America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies

America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies

by George Friedman


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George Friedman delivers the geopolitical story that the mainstream media has been unable to uncover — the startling truth behind America’s foreign policy and war effort in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond.

Friedman, founder of Stratfor, one of the world’s most respected private global intelligence firms, and Geopolitical Futures, has an unmatched ability to provide clear perspective on the current geopolitical map. In America's Secret War, George Friedman identifies the United States’ most dangerous enemies, delves into presidential strategies of the last quarter century, and reveals the real reasons behind the attack of 9/11—and the Bush administration’s motivation for the war in Iraq. It describes in eye-opening detail America’s covert and overt efforts in the global war against terrorism: Not only are U.S. armies in combat on every continent, but since 9/11 the intelligence services of dozens of nations have been operating in close partnership with the CIA.

Drawing on his vast information-gathering network, Friedman presents an insightful picture of today’s world that goes far beyond what is reported on television and in other news media.

Al Qaeda’s war plans and how they led to 9/11

The threat of a suitcase nuclear bomb in New York and how that changed the course of the war.

The deal the U.S. made with Russia and Iran which made the invasion of Afghanistan possible – and how those deals affect the United States today.

How fear and suspicion of the Saudis after 9-11 tore apart the Bush-Saudi relationship and why Saudi Arabia’s closest friends in the administration became the Saudi’s worst enemies.

The real reasons behind George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and how WMD became the cover for a much deeper game.

How the CIA miscalculated about Saddam Hussein’s and Iran’s real plans, leaving the U.S. bogged down in the war.

How the war in Iraq began with a ruse, pretending that a “target of opportunity” attack on Saddam Hussein had presented itself.

The real story about why the U.S. raises and lowers its alert status and why the United States can’t find and destroy al Qaeda.

The strategic successes that are slowly leading the United States to victory

America's Secret War is an unprecedented look at the new world war being waged behind-the-scenes today. It is sure to stir debate and capture headlines around the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767917858
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/11/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 538,474
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

GEORGE FRIEDMAN is founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures, which specializes in geopolitical forecasting. Prior to this Friedman was chairman of the global intelligence company Stratfor, which he founded in 1996. Friedman is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Next Decade and The Next 100 Years. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Read an Excerpt


The war that began on September 11, 2001, might be called the Fourth Global War, the U.S.-Jihadist War, the U.S.-Al Qaeda War, or the U.S.-Islamist War. Some would argue that it isn’t a war at all but an isolated act of terrorism that has been manufactured into a war. Nothing tells us more about the extraordinarily ambiguous and divisive nature of the war than the fact that three years into it, we do not even have a name for it.

This book is called America’s Secret War not only because so much of the war is hidden. It is the nature of war that each side must hide as much as can be hidden. The secrecy of this war goes deeper. More than in any other war I have studied, the true reasons for each side’s actions are hidden from view. If I look at the war through the lens of public discourse, nothing makes very much sense. Actions seem unconnected to one another, leading nowhere, lacking meaning. In the words of Macbeth, it is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

That is not how I view the last three years. In retrospect, sometimes we can see that the apparent chaos actually had a clear if deep order to it, an order sometimes not even apparent to the actors who, having said their lines and done their deeds, shuffle off the stage, unaware of the full meaning of what has happened. But it is my belief as well that if one fully understands the motives and reasoning of the players, it is possible to understand events while they are happening, or even before. The key is to understand the actors as they understand themselves and to understand the forces that drive and constrain them even better than they understand them.

In a game of chess, it appears that there are many moves available. There seem to be twenty possible first moves, for example. In fact, there are perhaps six. The better you understand chess, the fewer options you have. You come to realize that most of the apparent moves are disastrous, and the good moves are limited. The better the players, the more predictable and understandable the game is, until that extraordinary moment when a brilliant player invents a new variation on an established theme.

