Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander

Version: Abridged
Author: Gary Berntsen , Ralph Pezzullo
Narrator: Gary Berntsen
Genres: Politics, Middle East, Military
Publisher: Random House Audio Assets
Published In: September 2005
# of Units: 5 CDs
Length: 6 hours
Tell Your Friends:


In "Jawbreaker Gary Berntsen, until recently one of the CIA's most decorated officers, comes out from under cover for the first time to describe his no-holds-barred pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
With his unique mix of clandestine knowledge and paramilitary training, Berntsen represents the new face of counterterrorism. Recognized within the agency for his aggressiveness, Berntsen, when dispatched to Afghanistan, made annihilating the enemy his job description.
As the CIA's key commander coordinating the fight against the Taliban forces around Kabul, and the drive toward Tora Bora, Berntsen not only led dozens of CIA and Special Operations Forces, he also raised 2,000 Afghan fighters to aid in the hunt for bin Laden.
In this first-person account of that incredible pursuit, which actually began years earlier in an East Africa bombing investigation, Berntsen describes being ferried by rickety helicopter over the towering peaks of Afghanistan, sitting by General Tommy Franks's side as heated negotiations were conducted with Northern Alliance generals, bargaining relentlessly with treacherous Afghan warlords and Taliban traitors, plotting to save hostages about to be used as pawns, calling in B-52 strikes on dug-in enemy units, and deploying a dizzying array of Special Forces teams in the pursuit of the world's most wanted terrorist. Most crucially, Berntsen tells of cornering bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains--and what happened when Berntsen begged Washington to block the al-Qaeda leader's last avenue of escape.
As disturbingly eye-opening as it is adrenaline-charged, "Jawbreaker races from CIA war rooms to diplomatic offices to mountaintop redoubts to paint avivid portrait of a new kind of warfare, showing what can and should be done to deal a death blow to freedom's enemies.

CIA Commander Gary Berntsen on...
His eyebrow-raising style:
"Most CIA Case Officers advanced their careers by recruiting sources and producing intelligence, I took a more grab-them-by-the-neck approach...I operated on the principle that it was easier to seek forgiveness than ask for approval. Take risks, but make sure you're successful. Success, not good intentions, would determine my fate."
Doing whatever it took:
"I didn't just want to survive: I wanted to annihilate the enemy. And I didn't want to end up like one of my favorite historical characters--Alexander Burns...He was one of the first of more than 14,000 British soldiers to be wiped out by the Afghans in the First Afghan War. Like Burns before me, I was also an intelligence officer and spoke Persian. This was my second trip into Afghanistan, too. The difference, I told myself, was that Burns had been a gentleman and I would do whatever it took to win."
Dealing with a Taliban official who controlled American hostages:
"Tell him that if he betrays me or loses the hostages I'll spend every waking moment of my life hunting him down to kill him. Tell him I'm not like any American he has ever met."
The capabilities of his Tora Bora spotter team:
"Working nonstop, the four men directed strike after strike by B-1s, B-2s, and F-14s onto the al-Qaeda encampment with incredible precision. Somehow through the massive bureaucracy, thousands of miles of distance ]and( reams of red tape...the U.S. had managed to place four of the most skilled men in the world above the motherlode ofal-Qaeda, with a laser designator and communications system linked to the most potent air power in history...As I listened over our encrypted radio network, one word kept pounding in my head: revenge."

Reviews (6)


Written by Connie on August 1st, 2012

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Only weeks after 9/11, CIA operatives were putting their lives on the line to catch and kill the Taliban and Al Quida, and to find OBL. Had one sitting on the edge of their seat wondering how this was all going to end. And here we are years later, still fighting the same enemy. Deftly written and read.


Written by Haymarket, Va from Haymarket, VA on June 27th, 2009

  • Book Rating: 5/5

This is an awesome account of the initial invasion of Afghanistan which demonstrates the skill, power, and technical advantage we possess as a nation, and also how quickly our armed forces and CIA personnel can obliterate an enemy when our government and politicians stay out of the way! Great read.


Written by Mary from Ashburn, VA on September 24th, 2008

  • Book Rating: 4/5

This is an exceptional account of the invasion of Afghanistan. It didn't matter that I didn't know anything about weapons or war. The author did a good job of narrating, especially considering it's not his day job, so to speak.


Written by Anonymous from Elmhurst, IL on April 26th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I listened to this book while driving and found it hard to concentrate on the road. If you're interested in special forces type stuff than its for you. You can get a feel for the author's no-nonsense manner in the style with which he reads the book. Some might say they don't think author's should read their own books but I can't imagine this one read by anyone else.

good listen

Written by David Naughton on January 19th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 4/5

A really good book to listen to. I enjoyed the story,the narrator and look forward to an update

Jawbeaker is like listening to a telgram. Stop

Written by William P on October 21st, 2006

  • Book Rating: 2/5

Why do they let author's read their own books? Not sure if it was the author's bad voice or his childlike, milktoast description of events and dialogue, but this guy really annoyed me. Frankly, I didn't care that half the book was [redacted by the CIA] because the author had nothing to say.

Author Details

Author Details

Berntsen, Gary

Gary Berntsen is a retired senior CIA operations officer who has served as a chief of station on three separate occasions. He led the CIA's most important counterterrorist deployments from 1995 through 2005. Since May 2007 he has been serving as an intelligence and counterinsurgency adviser in eastern Afghanistan. Berntsen is the author of the bestseller "Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda" (Crown, 2005). He has done more than seventy-five television appearances as well as numerous appearances on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and NBC. He lives in Forest Hills, New York.

Pezzullo, Ralph

Gary Berntsen spent more than twenty years as an officer in the Clandestine Service and served in an array of Field Command assignments. He has been awarded both the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Intelligence Star.
Ralph Pezzullo is a former journalist, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, and is the author of "At the Fall of Somoza," "Plunging into Haiti," and the mystery novel "Eve Missing,"