Obama's Wars

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In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward provides the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan and the worldwide fight against terrorism.

At the core of Obama’s Wars is...

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In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward provides the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan and the worldwide fight against terrorism.

At the core of Obama’s Wars is the unsettled division between the civilian leadership in the White House and the United States military as the president is thwarted in his efforts to craft an exit plan for the Afghanistan War.

“So what’s my option?” the president asked his war cabinet, seeking alternatives to the Afghanistan commander’s request for 40,000 more troops in late 2009. “You have essentially given me one option. ...It’s unacceptable.”

“Well,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally said, “Mr. President, I think we owe you that option.”

It never came. An untamed Vice President Joe Biden pushes relentlessly to limit the military mission and avoid another Vietnam. The vice president frantically sent half a dozen handwritten memos by secure fax to Obama on the eve of the final troop decision.

President Obama’s ordering a surge of 30,000 troops and pledging to start withdrawing U.S. forces by July 2011 did not end the skirmishing.

General David Petraeus, the new Afghanistan commander, thinks time can be added to the clock if he shows progress. “I don’t think you win this war,” Petraeus said privately. “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

Hovering over this debate is the possibility of another terrorist attack in the United States. The White House led a secret exercise showing how unprepared the government is if terrorists set off a nuclear bomb in an American city—which Obama told Woodward is at the top of the list of what he worries about all the time.

Verbatim quotes from secret debates and White House strategy sessions—and firsthand accounts of the thoughts and concerns of the president, his war council and his generals—reveal a government in conflict, often consumed with nasty infighting and fundamental disputes.

Woodward has discovered how the Obama White House really works, showing that even more tough decisions lie ahead for the cerebral and engaged president.

Obama’s Wars offers the reader a stunning, you-are-there account of the president, his White House aides, military leaders, diplomats and intelligence chiefs in this time of turmoil and danger.

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
…Mr. Woodward adds lots of detail and anecdotal color to the story of how the White House's policy on Afghanistan evolved over the administration's first 18 months, and how the decision was made to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan…with a drawdown of American forces scheduled to begin in July 2011. Like all Woodward books, Obama's Wars plows relentlessly forward like a shark.
—The New York Times
Neil Sheehan
In another of his superbly reported insider accounts, Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward recounts how a new president may well have embroiled himself in a war that could poison his presidency…
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter/New York Times best-selling author Woodward turns his eye to a newly elected President Obama and his high-level advisors as they struggle with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, as part of his research, Woodward apparently visited Afghanistan only once, which some might argue limits his perspective on the conflict. The end result is a near-verbatim, often tedious account of the many stateside meetings between Obama and his advisors. Woodward's closeness to the events and the numerous unidentified sources result in a work only moderately useful to researchers and scholars. Still, Tony Award-winning actor Boyd Gaines's impressive, steady narration will hold listener interest, and the title is certain to be in demand; recommended. [The S. & S. hc, published in September 2010, was an LJ and New York Times best seller; the S. & S. pb will publish in May 2011.—Ed.]—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439172490
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 9/27/2010
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is an associate editor at The Washington Post, where he has worked for 39 years. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first for the Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, and later for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Simon & Schuster has published all of Woodward's previous 15 books, beginning in 1974 with the groundbreaking All the President's Men, the Watergate reporting story co-authored with Carl Bernstein. All 15 of Woodward's books have been national bestsellers—and 11 of those have been #1 national nonfiction bestsellers. Bob Woodward’s previous books include The War Within, State of Denial, The Secret Man, Plan of Attack, Bush at War, Maestro, Shadow, The Choice, The Agenda, The Commanders, Veil, Wired, The Brethren, The Final Days, and All the President's Men.


Perhaps the only journalist who can claim to feature both Judy Belushi and Ronald and Nancy Reagan on his list of enemies, Washington Post editor and Watergate watchdog Bob Woodward is famously (purposefully?) a lightning rod for criticism. Woodward raises as many eyebrows for his anonymous sourcing as he summons applause for his scorched-earth approach in interviewing masses of people for every project; the extensive information he digs up is held in awe, yet greetings from the nation's book critics and journalists don't always read like love letters. Joan Didion, in the pages of The New York Review of Books called The Choice, his account of the 1996 presidential campaign, "political pornography."

The New Republic opened its review of The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by pleading with readers not to buy the book. Frank Rich, the opinion columnist for The New York Times, said that Woodward's book Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate should have instead been entitled All the Presidents Stink, since none of the nation's post-Watergate presidents seemed able to withstand the author's tut-tutting over minor peccadilloes.

For the record, Judy Belushi objected to what she called Woodward's overly negative portrait of husband John's drug use and lifestyle excesses in the 1984 biography Wired, and the Reagans didn't like what he had to say about deceased CIA Director William Casey in Veil.

