I'm going to try to blog through the entire book because I think it is really important to try to grasp what is happening, how, why, and what if anything, can be done about it. Note it's a long book and there will be plenty of unrelated posts in between.
Chapter one is kind of brief overview of where we where, in term of covert activity and combatting terrorism right at 9-11. For me, it confirmed a lot of what my impressions were at the time, for the most part what things I didn't know do not come as much of a surprise. That is, the team of Cheney and Rumsfeld had some very specific, radical ideas for policies that they were starting to put into place prior to 9-11, post 9-11 there was nothing to hold them back. They had hoped to do this when working for Bush the elder, but were squashed, so they spent the intervening years planning for it. Basically they wanted the US to dominate on a global, forceful, scale, accountable to no one. Also, they were from the beginning obsessed with Iraq.
They managed to find a kindred spirit in Cofer Black of the CIA. One of the interesting notes is how the CIA, generally and George Tenet specifically, were not actually that into the idea of extra-judicial killings. There had been some under Clinton, but had substantial oversight. Tenet would later (publicly anyway) support the Iraq war and write a really self-serving book. During the promotional tour he made an appearance on Fresh Air that came awfully close to mansplaining. So it's kind of interesting to see him, at the beginning anyway, presented as somebody with some morals.
For all of Cheney's and Rumfeld's dismissal of the Clinton administration it's quite clear in the book, as it seemed at the time, that the Clinton administration was much more on top of AQ. George W. Bush's administration (GWBA) was just getting around to it (!) when 9-11 happened. In my mind, this issue of the GWBA simply dropping the ball never got enough play. Forget conspiracy theories-who needs conspiracies when you have incompetence? Because logically it would seem that, if, say, the policies of Clinton had been continued, it's quite possible 9-11 could have been avoided. What if Al Gore would have been elected? This is such an important point because all of the draconian policies that went into play after 9-11 (although Scahill makes clear Cheney and Rumsfeld were headed this direction already) were sold to the public as necessary, and it's quite probable they weren't.
The main question I have starting the book is of course, how can this be changed? Is the increased power of the executive branch inevitable? It was practically stopped in the 70s with the Church committee and Cheney and Rumsfeld worked very hard to undue all the preventative measures put in place by the committee. After the wars and over 10 years post 9-11 people are asking questions--many people supportive of Obama are supportive because they think he really he going to change these policies, at some point.