Longtime national security expert authors novel on 9/11

William M. Arkin

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, longtime national security official William M. Arkin arrived in New York City to discuss al-Qaida on air with Tom Brokaw.

Arkin, now an Encinitas resident, said his knowledge of al-Qaida at the time “could fit into a thimble.” But it was still more than almost any other American in 2001 knew about the militant group.

In the years that followed, Arkin reviewed thousands of pages of documents and conducted interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, FBI agents, and family members of 9/11 hijackers. In 2008, he began writing.

"History in One Act" is Arkin's debut novel.

After about 12 years and more than 100 drafts, that research will be condensed into “History in One Act,” Arkin’s debut novel that delves into the mindset and motivation of the terrorists who carried out the deadliest attack on American soil. The planned release date is Feb. 1, 2021.

“I started on the idea that there was something interesting to say about 9/11 that wasn’t being said,” stated Arkin, who has served as a military intelligence analyst, academic, government consultant and journalist over more than 40 years in national security. “I think secondarily, I wanted to tell the story of 9/11 in a different way.”

His early research included reading through about 8,000 pages of transcripts about the debriefings and interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks.

“Reading those transcripts, I essentially said to myself that not only did he have something interesting to say and he had a worldview, but that he also had views about 9/11 that I had not really thought about,” Arkin said.

That led to a deep-dive into stories that provided a clearer picture of the history of the 9/11 plot “in a way that incorporated the views of the terrorists themselves,” including scenes that describe how they spent their time in the U.S. in the months leading up to the attacks.

Arkin has authored an extensive list of nonfiction over the years. For “History in One Act,” he said that he conducted research like a nonfiction reporter, but the final product is a novel that combines his meticulous fact-finding with a little bit of artistic license in describing details such as the day-to-day lives of the terrorists.

“We seem to have very little interest in understanding what motivates the terrorists and why they would give up their lives to do things like this, why they hate America so much and why they see America as sort of a centerpiece of their hatred,” Arkin said.

The book also examines the U.S. intelligence community, which was criticized in the aftermath of 9/11 for allowing critical evidence of the attack to fall through the cracks when there was still time to thwart the terror cell.

“Eventually, it morphed a little bit into telling the U.S. intelligence story as well, and the failures of U.S. intelligence over the years,” Arkin said. “But more or less, what I really wanted to do was to reimagine and retell the story of 9/11 through the eyes of the terrorists.”

He added that “anyone who reads this book is both going to get a little bit of eating their vegetables of understanding the background of the Middle East and the growth of radical Islam and the evolution of the thinking and radicalism of the terrorists themselves.”

“History in One Act: A Novel of 9/11” will be published by Featherproof Books. For more information, visit