Still, Woodward delivers the goods.

On the job for nine months as a night cops reporter for The Washington Post in 1972, Woodward lucked into the petty crime of the century: the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex. Woodward and reporter Carl Bernstein's investigation reached the highest levels of the Nixon White House, and has become a template for investigative journalism ever since. Thousands of students have poured out of journalism schools in the ensuing years -- for better or worse -- sniffing the winds for their own private Watergate.

Woodward himself hasn't found it, but he has maintained a reputation as the investigator within American journalism, often winning unparalleled access to his subjects and developing a reputation for almost manic multiple-fact-checking of information. After turning the Watergate story into the book and film All the President's Men, Woodward and Bernstein -- or "Woodstein," as they became known in the Post's newsroom -- collaborated on a second book, The Final Days, a look at the end of the Nixon presidency. In 1979, Woodward cast his glance around Washington and found The Brethren, an inside look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court, this time with co-author Scott Armstrong.

Aside from the Belushi biography, Woodward has stuck to the political. He went inside the Clinton White House with The Agenda, inside the CIA with Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 (raising questions about his mysterious hospital interview with a groggy Bill Casey) and inside the 1996 Clinton-Dole duel for the presidency in The Choice.

Woodward is the only author to publish four books on a sitting president during the president's time in office. He spent more time than any other journalist or author interviewing President Bush on the record -- a total of nearly 11 hours in six separate sessions from 2001 to 2008.

His four books on President George W. Bush are Bush at War (2002), about the response to 9/11 and the initial invasion of Afghanistan; Plan of Attack (2004), on how and why Bush decided to invade Iraq; State of Denial (2006), about Bush's refusal to acknowledge for nearly three years that the Iraq war was not going well as violence and instability reached staggering levels; and The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (2008), about the deep divisions and misunderstandings on war strategy between the civilians and the military as the president finally decided to add 30,000 troops in a surge.

In every case, Woodward digs deep. And it all started when he was a teenager, working one summer as a janitor in his father's law office in Wheaton, Ill. He made his way through the papers in his father's desk, his father's partner's desk and the files in the attic.

"I looked up all my classmates and their families, and there were IRS audits or divorces or grand juries that did not lead to indictment," he told U.S. News and World Report in 2002. "It was a cold shower to see that the disposed files contained the secret lives of many of the people in this perfect town and showed they weren't perfect."

Good To Know

Richard Nixon said his wife, Pat, had a stroke while reading the Woodward and Bernstein book Final Days.

Woodward once briefly dated reporter Leslie Stahl, who also covered the Watergate story, even to the point of following John Dean into a men's room to continue questioning him.

He voted for Richard Nixon.
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    1. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 26, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      Geneva, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1965

Read an Excerpt

Obama’s Wars 1
On Thursday, November 6, 2008, two days after he was elected president of the United States, Senator Barack Obama arranged to meet in Chicago with Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence (DNI).

McConnell, 65, a retired Navy vice admiral with stooped shoulders, wisps of light brown hair and an impish smile, had come to present details of the most highly classified intelligence operations and capabilities of the vast American espionage establishment he oversaw as DNI. In just 75 days, the formidable powers of the state would reside with the 47-year-old Obama. He would soon be, as the intelligence world often called the president, “The First Customer.”

McConnell arrived early at the Kluczynski Federal Building, an austere Chicago skyscraper, with Michael J. Morell, who had been President George W. Bush’s presidential briefer on 9/11 and now headed the Central Intelligence Agency’s analysis division.

Two members of Senator Obama’s transition team from the last Democratic administration greeted them: John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff for the final two years of his presidency, and James Steinberg, a former deputy national security adviser in the Clinton White House.

“We’re going to go in with the president-elect and hear what you guys have got to say,” Podesta said.

McConnell paused awkwardly. He had received instructions from President Bush. “As president,” Bush had told McConnell, “this is my decision. I forbid any information about our success and how this works” except to the president-elect. McConnell knew Bush had never been comfortable using the terminology “sources and methods.” But what the president meant was that nothing should be disclosed that might identify human spies and new techniques developed to infiltrate and attack al Qaeda, fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and defend the nation.

“John, sorry,” McConnell said. “I’d love to be able to accommodate, but I didn’t make these rules.” He related Bush’s instructions—only the president-elect and anyone designated to take a top national security cabinet post could attend. “Neither of you are designated. So I can’t. I’m not going to violate the president’s direction.”

“Okay, I got it,” Podesta said, barely concealing his irritation. Podesta had had all-source intelligence access before, as had Steinberg. He thought this was not helpful to Obama, who was largely unfamiliar with intelligence briefings.