Stratfor was created to study the global chess game through the prism of geopolitics. Geopolitics teaches the importance of place in the world. But it also teaches that while humans make history, they do so from a menu dictated by the reality in which they find themselves. Stratfor’s purpose is to study the global chessboard and explain the moves that are being made and predict the moves that must be made by each side. We are aware that there are many who view the world as Macbeth does. We do not. Our understanding may be imperfect, but it is not nonexistent.

There are two basic themes to this book. The first is that the events we have passed through form a coherent pattern and that the political actors who have shaped the world are rational–if not necessarily moral or decent–actors. Americans tend to think of its leaders as fools and knaves and of its enemies as psychotic. This seems to comfort us. This book argues that while America’s leaders might be knaves, they are not fools, and that while our enemies might have utterly different moral values that are repugnant to us, they are far from insane. All around us, Stratfor sees excellent chess players, not always recognizing the unintended consequences of their moves, certainly not always making the right move, but, in the broad sweep of events, engaged in actions that are explicable.

The closer you stand to an object, the less sense it makes. The closer you watch this war, the more incoherent it becomes. This book uses Stratfor’s geopolitical method to step back from the events and see the order hidden within.

The second basic theme is that this is not a passionate book. To the extent possible, it intends to be cold and clinical. Nothing has become cheaper than passionate discourse. This book deliberately treats Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden as what they are, skilled and dedicated men with a clear vision of how they want the world to look. It treats George W. Bush the same way. I understand that both views will be vigorously attacked by those who would wish to make each into monsters or idiots. They are neither. They are leaders, playing chess with the lives of others and the fate of the world. Fools and psychotics do not accumulate and hold such power.

This does not mean that I am indifferent to the outcome of the war. I am an American, and my fate is intimately bound to that of my country. Apart from that, I regard the moral principles of my republic as superior to those of other regimes. I understand that Osama bin Laden believes the same of his dream of Caliphate. That makes us enemies. Nevertheless, walking around in a fog of rage will not make me or anyone else more effective. Passion has been praised too much. It leads to loud noises and incoherence.

The title of this book is America’s Secret War. I am focusing on the idea of “secret war” not only in the sense that there are many secrets being kept from us in this war–who would expect otherwise? Rather, the secret I am referring to is the one that is sitting there right out in the open: the clear intentions, rational behavior, and inevitable errors in judgment and unintended consequences that have created the pattern for the past three years.

Writing a book in the middle of a war is not easy. There is a core problem: Between July 5, 2004, when I write these words, and October 5, 2004, when this book will be published, three long and dangerous months will elapse. Therefore, in something that is not common, an additional chapter of America’s Secret War will be written to close the gap just before publication date and posted to the Internet. This may have been done before with a book, but I am unaware of it.


On the morning of September 11, 2001, special operations units of the international jihadist group Al Qaeda struck the United States. In a classic opening attack, they struck simultaneously at the political, military, and financial centers of the United States. The attack on the political centers failed entirely when the aircraft assigned to that mission crashed prematurely in Pennsylvania. The attack on the military center was only partially successful. The aircraft assigned to that target crashed into a section of the Pentagon that had been modernized with fire-resistant materials, which effectively contained the explosion. The planes assigned to attack the U.S. financial center succeeded completely, not only destroying the World Trade Center towers but closing down the financial markets for several days and disrupting the U.S. economy.

The nineteen men who carried out the mission were capable operatives. Their achievement was not taking control of four airliners simultaneously, although that was not a trivial accomplishment. Rather, it was planning, training, and deploying for the operation without ever being detected by American intelligence–or, more precisely, acting in such a way that in spite of inevitable detection, the data never congealed into actionable intelligence. While their military capabilities were enormously inferior to those of the United States–they had to steal an air force–their skills at covert operations were superb.

