LBJ School of Public Affairs hosts talk on counterterrorism

Tristan Stitt

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright and Ali Soufan, former FBI supervisory special agent, discussed interrogating Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards and how to combat radical, destructive forces Tuesday at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Wright, a writer and staff member for The New Yorker, and Soufan discussed their careers in relation to terrorism. The pair conducted the talk in an interview-style format, with Wright as the interviewer and Soufan as the subject.

Jeanne Kaba, research program coordinator for the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said the talk was organized so interested students could gain insight into counterterrorism.

“This is part of our international security speaker series, and we host different speakers throughout the year that we think will (garner) attention from students,” Kaba said.

Wright spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East doing research on the events leading to 9/11 for his book “The Looming Tower,” while Soufan directed many of the investigations into bin Laden and Al Qaeda in relation to 9/11. Soufan discussed his experience interrogating bin Laden’s bodyguards, which he said required a lot of technical skills.

“If I slap (the bodyguard), if I hurt him, he’s gonna give me what I want,” Soufan said. “That’s compliance. I don’t want what I want. I want the truth, and that’s cooperation.”

The full audience of approximately 50 people was composed of an array of students, faculty and others from the Austin community. 

Cody Brasher, global policy studies graduate student, said he attended the event to gain information about deradicalizing terrorists.

“I’m interested in working in counterterrorism, mostly in unconventional ways (such as in) the psychology behind it and the deradicalization process,” Brasher said.

On the topic of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Soufan said agencies such as the FBI should take preemptive action and step up.

“We need to hold people accountable for everything that happens,” Soufan said. “Hopefully the kids from Parkland and around the nation in demonstrations (are) the future in doing that.”

Wright said some of the responsibility rests on being an active citizen and voting — and not solely on state and federal agencies such as police departments and the FBI.

“We should also hold ourselves accountable,” Wright said. “We are electing people to office who resist the kinds of changes that might make a difference.”