Obama arrived still in full campaign mode with ready smiles and firm handshakes all around. He was buoyant in the afterglow of victory.

Two months earlier, after receiving a routine top secret briefing from McConnell on terrorism threats, Obama had half joked, “You know, I’ve been worried about losing this election. After talking to you guys, I’m worried about winning this election.”

“Mr. President-elect, we need to see you for a second,” Podesta said, steering him off to a private room. When Obama returned, his demeanor was different. He was more reserved, even aggravated. The transition from campaigning to governing—with all its frustrations—was delivering another surprise. His people, the inner circle from the campaign and the brain trust of Democrats he had carefully assembled to guide his transition, were being excluded. The first customer–elect was going to have to go it alone.

McConnell and Morell sat down with Obama in a private, secure room called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF. It was an unusually small room in the center of the building where a bathroom might normally be located. Designed to prevent eavesdropping, the SCIF was windowless and confining, even claustrophobic.

At first, this would be something of a continuation and amplification of the earlier briefing McConnell had given candidate Obama. There were 161,000 American troops at war in Iraq and 38,000 in Afghanistan. Intelligence was making significant contributions to the war efforts. But the immediate threat to the United States came not from these war zones, but from Pakistan, an unstable country with a population of about 170 million, a 1,500-mile border with southern Afghanistan, and an arsenal of some 100 nuclear weapons.

Priority one for the DNI, and now Obama, had to be the ungoverned tribal regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where Osama bin Laden, his al Qaeda network, and branches of the extremist insurgent Taliban had nested in 150 training camps and other facilities.

Combined, the seven regions forming Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were about the size of New Jersey. The extremist groups and tribal chiefs ruled much of the FATA and had footholds in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province.

In September 2006, Pakistan had signed a treaty ceding full control of the FATA’s North Waziristan region to Taliban-linked tribal chiefs, creating a kind of Wild West for al Qaeda and the Taliban insurgents attacking the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

In the earlier briefing, McConnell had laid out the problem in dealing with Pakistan. It was a dishonest partner of the U.S. in the Afghanistan War. “They’re living a lie,” McConnell had said. In exchange for reimbursements of about $2 billion a year from the U.S., Pakistan’s powerful military and its spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), helped the U.S. while giving clandestine aid, weapons and money to the Afghan Taliban. They had an “office of hedging your bets,” McConnell said.

Dealing with the ISI would break your heart if you did it long enough, McConnell had explained. It was as if there were six or seven different personalities within the ISI. The CIA exploited and bought some, but at least one section—known as Directorate S—financed and nurtured the Taliban and other terrorist groups. CIA payments might put parts of the ISI in America’s pocket, McConnell had said, but the Pakistani spy agency could not or would not control its own people.

The Pakistani leadership believed the U.S. would eventually withdraw from the region, as it had toward the end of the Cold War once the occupying Soviet forces retreated from Afghanistan in 1989. Their paranoid mind-set was, in part, understandable. If America moved out again, India and Iran would fill the power vacuum inside Afghanistan. And most of all, Pakistan feared India, an avowed enemy for more than 60 years. As a growing economic and military powerhouse, India had numerous intelligence programs inside Afghanistan to spread its influence there. Pakistan worried more about being encircled by India than being undermined by extremists inside its borders.

The best way out of this would be for Obama to broker some kind of peace between India and Pakistan, the DNI had said. If Pakistan felt significantly more secure in its relations with India, it might stop playing its deadly game with the Taliban.

In his September overview, McConnell also discussed strikes by small unmanned aerial vehicles such as Predators that had sophisticated surveillance cameras and Hellfire missiles. The covert action program authorized by President Bush targeted al Qaeda leadership and other groups inside Pakistan. Although classified, the program had been widely reported in the Pakistani and American media.

Only four strikes had been launched in the first half of 2008, Obama had been told. The U.S. had uncovered evidence that the Pakistanis would delay planned strikes in order to warn al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, whose fighters would then disperse. In June 2008, McConnell had taken human and technical intelligence to President Bush showing multiple conversations between an ISI colonel and Siraj Haqqani, a guerrilla commander whose network was allied with the Afghan Taliban.

“Okay,” Bush had said, “we’re going to stop playing the game. These sons of bitches are killing Americans. I’ve had enough.” He ordered stepped-up Predator drone strikes on al Qaeda leaders and specific camps, so-called infrastructure targets. It was like attacking an anthill—the survivors would run away in the aftermath. These “squirters” were then tracked to the next hideout, helping to build the intelligence data on terrorist refuges.

Bush had directed that Pakistan receive “concurrent notification” of drone attacks, meaning they learned of a strike as it was underway or, just to be sure, a few minutes after. American drones now owned the skies above Pakistan.

