murder victim, Alberta Goldschmid, who grew up as an orthodox Jew, limited by a kosher diet and strict parents.  Alberta was a beautiful young lady who drew the attention of all the boys at the Folk High School, creating extreme jealousy and hatred on the part of numerous girls toward her.  It is interesting how Adler-Olsen is able to take the two major strands of the novel and bring them together.  We witness good police work, an exploration of the word of the occult, and Morck’s personal demons all interacting.

The Hanging Girl, though a strong novel in of itself, it does not measure up to Adler-Olsen’s previous work.  For example, the storyline is too drawn out.  The novel starts out strong by drawing the reader in and about a third of the way, the author seems to get bogged down in certain details that become monotonous.  However, Adler-Olsen recovers to provide a fascinating ending that will keep the reader glued to the narrative for the last fifty pages of the book.  The inclusion of the new member of the team, Gordon is not very consequential and does not bring anything to the table.  Lastly, Adler-Olsen repeatedly returns to aspects of previous novels in the series without providing enough background for the reader to understand.  It would have helped if Adler-Olsen would have provided a little more information, particularly when he tries to integrate Morck’s relations with his ex-wife and girlfriends, the shooting that took place seven years earlier that resulted in paralyzing his colleague and his own injury, and why his relationship with Lars Bjorn is so poor.

On a more positive note, Adler-Olsen continues to develop the character of Assad in a very meaningful way.  We learn further about his past life as a member of the secret police in Syria, and his character is still used as a vehicle to quash stereotypes concerning the Muslim world, including his past family life.  The growth of his relationship with Morck is also poignant, and their constant banter back and forth is a highlight of the book.  Adler-Olsen leaves us a nugget concerning Assad in that his real name might be “Said,” and this could be a building block for future novels.  Though the novel is somewhat strong in its own case, it has certain limitations, and does not measure up to the previous entries in the series.  One caveat, if you are a fan of Adler-Olsen, as I am, you will give him a pass, and hopefully when book number seven appears in the series it will return to its usual quality.

POWER WARS: INSIDE OBAMA’S POST -9/11 PRESIDENCY by Charlie Savage

(Obama administration National Security Meeting in the White House)

When Barrack Obama was elected president and assumed office in 2009 most people expected that there would be vast changes to America’s pursuit of the war on terror.  If one followed Obama’s rhetoric while serving in the state Senate in Illinois, the United States Senate, and during the 2008 presidential campaign one would probably have drawn the conclusion that once in office the Bush-Cheney policies following 9/11 would be in for drastic change, but according to New York Times reporter Charlie Savage’s new book POWER WARS: INSIDE OBAMA’S POST-9/11 PRESIDENCY that was not the case.  As Savage writes, “having promised change, the new president seemed to be delivering something more like a mere adjustment – a ‘right-sizing’ of America’s war on terror.”  Savage has done an incredible job using his sources inside the Bush and Obama administrations, along with his access to legal scholars throughout the United States in producing an extremely detailed account of how members of the Obama administration went about determining the legalities of its policies in dealing with the war on terror.  The result is a text that is a bit over 700 pages that is at times extremely dense and difficult to stay with.  However, if one does pursue the task of getting through the myriad of legal arguments that are presented you will become well informed about how the American legal system, and to a lesser extent international law, deals with the nuances of trying to create and justify a lawful approach in dealing with numerous aspects of defending our country against terrorism, but at the same time protecting civil liberties, and abiding by its commitment to the rule of law, the right process, and not being a carbon copy of the Bush administration. The result is a book that is as lawyerly as its subject matter, and not designed for the general reader.

(Former VP Dick Cheney, the author of many of the Bush administration’s war on terror policies)

The question must be asked, was Obama a legal hypocrite?  Before he took office Obama produced many flowery phrases in criticizing the methods employed by Bush and Cheney.  He spoke of the use of torture, the violation of the privacy of American citizens, and the illegalities of data and intelligence collection, but once in the White House he engaged in many of the same practices.  Extraordinary rendition, NSA surveillance, CIA drone strikes, and the lack of transparency were among the policy choices that Obama engaged in-this wasn’t even “Bush light,” it was more like something close to his evil twin, but with an intellectual justification for everything they did.

(Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber”)

The comparison with the Bush administration is well presented as Savage reviews the evolution of Cheney’s unitary view of presidential power going back to the 1970s and Watergate which produced a resurgence of congressional power.  Savage also traces the convoluted legal arguments that Bush-Cheney concocted to implement its national security agenda.  The key person was John Yoo, an important Justice Department official after 9/11 who argued in numerous secret memorandums that the “president, as commander-in-chief, had the constitutional authority to lawfully take actions that were seemingly prohibited by federal statues and treaties.”  The Bush administration was in the business of creating executive-power precedents i.e., wiretapping without warrants, withdrawing the United States from the ABM treaty with Russia unilaterally, setting aside the Geneva Convention in dealing with POWs in Afghanistan, and not seeking congressional approval for these actions even though Congress had ratified these treaties.  The Bush administration established military commissions to prosecute terrorist suspects outside the civilian court system and created theories, set precedents based on these theories, and acted on them defying statutory constraint.  Obama’s critiques against these policies were based on violations of civil liberties and the rule of law, since there was no legal process to support what they were doing.  The Bush administration, with Vice-President Cheney leading the way sought to limit Congress and the courts, increase government secrecy, and concentrate as much unchecked power in the upper levels of the executive branch as they could.  Many Obama supporters and administration members argued that some of Bush’s policies were in fact correct, but they needed legislative approval before they could be implemented.

(Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, and Jihadi propogandist killed by an American drone strike)

For Obama and his core of liberal legal appointees the failed “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger plane end route to Detroit Christmas day, 2009 dramatically altered their approach to the war on terror.  For the president he realized that a successful terror attack on American soil could destroy his entire domestic agenda, be it health care or the many programs Obama hoped to implement.  All of a sudden he had to live with the day by day security needs of the United States and keep its citizens safe.  This did not mean he would drop his lawyerly, overly cautious approach to policies, but in the end terrorism and the threat to the homeland was real, not a theoretical concern.  As Savage writes, Obama threatened to fire people if the missteps surrounding the incident were repeated.  “It’s strict liability now, he said, echoing George Bush’s “don’t ever let that happen again directive to Attorney General John Ashcroft soon after 9/11.”  As Jack Goldsmith writes in The New Rambler, Savage’s account of Obama’s continuity with Bush “breaks less new ground than does his reconstruction of the many ways in which it expanded the President’s war powers from the Bush baseline.”   For example, the drone strike program was expanded dramatically, in part because of the improved technology that did not exist under Bush, and its use in targeting four American citizens in Yemen, chief among them was the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was an American citizen.  Savage does a nice job exploring al-Awlaki’s relationship to the “underwear bomber” as well as the legal debates within the administration to determine whether the US was justified in killing one of its own citizens without due process. The lawyerly approach reached the conclusion it was legal if the target was an imminent threat to the United States.  Scott Shane’s recent book, Objective Troy does an excellent job detailing this aspect of Savage’s work.

After the near miss on Christmas day Obama was faced with a great deal of Republican criticism.  Buoyed by the victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts who won a special election for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat employing national security as his core message, Republicans in congress called for terrorism captives to be handled exclusively by the military.  According to Savage, all of a sudden Obama was attentive and deeply involved as he realized that terrorism could shape his presidency.  What follows is a series of detailed arguments within the Obama administration dealing with all aspects of terrorism policy from 2010 through 2014.  It seems that Savage does not miss any subject as it related to the war on terror.  The closing of Guantanamo comes up repeatedly, whether dealing with freeing inmates, closing the prison, adding new detainees etc.  The legalities of surveillance policy and the use of F.I.S.A. courts encompasses a significant amount of the text.  The debate as to whether captured detainees should be tried by military commissions as opposed to civilian courts is dealt with from the legal perspective as well as that of political partisanship.  The debate as to whether al-Shabaab, the Somalian Islamic terrorist organization was an associated force of al-Qaeda to justify targeting its members with drone strikes is fascinating.  The Snowden leaks makes for interesting reading as well as the Obama administration’s responses to them.  In reality Obama was less successful in reducing presidential power than he anticipated, and he often supported his own novel expansions of presidential powers.  When he needed to expand executive powers like going after ISIS with drone strikes in Libya, he did not feel constrained.

As a result Savage decides that Obama was less a transformative president after 9/11, but more so a transitional one.  As James Mann writes in the New York Times, Obama created a “lawyerly” administration that added “an additional layer of rules standards, and procedures to the unsettling premise that the United States was still at war and would, of necessity, remain so with no end in sight.”  I agree with Mann that this is the major theme that the reader should extract from all the legal theories and lawyerly language that Savage presents, if one can get plough through the tremendous amount of material that is reviewed and analyzed.