Dubai When an investigative journalist exposes the secrets of the most secretive institutions — America's Central Intelligence Agency, for instance, the first question that springs to mind is ‘How did he get through to that information?' And what logically follows is, ‘Is he safe?'
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and veteran journalist Steve Coll answered these questions and more at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Thursday night.
Author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 and The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, Coll said that though he may be courting danger at work, he tries his best to be cautious at all times.
"The main thing I worry about is just making a mistake on the road and getting kidnapped or something like that," Coll told Gulf News on the sidelines of his book signing session at the Festival.
"I've been doing this for a long time; I'm not reckless. I don't particularly want to get shot but I don't mind being around conflict zones. But one thing that I worry about, especially in this day and age, is kidnapping only because it would be so unpleasant," he added.
Coll, who worked as a foreign correspondent and senior editor at The Washington Post for 20 years, said that it has been a relatively safe journey so far.
In conversation with Riz Khan, Coll talked about how he managed to peek through some of the world's well-kept secrets.
"It's very challenging. [But] there are a lot of ways to break in. Eventually, if you keep pushing from the outside, then usually someone from the inside comes out," Coll said.
For his new book titled Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, Coll said that the seemingly impenetrable international oil and gas company that "sees itself as a sovereign power in the world and independent of any government" pushed him to dig deep into the extent of its power.
The book will be released in May.
The same motivation prompted him to write Ghost Wars in 2004. The book detailed secret US operations that led to the September 11 terrorist attacks on US soil.
"Many Americans had no idea, in fact they didn't know anything, really about the war in Afghanistan... about our government's role in this war. So I really was motivated just wanting to provide a reliable history so that everyone in America can have the same facts," Coll said.
During the session, Coll announced that he is currently planning to write a sequel to that book to contextualise the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
"I intend to write, in fact my next project is to write a second volume of that book. I had the opportunity to take on that project at an earlier time after Ghost Wars was published but I chose not to [because] I really couldn't see where the story was going to end. Finally, now I feel like I wanna come back to that subject and draw a thread from September 11," he said.
When asked whether he believed news of Osama Bin Laden's death, Coll said: "I do, but I recognise that the evidence was not as transparent… Essentially at the end of the day, you will have to take the government, the United States' word anyway."
Coll now heads the New America Foundation and is a contributor for The New Yorker magazine. Catch him at the Media Conflict session with Jeremy Bowen, Rosie Garthwaite and Riz Khan Saturday at the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City at 4.30pm.