In addition, McConnell had given President Bush intelligence showing that the Pakistani ISI had helped the Haqqani network attack the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 7, four months earlier. The U.S. had warned India, which had put its embassy in a defensive posture. But it was not enough. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 100 injured in a suicide bombing.

McConnell had then moved during the September briefing to one of the most pressing worries. Al Qaeda was recruiting people from the 35 countries who didn’t need visas to enter the United States. It was paying them good money, bringing them into the ungoverned regions by the dozens, training them in all aspects of warfare—explosives and chemical—and trying to have them acquire biological weapons.

“We’re a big open sieve,” McConnell said. “They’re trying to get people with passports that don’t require a visa to get into the United States.” Al Qaeda had not succeeded yet, but that was the big worry. “We can’t find any cell in the United States, but we suspect there may be some.”

That got Obama’s full attention. Some of the 9/11 hijackers had operated for nearly 18 months in the United States before their attacks. As he had said at the end of that meeting, there were reasons to worry about winning the election.

The November 6 briefing to Obama picked up exactly where that earlier presentation had left off. McConnell could now provide him with a fuller description of how the intelligence community culled and collected information.

“Mr. President-elect, we can share anything with you,” McConnell said in the soothing accent of his native South Carolina.

For example, the top secret code words for the Predator drone operations were SYLVAN-MAGNOLIA. The code words set up Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) to which only people with the highest-level security clearances and a need to know were granted access. The president-elect was now, of course, one of those people.

The U.S. had scored an extraordinary intelligence coup in the ungoverned regions of Pakistan as the result of blending two intelligence cultures—human sources and technical intelligence such as communications intercepts and satellite and drone imagery.

But, he said, the real breakthrough had been with human sources. This is what President Bush wanted to protect at all costs. The drones were basically flying high-resolution video cameras armed with missiles. The only meaningful way to point drones toward a target was to have spies on the ground telling the CIA where to look, hunt and kill. Without spies, the video feed from the Predator might as well be a blank television screen.

McConnell provided extensive details about these human sources, who had been developed in an expensive, high-risk program over five years. The spies were the real secrets that Obama would carry with him from that moment forward. They were the key, in some respects, to protecting the country.

President Bush had absolute views on protecting them. “His instructions to us are no one except you or one of your designated cabinet officials can be provided the information,” McConnell said. President Bush did not want any “tourists,” as he called them, and no “professors” who might be part of the Obama transition team but later reveal the spies in a speech, a book or a careless comment.

Obama indicated he understood.

The CIA is so guarded with human sources that each one has a randomly selected code name such as MOONRISE. If the source is productive and undertaking great risks, word might get around the agency. He’s doing great, but when too many people know about him he is killed off. There is a burial ceremony, everybody’s sad. MOONRISE paid the ultimate price, his CIA case officer would say. Except MOONRISE is not actually dead. His code name has changed. And now the CIA has another source called SHOOTING STAR. Same guy, new name. MOONRISE is SHOOTING STAR. It’s an elaborate and manipulative ruse in order to grant MOONRISE the ultimate protection—death.

On the technical side, McConnell explained, the National Security Agency (NSA), which he had headed from 1992 to 1996, had developed a breakthrough eavesdropping capability. It had begun years before with a project code-named SHARKFINN that was designed to speed the acquisition, storage, dissemination and availability of intercepted communications, including cell phone calls and e-mails. The project advanced and was soon referred to as RT10, which increased the speed in real time to factors of up to 10 to the 10th power, or 10 billion times faster. It was now called RTRG—Real Time, Regional Gateway. RTRG meant there was a way to capture all the data, store it, and make it instantly available to intelligence analysts and operators, allowing the U.S. to react quickly in response to the enemy.

In Afghanistan, the program code name was JESTER. Specialized units called JACKAL teams operated countrywide to monitor the insurgency.

“They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally,” McConnell said.

The human and technical intelligence pointed with confidence, McConnell said, to the Quetta Shura Taliban as the central insurgent group in the Afghanistan War. This “shura,” an Arabic word meaning council, was headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader who had fled Afghanistan after the U.S. attack into his country after 9/11. There had been a $25 million reward on his head ever since.

Mullah Omar was in the Pakistani city of Quetta, just about 60 miles from the Afghan border in the province of Baluchistan. Unlike the vast desert of the FATA, Quetta had a population of almost 900,000, which made drone strikes virtually impossible.

“Here’s the center of gravity,” McConnell said.

“Well,” Obama asked, “what are we doing about that?”

Not that much, McConnell indicated.

