5-Star Reader's Favorite
by Jamie Michelle
Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist by Barbara K. Janik is a memoir with an alternative story pertaining to the capture of arguably one of the most dangerous humans on the planet. More than that, Janik’s first-person telling and account is really a look into the passion and life of a real home sleuth, the daily impact that her investigations online and from her home had on herself, her partner, and her loved ones, and the transparent, honest, human element Janik shares about herself, both good and not-so-flattering. Janik details her deep-dive into online forums, her phone calls and emails to and from the FBI and other government bodies, and her extensive searches through many online vehicles, including on the mid-2000 site du jour, MySpace. All of these pieces are what she presents as evidence that Osama bin Laden had actually been in Brooklyn, New York. As she puts the pieces together, Janik is faced with a puzzle few are willing to listen to her about and even fewer are willing to consider. The initial hope and acknowledgment she is given as she calls in tips, and the framework of a hunt ultimately sends her into hiding with feelings of failure and without the promised $25-million dollar reward. “Saving people, hunting things, the family business.” Dean Winchester [Supernatural] as quoted in the book.
Regardless of whether or not a reader will believe that what Barbara K. Janik describes—and many do not believe her, but a great many also do—it is undeniable that Chasing bin Laden is a fascinating book. Janik has a real talent as a writer and the book is written to such a high standard that, should she choose to go in the direction of a true-crime or fiction novelist, her success as an author is not difficult to imagine. This book does read with the intensity of good fiction even though Janik is unequivocal in her determination to be taken seriously and for her words to be read as truth. She is clear on motive and the risk she assumes forces her to take on pseudonyms and relocate her identity online, all while making contact with conspiracy-theorist communities such as the likes of Alex Jones’ followers and The Truth Movement, both of which are well-known now but certainly were not back in those days. I like that Janik shares her side of the communication with the FBI, and while responses in verifiable writing from government agencies are not provided, when the files on OBL are declassified in the decades to come, Janik might be vindicated. Until then, we are given her story in a compelling piece of literature that is articulate and well-written.
Midwest Book Review
by Diane Donovan
The title Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist feels like an incongruity because, at one time, many disparate forces were chasing bin Laden, and these usually didn’t include individuals. It builds upon an unusual ‘secret fact’: that in 2006, bin Laden was arrested in Brooklyn, NY by the New York FBI terrorism task force based on a tip that came from historian Barbara Janik, the author of this book. With that fact comes an authority and special perspective that no other book can claim, making Chasing bin Laden a “must read” for anyone interested in not just bin Laden history, but lay investigations conducted by those outside the usual criminal task forces.
Barbara K. Janik opens the story by admitting that writing this book exacted an emotional toll she still pays today. No research piece or emotionally guarded search through public records, Chasing bin Laden is a very personal foray into the heart and mind of terrorists that involved the author’s six-year journey of reliving the events from 2006 and beyond.
Some may believe this memoir a work of fiction, but luckily, Janik obtained copies of all the phone conversations between herself and authorities, which support the timeline of events and facts in Chasing bin Laden. This evidence has been placed on a website, along with documentation of the author’s conversations in an online forum.
Readers receive more than a focus on bin Laden, here. The process of calling in anonymous tips, interacting with authorities, and conducting independent research that supplemented FBI activities and investigations makes for revealing reading about how lay investigators can add their research savvy to the efforts to track down even the most seasoned criminals.
Readers who expected a focus on police procedurals will find that this memoir embraces Janik’s life and relationships as much as it does her methodology and interactions with authorities. This gives her story a personal tone as it not only explores her life and its influences, but the special challenges of juggling family and outside forces: “In a moment of panic, I resented all the long hours I’d spent looking for Osama bin Laden and others. I was neglecting my children. They needed their mother, and they needed easy access to sustenance. Why was I such a bad mom?”
The constant focus on breakthroughs took a toll on her family and relationships, and yet she persevered, always feeling like she was on the cusp of locating a terrorist who actually remained one step ahead of her.
These personal life stories add professional and social reflections to round out this decade-long story of pursuit. Even more ironically, Janik did not receive the promised reward for the arrest that was based on her tips. Even worse, bin Laden’s arrest was not widely known public news, placing her role in it in a questionable light: “I had found the most wanted man on the planet, and it looked like no one would ever know about it. My efforts may have saved lives, but bin Laden would still be out there as the “boogy man” fanning the fires of war. Meanwhile, I was left trying to prove he was no longer out there.”
The events of 2006 and Janik’s successful efforts to chase down the most wanted terrorist of modern times should not be forgotten. Nor should the sacrifices and emotional toll she made and endured during the pursuit of her convictions.
While Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist fits into the memoir label with its focus on Janik’s life and family, it’s also a powerful testimony to the lasting impact of lay investigators on providing the tips and information that can lead to a safer world.
This book didn’t just ask to see the light of day. It demanded it. It provides a compelling, riveting story that will encourage others to stay the course in following their research and convictions to fruition, even if the rest of the world can’t listen, doesn’t know, or has a vested interest in burying that information.
Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist deserves not just feature in library displays strong in true crime and terrorist activities, but should be a part of discussion groups about lay investigators, family life, and following one’s dreams against all odds.