Killing Pablo is the story of the fifteen-month manhunt for Colombian cocaine cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, whose escape from his lavish, mansionlike jail drove a nation to the brink of chaos. In a gripping, up-close account, acclaimed journalist Mark Bowden exposes the never-before-revealed details of how U.S. military and intelligence operatives covertly led the mission to find and kill the world's most dangerous outlaw. Drawing on unprecedented access to the soldiers, field agents, and officials involved in the chase, as well as hundreds of pages of top-secret documents and transcripts of Escobar's intercepted phone conversations, Bowden creates a narrative that reads as if it were torn from the pages of a Tom Clancy technothriller. Killing Pablo also tells the story of Escobar's rise, how he built a criminal organization that would hold an entire nation hostage -- and the stories of the intrepid men who would ultimately bring him down. There is Steve Jacoby, the leader of Centra Spike, the ultrasecret U.S. special forces team that would use cutting-edge surveillance technology to find one man among a nation of 37 million. There is Morris Busby, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, who would convince the Bush administration to approve the deployment of the shadowy Delta Force operators who would be the key to the drug lord's demise. And there is Escobar's archenemy, Col. Hugo Martinez, the leader of Colombia's federal police, who would turn down a $6 million bribe, survive countless attempts on his life, and endure a humiliating exile while waging his battle against the drug lord's criminal empire. It was Martinez's son, raised in the shadow of constant threat from Escobar's followers, who would ultimately track the fugitive to a Medellin rooftop on the fateful day in 1993 when the outlaw would finally meet his end. Action-packed and unputdownable, Killing Pablo is a tour de force of narrative journalism and a stark portrayal of rough justice in the real world.
Readers of Black Hawk Down
know Mark Bowden can tell an exciting story about as well as any writer at work today. Killing Pablo
is further proof. It describes the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, a notorious Colombian drug lord who became one of the narcotic trade's first billionaires. Pablo--Bowden refers to him by his first name throughout the book--started out as a petty thief and wound up running a massive smuggling empire. At his height in the 1980s, he owned fleets of boats and planes, plus 19 separate residences in Medellin, each with its own helipad. Violence marked everything he did: "He wasn't an entrepreneur, and he wasn't even an especially talented businessman. He was just ruthless." He bought off police, politicians, and judges throughout his country, and killed many others who wouldn't cooperate. The Colombian government tried to capture him, but without much luck; he evaded them time after time. "Now and then the police achieved enough surprise to catch him, literally, with his pants down. In , about one thousand national police raided one of his mansions," writes Bowden. "Pablo fled in his underwear, avoiding the police cordon on foot." He got away, again, but his days were numbered. He was making powerful enemies in both Colombia and the United States. The final straw probably came when Pablo's men murdered a popular politician and, three months later, planted a bomb on a plane, killing 110 people, including two Americans.
The bulk of Killing Pablo describes what happened when the U.S. government put its resources behind the hunt for Pablo. Bowden describes the search in gripping detail, from the massive electronic-surveillance effort to bureaucratic infighting between rival U.S. agencies. This is an outstanding work of reportorial journalism, too: in the epilogue, Bowden drops tantalizing hints that it was an American--not a Colombian--who delivered the killing shot to Pablo in 1993. Readers looking for a real-life thriller--or any kind of thriller, for that matter--won't do much better than Killing Pablo.