The problem was sending American forces across the border into Pakistani cities where drones could not strike. Just two months earlier, on September 3, a day after McConnell had given candidate Obama his first briefing, President Bush authorized a cross-border operation into Pakistan. It was supposed to be a quiet, in-out Special Forces ground raid by about two dozen Navy SEALs on a house believed to be used by al Qaeda in the town of Angor Adda in the FATA. The plan was for the SEALs to seize al Qaeda’s documents and computers, their “stuff,” as McConnell called it.

But in that part of the world, people often ran toward automatic weapons fire and explosions—instead of away from the danger—to see what was happening, McConnell explained. Civilians were killed in the raid, causing all hell to break loose in the Pakistani press.

The raid had been poorly planned and coordinated, McConnell acknowledged. The Pakistani government angrily claimed it was a violation of their sovereignty. Bush was extremely upset about the civilian casualties, and said America would not do that again. In the Bush administration, there would be no more ground operations into Pakistan, period.

One important secret that had never been reported in the media or elsewhere was the existence of the CIA’s 3,000-man covert army in Afghanistan. Called CTPT, for Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, the army consisted mostly of Afghans, the cream of the crop in the CIA’s opinion. These pursuit teams were a paid, trained and functioning tool of the CIA that was authorized by President Bush. The teams conducted operations designed to kill or capture Taliban insurgents, but also often went into tribal areas to pacify and win support.

McConnell said a second immediate threat was al Qaeda in Yemen, which was commonly referred to as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. The group had attacked tourists and in September 2008 detonated two vehicle bombs outside the U.S. embassy in Yemen, killing 19 people, including six of the terrorists.

McConnell and Morell turned to the Iranian nuclear program. It was well known that Iran was trying to get nuclear weapons. Despite the suspension of some of the Iranian nuclear programs, others continued or could be restarted. And there were hidden facilities. McConnell said he was convinced that Iran was going to get a gun-type nuclear weapon—probably primitive—but one that could be detonated in the desert with great dramatic effect. This would be done, in his view, between 2010—less than two years off—and 2015. It would create an incredibly unstable situation in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia would call in their chips with Pakistan, which had been receiving Saudi oil, and try to get help developing a Saudi nuclear weapon. Egypt and other countries in the region could go all out to develop their own weapons.

Another main threat, McConnell said, was North Korea, which had enough nuclear material for six bombs and an effort underway to increase that. The North Korean leaders were loony. Attempts to negotiate with the regime would likely repeat the Bush administration’s experience. It would be “negotiate, prevaricate, escalate and renegotiate,” he said. The North Koreans would talk, they would lie, they would escalate and threaten to walk away, and then they would try to renegotiate. “That’s how it’s going to work,” McConnell insisted.

Iran and North Korea were particularly difficult intelligence targets because of their closed societies. The absence of U.S. embassies in the countries made spying more of a problem. The nuclear programs in both had, in part, been penetrated by U.S. intelligence, McConnell said. But, Iran and North Korea represented serious short- and long-term threats.

“What else?” Obama asked.

“We haven’t talked at all yet about cyber,” McConnell said. “What the Chinese did to you.”

The Chinese had hacked into the Obama campaign computers in the summer of 2008 and moved files and documents out at an astonishing rate.

“Yeah,” Obama said, “they got McCain too.”

Yes, McConnell confirmed. “The point is what they did to you and did to McCain, they took your data. And they’re clumsy, so they got caught.” U.S. intelligence had detected it, and the FBI had warned both campaigns, which had taken some defensive steps. “But the real issue would have been, what if they had destroyed your data?”

That would have been a problem, Obama said.

“All right,” McConnell said, “roll that over to the nation.”

“This is important,” Obama said.

McConnell explained how the Real Time, Regional Gateway gave the NSA an incredible exploitation capability—reading other people’s mail, listening to their conversations, and sorting their data. That was NSA’s traditional speciality. But there was also an attack capability that Bush had approved in 2007 against computers and communications in Iraq. The NSA had argued that it was one of the most powerful capabilities in the world, so it had been used with the utmost care and restraint in order to avoid starting a cyber war.

The NSA’s offensive capability, called Computer Network Attack (CNA), was the most sophisticated stealthy computer hacking. Cyber teams could break into computer systems in foreign countries. Their digital work somewhat resembled the targeted quick strikes by the Delta Force or a Navy SEAL team. The highly secret operations were run through the Army Network Warfare Battalion of the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade at NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters outside Washington, D.C.

There was another tier—Computer Network Defense (CND).