Al Qaeda had spent years trying to understand how U.S. intelligence worked. On September 9, the Sunday before the attack, Osama bin Laden, by most accounts, placed a phone call to his mother. During the short conversation, Osama told her, in effect, “In two days you’re going to hear big news, and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” He placed that call on Sunday knowing that it would be intercepted by National Security Agency signal intelligence satellites. He also knew that the intercept-interpret-analyze cycle at the NSA for the region was running at about seventy-two hours. He knew that by the time the phone call was actually listened to and understood, the attack would already have taken place.

This was the real strength of Al Qaeda, a strength that it retains to this day. It understands the craft of intelligence and security and applies it rigorously. But Al Qaeda has another strength. The nineteen men who launched the attack on September 11 were not just prepared to risk their lives. They were prepared to go to their certain deaths and did so exercising discipline and control until the moment they died.

If Al Qaeda consisted of simplistic incompetents, the United States would not be in the global war it is embroiled in today. Fools do not make serious opponents. The challenge posed by Al Qaeda is that they are neither simple nor incompetents. However we judge their beliefs and however we evaluate their morality, the fact is that from a technical standpoint, they proved themselves to be highly competent covert operators.

The United States was taken by complete surprise on the morning of September 11, a surprise even greater than the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. With perfect hindsight, the evidence for an attack was there. Indeed, there had been some consideration given to such a scenario by North American Air Defense Command, which had scheduled a simulation of multiple hijackings crashing into buildings for later in 2002. The problem was that this was one of dozens of scenarios that had been considered, and there was as much intelligence pointing to other attacks in other countries as there was to airlines being crashed into U.S. buildings. Everyone knew Al Qaeda was out there, but no one knew what they were planning. Many now say they had forecast the attack. They need to be asked how many other things they warned of that never happened.

In 1941, the United States knew a war was coming with Japan. Indeed, a war plan had existed since 1920–Plan Orange–and the Naval War College had gamed out a war with Japan every year for a generation. The United States knew roughly how that war would be fought and knew approximately when it would start. Planning for the war with Al Qaeda had never taken place to the same extent because no one knew whether the enemy was going to attack, where they would attack, how to prevent the attack, or how to respond to the attack. No one treated Al Qaeda as seriously as they had treated Japan, in large part because the United States was good at thinking about threats from nations. It didn’t know how to think about threats from non-national groups.

The truth is that even as evening fell on that Tuesday in the United States, no one really understood the magnitude of the war that had begun–or that a war had begun at all. The worst fears of the American public had been stimulated. The civilian airline industry was shut down. The financial markets were shut down. Travel in and out of the United States was shut down. People were on the edge of their seats, expecting the next shoe to drop at any moment. No one really understood the enemy, his thinking, or his plans. It was a war in which the enemy was almost completely unknown.

The reality of the war first struck us on the evening of September 11. The day had been long and brutal, and I was in the unfortunate position of needing to make sense of the day’s events. Stratfor, the company my wife and I founded in 1996, was struggling to understand what had happened, feeding analysis to our Web site and clients. As evening fell, we thought we understood what had happened and privately dreaded what would likely result.

My wife and I live in the Texas Hill Country. We went for a walk around 10 P.M. to try to clear our heads from the day’s stunning events. Our conversation turned naturally to two of our four children. One was a captain in the Army National Guard, recently returned from Bosnia. Another was a second lieutenant in the Air Force, just beginning his military career. We had always known that our children had chosen professions that would inevitably call on them to go to war, but now that the war was here, abstraction turned into reality. We both felt the dread that only parents of children in wartime can feel. They were going to go where we could not possibly join them. They would be in danger. We would be only analyzing the danger.

In our normal evening walks, the brilliant Texas sky is usually filled with moving, silent lights–civilian planes, commercial and private, landing and taking off from Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. That night, as we looked up at the sky, nothing moved. There were only stars. The empty sky was electrifying. Then, a few minutes into our walk, we heard the sound of an unmuffled jet engine–the unmistakable sound of a fighter plane. An aircraft, lights on, was moving toward the south, very fast. It passed directly overhead. We figured it was an F-16 heading to the frontier. Frontier was a word that we had never used before about our borders, a few hundred miles south of us, but it was a word that came naturally that night. We were citizens of a country at war, a country with frontiers that had to be protected. Overhead, a pilot was taking a fast plane in harm’s way. The Fourth Global War had begun.

