The Way of the Knife

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Published by: Penguin
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Pages: 400
ISBN13: 978-0143125013


A Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter’s riveting account of the transformation of the CIA and America’s special operations forces into man-hunting and killing machines in the world’s dark spaces: the new American way of war.

The most momentous change in American warfare over two decades has taken place away from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, in the corners of the world where large armies can’t go. The Way of the Knife is the untold story of that shadow war: a campaign that has blurred the lines between soldiers and spies and lowered the bar for waging war across the globe. America has pursued its enemies with killer drones and special operations troops; trained privateers for assassination missions and used them to set up clandestine spying networks; and relied on mercurial dictators, untrustworthy foreign intelligence services, and proxy armies.

This new approach to war has been embraced by Washington as a lower risk, lower cost alternative to the messy wars of occupation and has been championed as a clean and surgical way of conflict. But the knife has created enemies just as it has killed them. It has fomented resentments among allies, fueled instability, and created new weapons unbound by the normal rules of accountability during wartime.

Mark Mazzetti tracks an astonishing cast of characters on the ground in the shadow war, from a CIA officer dropped into the tribal areas to learn the hard way how the spy games in Pakistan are played to the chain-smoking Pentagon official running an off-the-books spy operation, from a Virginia socialite whom the Pentagon hired to gather intelligence about militants in Somalia to a CIA contractor imprisoned in Lahore after going off the leash.

At the heart of the book is the story of two proud and rival entities, the CIA and the American military, elbowing each other for supremacy. Sometimes, as with the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, their efforts have been perfectly coordinated. Other times, including the failed operations disclosed here for the first time, they have not. For better or worse, their struggles will define American national security in the years to come.


“A fascinating, trenchant, sometimes tragicomic account.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Superb….the best account yet.”
—The New York Times

“As Mazzetti observes in his deeply reported and crisply written account, over the past decade the CIA’s top priority was no longer gathering intelligence on foreign governments and their countries, but manhunting. While ‘The Way of the Knife’ recounts the important shifts in the architecture of the U.S. military and intelligence communities, it also reveals the many eccentric characters who emerged during this era of shifting portfolios and illustrates another important theme of the book: the privatization of intelligence operations, which were traditionally a core government function.”
—The Washington Post

“A well-reported, smoothly written book for anyone who wants to understand contemporary American military might and the widespread hatred for the U.S. that has been the result.”
—Kirkus (starred review)

“It is the story of this war, waged in far-off lands by spies, special forces and robotised killing machines, that Mark Mazzetti, a Pulitzer-prizewinning New York Times reporter, tells with some verve and much new detail in ‘The Way of the Knife’ … The new American way of war is here, but the debate about it has only just begun. In ‘The Way of the Knife,’ Mr Mazzetti has made a valuable contribution to it.”
—The Economist

“A timely report, at least as essential background reading, because there are many signs that the novel ‘military-intelligence complex’ that Mazzetti describes is becoming unacceptably controversial at home and abroad.”
—The New Republic

“The definitive history of how the intelligence agency became something much more like a paramilitary wing—de-evolving, in a sense, back to the days when the agency’s adventurism influenced foreign policy around the world. It’s a fascinating expose of what information the U.S. was not collecting—and how an attempt to fill the gap fell through oversight mechanisms and complicated geopolitics in Pakistan.”
—The Week

“[In] the talented hands of Mazzetti, a Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter for the New York Times, America’s pursuit of terrorists through the deserts, mountains and Byzantine politics of the Islamic world, now in its second decade, sometimes reads like ‘A Game of Thrones’ with its warring princes and fantastical demons. It’s a highly engaging account that should please the curious and experts alike.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Mazzetti thoroughly documents [the] transformation — from Donald Rumsfeld’s resistance to the CIA’s assumption of paramilitary operations, through the invasion of Afghanistan and the American agency’s queasy alliance with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, to the Iraq War, to President Barack Obama’s escalating reliance on Langley to conduct his secret wars. Mazzetti is a reporter, and he stays out of the story’s way. He knows there are devils in these details.’”
—Chicago Tribune

"The story of how the CIA got back into the killing business is as chilling and dramatic as a spy novel—except it’s true. Mark Mazzetti has laid out an extraordinary tale, tracking the spies as they track the terrorists. The Way of the Knife is as close as you’ll ever get to the real thing.”
—Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War

The Way of the Knife provides a stunning, inside account of the CIA’s transformation after 9/11 from an intelligence agency into a global clandestine killing machine. Mazzetti, who is one of America’s best national security reporters, has written a frightening, must-read book.”
—Jane Mayer, staff writer, The New Yorker; author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals

“The United States fought three wars after 9/11: Iraq, Afghanistan and the one in the shadows. This is an authoritative account of that that third war, conducted by the CIA and military Special Operators in Yemen, East Africa and, most of all, Pakistan. If you want to understand the world we live in, you need to read it.”
—Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Generals