McConnell noted that the United States was vulnerable to cyber attacks. If the 19 terrorists from 9/11 had been cyber-smart and attacked a single bank, it would’ve had an order of magnitude greater impact on the American and global economies than dropping the two World Trade Center towers, he said. The Bank of New York and Citibank each handle about $3 trillion a day in financial transfers. To put that in perspective, the size of the entire American economy, its annual Gross Domestic Product, is $14 trillion. If the bank data was destroyed, there would be financial chaos. People wouldn’t be able to get their money, know whether they had it, or if they had made payments. Imagine if you disrupted that process? Wealth was most often just an entry on a computer. Modern banking was built on assurance and confidence in those digital entries rather than gold and currency. A few people could ruin the U.S. and the global economy and destroy faith in the U.S. dollar, McConnell said. There were no real protections and the system was totally open to attack, he said. Power grids, telecommunication lines, air traffic control—all computer-dependent enterprises—were likewise vulnerable to cyber attacks.

“I want you to brief my entire cabinet,” Obama said. “I want you to give me a roadmap about what the nation should do about this.”

He thanked McConnell and Morell.

Obama later told one of his closest advisers, “I’m inheriting a world that could blow up any minute in half a dozen ways, and I will have some powerful but limited and perhaps even dubious tools to keep it from happening.”

In an Oval Office interview on July 10, 2010, President Obama told me he did not want to confirm or deny specific quotes for this book. “What I’ll try to give you is a general overview of how I was thinking at any particular point in time.”

He said McConnell’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and along the countries’ border region was “sobering” but not “surprising.”

The president explained, “It did corroborate some of my deepest concerns about the fact that the Taliban had strengthened, were controlling more parts of the territory, and that we did not have a strategy in Pakistan for the FATA and the Northwest region.”

He said the briefings “confirmed that fact that you had the Taliban, the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, a whole range of these al Qaeda affiliates, essentially, who were operating very aggressively. And we were not putting a lot of pressure on them.”

“And did you say, okay,” I asked, “this is one of the things I’m going to try to fix?”

“Yes,” he said.

He also generally confirmed the ideas in his comment to an aide about what he was inheriting. “Events are messy out there,” Obama told me. “At any given moment of the day, there are explosive, tragic, heinous, hazardous things taking place. All of which, objectively, you would say, somebody should do something about this.”

Obama acknowledged that after the election the world’s problems were seen as his responsibility. “People are saying, you’re the most powerful person in the world. Why aren’t you doing something about it?”

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

Bob Woodward's Favorite Books on the Presidency and Military

A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan—A sweeping story about Vietnam told from the perspective of one man at the center of the war. Sheehan’s book about John Paul Vann manages to be both epic and intimate.

Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson—Hanging in my office is a quote from this beautifully written World War II history about the Allied forces fighting in Sicily and Italy. Atkinson notes that the war had "lessons of honor and courage, of compassion and sacrifice," but also "that even the excellent and the superior can be defiled, and that no heart would remain unstained."

Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster—Using previously classified transcripts of meetings about the U.S. strategy in Vietnam, McMaster documents how choices by the president’s advisers undermined the war and endangered the troops and civilians on the ground. The book explains the importance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and serves as a cautionary lesson about how presidential decisions are made.

With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge—This memoir by an enlisted Marine about World War II in the Pacific captures the reality of combat. It amazes me what Sledge went through, and what a man in his situation could endure.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris—Simply one of the great pre-presidential biographies. Morris chronicles not just Roosevelt, but the world that shaped him and the world that he would shape.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 355 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 357 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2010

    Great, Honest, Unbiased

    As a liberal late 20-something liberal I appreciate Bob Woodward's unbiased and incredibly honest and well researched books and articles. This book is a great review of the current problems in Obama's White House. To those liberals who are rating this book low because it hurts your impression of someone who made themselves out to be the messiah... get over it, the truth is the truth, ugly or not. Remember cheering him on when he exposed the insanity GW's White House and accepting his writing as gospel truth? Well the same thing applies here. To those conservatives who rate this book highly because it exposes Obama's problems... stop, your people can't get it right either.

    What ever happened to reading a book before rating it? Informative and truthful. An easy cover-to-cover read in two days. I felt like I walked away with more information on Obama's White House than I have had to this point. Woodward does a great job of pointing out the issues but also pointing out that not everything is terrible. I highly recommend this book

    29 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2010

    The most important book of our generation

    This is must read !!!

    Woodward's previous books were covered in two 60 Minute Shows. Sadly, CBS is playing bias politics. Diane Sawyer was choosen to interview Bob. That alone tells you, why everyone should read this book. We need to know if we want 4 more years from this president.

    25 out of 40 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    obamas war on the military

    "obamas wars" is a master piece and very hard to put down. this best seller clears up the mystery why we are having prblems in afganistan. though countless interviews with whitehouse staff and officalls and endless research the arthur documets how obama is not intrested in the advice or council of his top generals who are on the front lines and this bestseller furtur goes on to show a staff who is at odds with one another this is is a serious concern whean there is a war going on great gift idea for a friend or family member.