Table of Contents

1The Origins of the Fourth Global War5
2Al Qaeda's Strategy and Operational Principles25
3American Strategy and the Rule of Unintended Consequences45
4The Anatomy of Intelligence Failures61
5The American Way of War-Planning for Everything Except What Happened79
6September 1193
7Defending the Homeland: Crisis and Irrelevance109
8Preparing for a Counterattack131
9The War in Afghanistan151
10Tora Bora and Nuclear Nightmares191
11Searching for a Strategy: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq233
12The Iraq Campaign287
13The Great Reversal315
Conclusion: War in the Balance331

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America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle between the United States and Its Enemies 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
gniff More than 1 year ago
Why did the USA go to war in Iraq? Or, if you prefer, Given the chance for a war, why did the administration of George W. Bush take it? Stratfor's position, as expressed in this book, is that taking down Saddam Hussein was not an end but a means, a means to reshape the politics of the Middle East by telling certain allies that we care enough to send the very best: American blood and treasure. The case is credible; it agrees with the facts known publicly and does not strain credulity, unless you believe that such planning is beyond the intellect of the Bush Administration. That, I think, would be a misunderestimation. The case is made well; it may well be true. And if it is not, it opens the possibility that similar calculations may be made regularly by governments. Successful governments and especially successful dictators do not keep their power through stupidy or naivete. Machiavelli teaches this, and it remains true. So believe it or not, as you choose. But take it seriously.
mrmesq87 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting reading but poorly documented. Looking for opinions? Then this is a good choice. Looking for footnotes to source material? Keep looking.
naveensreedevan More than 1 year ago
Lets face this simple truth. america is not a military might. thy are only bullying the other developed nations to keep quiet while they massacre the poor people in Asia/Africa/Middle east. So we can easily defeat these bastards. America is now dependent on us for trade. On china/Europe/Japan/Russia for military cooperation and technology! yes that is the truth. These p[ussies dont know anything on theirown. This is golden chance for the rest of World esp. Asia to defeat these tyrants who are weaker than us. War Strategy for Afghan/Taliban/Yemen/Africa: America/Saudi can be made to surrender. Else, if we allow America to continue decide the course of war, it will never end. Vietnam, congo saga will continue endlessly. Congo alone last 30 years more than 5 million civilians killed. south sudan, rwanda, niger etc. It seems to me this is like a cards Poker Game. America is winning this war game as the own the Bank which is actually printing worthless US dollar and quite a bit is counterfeited in North korea etc. which American military planes supply to the military officials of their agents and other traitors/politicians such as President /traitor Hamid karzai of Afghan. How to win this War against AMerican/NATO mob: Final assauult. Yemen/Afghan Army/rebels should drop a few hydro/atomic bombs at military bases( see Black Hawk Down movie and Bierut base bmobing 1980s killing 100s USA army and so USA back off.) Then a finally a big Bomb on House of porn saud palace. And Later Russia/china can ask America to stop the war or else face trade boycot from Asia. And no more will our OEM vendors supply tech products for Silicon valley. AMerica is having $50 trillion debt so the can go to hell. So Russia/china should use common sense and defeat them on war and economic front. this is the best option to end this mindless killing game of mob street fighters i.e these are mobsters dressed in military/3 piece office dress. America's war aim has two goals. Short term goal is to terrorise the world and long term goals as we see in vietnam is to control the government.
Royglen More than 1 year ago
Tells the story well beyond the MSM competence level….
cez819 More than 1 year ago
You will love the insight this book gives.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book gives major insight into what is really happening in the Middle East. Most Americans are probably unaware of the background that has led us to where we stand (and why we stand) today. I really recommend reading this book as the author is completely bipartisan in his presentation.