The Looming Tower

Somehow I missed this when it was released in the spring, probably because I am not a regular subscriber to Hulu.  It’s a journalistic account of the intelligence failures that contributed to the disaster of 9/11.  The FBI and CIA were restricted in sharing information, for legitimate historical reasons dating back to the abuses of J. Edgar Hoover.  But by the 1990s, the CIA was treating the FBI as a more serious threat than some of our foreign enemies.

This 10-part series features fine performances by Jeff Daniels as John O’Neill. the head of the FBI’s NY Counterterrorism Center,  Arab-French actor Tahar Rahim as Ali Soufan, O’Neill’s Arab-American partner, Bill Camp as a veteran FBI agent, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Clarke.  Although real names are used for many of the FBI personnel, the principal CIA people are represented by pseudonyms, probably because their portrayals are so repellent. Ali Soufan has a producer credit, so the bias is obvious.  Nevertheless the creepy sex vibe between the head of the CIA office responsible for liaising (or not) with the FBI, and his deputy is based on reality – the two later married.  Michael Scheuer, on whom the character is loosely based, later left the CIA, got involved in the Obama birther conspiracy and these days is full on Q.  His wife later became one of the premier torture enthusiasts in the CIA, and her character was also the inspiration for the female CIA officer in Zero Dark Thirty.  Remember when we thought that Homeland’s Carrie Mathison was too crazy to be a credible CIA agent?

Except for a few flashforward sequences depicting the Congressional investigations into intelligence failures, the series pretty much ends with  9/11 and its immediate aftermath.  There’s a brief reference to the Bush Administration attempting to frame Saddam Hussein for the attack.  But otherwise the story of the Iraq War is left for another day.

The narrative sags at times, particularly in the middle episodes – how much do we really need to know about O’Neill’s messy personal life?  But the scenes depicting the investigations into the Kenya bombing and the attacks on the USS Cole are really good.  And the dramatic climax really hits you in the gut, even though you know it’s coming.

Recommended.  On Hulu.

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