    19 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2010

    Looked at it; tedious...

    Woodward seems to me "old news". One may agree, he does a good job of information gathering, but like all muckrakers (the older term for "investigative reporter"), one always suspects an undisclosed and uncriticized set of feelings - values - underlying his accounts. Only to be be read cum granum salis.

    19 out of 83 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 28, 2010

    The Trurh & only the Truth

    Apparently younger readers do not understand & understimate Woodwards ability to get at the truth, he is not biased towards one party or the other i.e. Watergate...For the Obama lovers still out there. & there are a few left, the truth does hurt. A man once said in a speech(Obama), "they are just word's" , "just speeches" . Well I guess ones own words can come back to haunt you.

    14 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 7, 2010

    A Never Ending Quagmire??

    I will confess up-front that I am not a fan of our President, nor did I vote for him, however, as a retired military person, I can appreciate the difficulty in dealing with issues that are inherited by virtue of being placed in or obtaining a new position or promotion. I have always felt that leadership is important, but so are those individuals filling key positions of trust, which can help or hurt one in getting a job done. Clearly, a President has a tremendous amount of responsibility and those he choses for his cabinet can have an incredible effect in carrying out and determining policy, thus aiding in success or leading to failure. Mr. Woodward's book does a good job in presenting the difficulties of a new administration dealing with an on-going war, and in this case, two wars. As with any government buracracy, there are differences in views of individuals, however, in this book one can see how these differing views complicate defining solutions. I certainly appreciate all those who have sacrificed in our recent wars, but I more than ever, think we need to figure a way out of the Afgahnistan quagmire. This book is definitely worth the read.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2010

    Well Written

    Typically, unless you have a genuine distaste for the person who is the subject of policital books, it provides for really dry reading. For this book, that is not the case. I have found it to be a very interesting behind the scenes drama between the President of the United States and the people who guide him towards both success and failure in his new leadership position. The average American has no idea what goes on in the closed meetings between the POTUS and the Cabinet. This book sheds light on this and so much more.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2011


    This man should never have been voted in office. Terrible man.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    The War Inside the War Room

    New book. New president. New policy. But an old road to travel down: how does a presidental candidate get his vision implemented once he becomes President of the United States. A new President who believes that the road to terror will be largely fought with pressured diplomacy in Pakistan and war in Afghanistan. But for Barack Obama the biggest battle that the 44th President of the United States may ever fight will be in his own administration. No one brings us into the inner workings of the White House - the intrigue, the politics, the manuevers and the power clicks then Bob Woodward. For the author,it his fifth book (previous four on the Bush Administration)regarding presidental responses following the impact of 9/11. The author provides intimate details on the infighting that takes place within the administration and how the military is reviewed skeptically by Obama's executive staff and how the executive staff even doesn't trust Hillary Clinton (perceived political ambitions) and her staff. Furthermore add a Vice-President whose temperment is as hot as a fireplace poker on a cold winter's night expressing his opposition in high ranking meetings to a philosophy that eventually is adopted by the President. What happens at first from all this infighting is very litle with a humble Secretary of Defense admitting to the President that we (the advisors) owe you a plan for review. How that plan is developed,reviewed, edited and approved finally by the President is what this book is all about. Woodward allows the readers to makes their own decisions whether the President was strong enough to get a plan that he truly believed in or did the military wear him down. Were the troop numbers really acceptable to him? How about the philosophy of counter insurgency? How about the timetable for withdrawal? Can any of this truly be accomplished given that many advisors in the administration feel that victory in Afghanistan is near to impossible? What is the path to victory in overcoming obstacles far more severe than in Iraq, in terms of Afghanistan's poverty, literacy, corruption, fractionalization and highlighted by its weak and highly volatile leader in President Hamid Karzai? How much pressure will the President really put on Pakistan leaders to force out the terrorist hiding in their country,who are causing havoc as they cross the border into Afghanistan? Will or can the Administration make a deal with a Taliban in Afghanistan as they did with the Sunnis in Iraq? Only time will tell. Therfore,I guess we will have to wait till Woodward's sixth book to get some of these answers.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2011

    Not what I expected...

    This book was decently written but it still felt like I was reading a summary of someone's diary or day planner. I was pleased that this was not as Obama centric as the title implies but, more or less, focuses on the individuals that make up the president's inner circle and how they influence decision making in the White House.

    I was also pleased that it did not seem to be politically biased. Woodward did not constantly harp on either political party and if there was something said it was a quote from one of the key players in the Obama Administration.

