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Originally published Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 5:01 AM

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Book review

'The Hunt for KSM': tracking 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

In "The Hunt for KSM," former Los Angeles Times reporters Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer chronicle the deadly career of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Special to The Seattle Times

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"The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed"

by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer

Little, Brown, 350 pp., $27.99

Seven years ago, journalist Terry McDermott completed a book stunning in its degree of difficulty, its revealing research and its revelations. That book is "Perfect Soldiers: The Hijackers — Who They Were, Why They Did It." Traveling around the world, placing his life in danger, doing his best to extract information from sources unused to American investigative reporters, McDermott chronicled the pasts of the men who turned commercial airplanes into deadly missiles attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

While working on that book, McDermott naturally heard a lot about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (aka KSM), a young (born in 1965), avowed enemy of the United States and other nations, a flesh-and-blood man who seemed ghostlike, despite the deadly operations he engineered around the globe, including a 1993 bombing in New York City. A Kuwaiti citizen of Pakistani descent, KSM managed the Sept. 11, 2001, airplane hijackings, in various ways playing a role more significant than the far better known Osama bin Laden.

But after publication of "Perfect Soldiers," McDermott turned his attention to an entirely different topic, publishing a book titled "101 Theory Drive" in 2010.

Fortunately for readers who want to stay informed about worldwide terrorism and especially U.S. government efforts to diminish the threats, McDermott has returned to the beat, this time with another former Los Angeles Times reporter, Josh Meyer.

The masterful collaboration is a combined biography of KSM and a law-enforcement procedural featuring agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Port Authority, plus the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York. They have names and job descriptions, and the authors make them memorable.

The most memorable of all is Frank Pellegrino, an FBI agent who tracked KSM around the globe year after year, who understood the importance of KSM's role in al-Qaida and related organizations hoping to mortally wound entire nations of perceived infidels.

After lots of stupid decisions and false leads starting as early as 1993, the law-enforcement establishment captured KSM in March 2003. That event occurs on page 247 of the McDermott-Meyer book.

Yet after nine years in U.S. government captivity, KSM remains shadowy to many otherwise informed citizens — including myself, until I read this remarkable book. Why did the tracking and death of bin Laden generate nonstop headlines, while the tracking and capture and interrogation of KSM generate mostly silence?

"There is a good chance his full story will never be told in an official venue," McDermott and Meyer write. "For reasons that perplex even its best friends, the United States has kept Mohammed in the shadows of its secret prisons for so long it seems likely he can now never be fully exposed to the light for fear of what he might say about what went on in the darkness." In that passage, the authors are referring to the apparent torturing of KSM, methods that might be illegal according to international law.

Whatever methods have been employed to break KSM, he apparently has not broken. In fact, McDermott and Meyer say that even in captivity, KSM continues to sow deadly attacks against chosen enemies because of the trainees he schooled so well and sent out into the secular world. It is a sobering conclusion to a remarkable book.

Steve Weinberg is author of eight nonfiction books.

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