    I did not appreciate the intermittent snipes at the military leadership but these were also (as far as I can recall) directly quoted. This is a good book to read if you enjoy politics and/or international relations or are (significantly) interested in the factors leading to the decision to commit 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 17, 2010

    Not Non Woodward's Best by far

    The book simply had to much 'he said/she said' connotations in it. This was a real disappointing read that I cannot recommend.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2010

    Very Dull Read, But Even Handed Treatment by the Author

    This is the first book by this author that I've ever read. I actually got it for my wife when I ordered another for myself. I read my book and she hadn't finished the Woodward book. Now I understand. It's a cure for insomnia. It may be the most boring non-textbook that I've ever read. For the most part each chapter is a conversation, and the chapters aren't titled. Mr Woodward could use some editing help, so that the book has a better flow. Having said all of that, the author has an earned reputation for carefully checking his facts. So, the reader can believe that what he reads is legit. I consider the authors handling of his subject matter to be even handed. For one who has a military background, and has served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, all I can say is, "Welcome to the Real World Barry!" It's torturous to watch as Barry struggles to pull numbers from some bodily orifice as the military professionals are trying to give him advice based on years of experience. Gee Barry it's kinda different being in charge huh? Hopefully, experience and reason trumps naivete and vacuity in 2012, unlike 2008. America deserves a competent, capable, and seasoned leader. This book clearly illustrates that we don't have one now.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2010

    What a Disappointment for insomniacs only!

    Bob Woodward's Favorite Books on the Presidency and Military, want my money back talk about an Obama user friendly book. Cut Bush to stupidity? and Obama is a little arrogant and really smart. This book should come with a money back offer Woodward clearly loves Prez Obama and one sided, this book is a save the Obama Presidency there you read the book send me your money 1/2 star.

    3 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2010


    When I realized Bob Woodward would be writing a book on the Obama Administration I knew I had to have it. His books are well-researched. And I appreciate the fact that his assistant is given proper credit. (I am a disgruntled research assistant of the past. Can you tell? Smile.) I am a retired instructor of history and librarian on the college level as well, and when I read non-fiction I find myself wondering how I would present the book to get and hold my studets' attention, to help them want to read and remember it. Answers to the who/what of the following would be my choice: (1)Water bugs (2)Whiskey-tango-fox trot moments (3)"Poignant Vision" (4)"Counter Terrorism Plus" (5)"Lessons on Reconciliation" (6)Political fly paper (7)TTP Network (8)The Mental Problems of a Key Foreign Leader (9)"Constant Feedback Loop" (10)The Situation Room (11)Interview in "Rolling Stone." (12)October Midnight at Dover Air base. (I listened and listened and listened again to that account). The character sketches especially of the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State were insightful. Colin Powell's role was surprising. And, of course, the in-fighting between the military and civilian players which proved they were anything but team players was enlightening and unsettling. Because of vision limitations, I listen-read and must commend actor Boyd Gaines for his well-paced, multi-accented reading. But, I now know I will always opt for the unabridged. It's every word for me, thank you!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2010

    Once an idiot always an idiot

    Don't waste your time!

    2 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2012

    If you love Obama, you'll love this book. I don't love Obama.

    If you love Obama, you'll love this book. I don't love Obama. Very dissapointed

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2012

    Remember to take a neoghbor to vote!

    This may not be an entertaining book for those who are not
    actively connected to any campaign. But, this is an important
    example of new vision from a respected demodue! I am grateful for this contribution.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    SHUT UP Pj!!!

    This "terrible man" won the nobel peace prize, killed osama bin ladin, & he brought the troops back home. So stop listening to FOX and actually read the book before you rate it.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2011


    Contrary to popular belief, Bob Woodward was a republican when he broke the Watergate scandal when he was writing for hte Washington Post. he is NOW a Democrat becasue of the failings of George Bush Jr. (ironic though isn't it?) Considering the awe inspiring similarities between the foreign policy platforms of the two administrations? I mean Bush acted more like a modern democrat during his two terms than he did a traditional republican and this book shows it! ALso like Bush Jr. Obama shows a lack of critical analysis skills, particularly inhis ability to comprehend the "nitty Gritty" of what is happening on the ground militarilly ini the middle east, despite the fact that he has a background in the culture and religious aspects of the middle east, in the book he refers to it "off the record" through the filter of chicago politics. (I WAS DUMBFOUNDED that such an eloquent speaker could not com up with a better way to phrase his thoughts on the middle east) Well I suppose that I cannot say however that I expected much more.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2011

    Reading History

    This book confirms again the reason why we should not be in Iraq and the lies perpetrated by George Bush and his administration. As usual Woodward is very thorough in his research and his writing. It still doesn't take away the fact that America should not have invaded that country. I do not envy Obama and what he has to do to get us out of there. All Americans should read this book.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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