And about that Nuclear Hellstorm Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Promised if Osama bin Laden Was Killed?

When the WikiLeaks Gitmo Files were first released last week, the Telegraph’s top headline warned of a “nuclear hellstorm” if Osama bin Laden were captured or killed.

One of the terrorist group’s most senior figures warned that al-Qaeda had obtained and hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if Osama bin Laden was killed or captured.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda mastermind currently facing trial in America over the 9/11 atrocities, was involved in a range of plans including attacks on US nuclear plants and a “nuclear hellstorm” plot in America.

[snip]

According to the US WikiLeaks files, a Libyan detainee, Abu Al-Libi, “has knowledge of al-Qaeda possibly possessing a nuclear bomb”. Al-Libi, the operational chief of al-Qaeda and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before his detention, allegedly knew the location of a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if bin Laden were killed or captured.

That headline was based on two details from the Gitmo files. First, this passage from Abu Faraj al-Libi’s Detainee Assessment Brief:

(S//NF) Detainee has knowledge of al-Qaida possibly possessing a nuclear bomb. Al-Qaida associate Sharif al-Masri stated in June or July 2004, upon encountering difficulties in moving the nuclear bomb, detainee commented if al-Qaida was able to move the bomb, al-Qaida would find operatives to use it. However, detainee told Sharif al-Masri that al-Qaida currently had no operatives in the US. The operatives would be Europeans of Arab or Asian descent. The device was reportedly located in Europe.40 Sharif al-Masri reported detainee would know about the bomb and its exact location.41 Sharif al-Masri believes if UBL were to be captured or killed, the bomb would be detonated in the US, detainee would be one of those able to give the order.42

And this single line from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s DAB.

(U) Detainee told his interrogators that al-Qaida had planned to create a “nuclear hell storm” in America.

Now, the reference to al-Libi is of particular interest given accounts of how we found Osama bin Laden, as I have laid out here. I think it likely that al-Libi was the source of the information on the courier(s) that ultimately led to OBL’s compound.

That said, note the intelligence in that passage. The first sentence claims, uncritically, that al-Libi “has knowledge of al-Qaida possibly possessing a nuclear bomb”–though the use of the word “possibly” suggests some doubt. And the remaining 6 sentences of that paragraph are cited to Sharif al-Masri, not al-Libi himself. (Note, CNN appears to have gotten this utterly and completely wrong in this article.)

Al-Masri was detained in 2004 and reports from his interrogation–with the news on WMD–were leaked. As of 2006, his whereabouts remained unknown; I’m checking to see if his whereabouts are still unknown. [Update: His whereabouts were still unknown in March 2008, h/t Jeff Kaye.] [Update: Andy Worthington confirms that al-Masri is one of the detainees who has disappeared; he was never in Gitmo.] (Remember, too, that the Bradbury memos were written to retroactively authorize torture committed in this 2004 time period.)

But none of the reporting on nukes in al-Libi’s file comes from al-Libi himself, and it notes that “detainee ha[d] neither confirmed nor denied” … “knowledge of an al-Qaida nuclear device” by September 10, 2008.

Does the fact that he had neither confirmed nor denied the allegation a full 3 years after being captured mean we never asked?

The KSM intelligence is of even sketchier provenance. KSM’s DAB cites WorldNetDaily (!) as the source.

69 Al-Qaida warning- WorldnetDaily.com 17 -Sep-06, Al-Qaida warns Muslims: Time to get out of U.S. Afghan terror commander hints at a big attack on N.Y. and Washington.

Not only should the WND source raise questions, but reading the article reveals there is only one mention of KSM, and it has nothing to do with what he told his interrogators.

And all of this is more suspect considering Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri claimed he told his torturers that Osama bin Laden had a nuclear bomb, but later recanted the claim.

Usama bin Laden having a nuclear bomb. [REDACTED]. Then they used to laugh. Then they used to tell me you need to admit to those information. So I used to invent some of the stuff for them to say Usama bin laden had a, had a nuclear bomb. And they use to laugh and they were very happy. They were extremely happy because of the news. Then after that I told them, listen. He has no bomb. [my emphasis]

Al-Nashiri’s Gitmo file makes no claim he knew anything about al Qaeda and nukes.

In other words, when we tortured prisoners–and all of the detainees to whom this claim can be traced were in CIA custody–we asked them to tell us al Qaeda had nukes.

So I’m guessing the Telegraph’s big headline is not keeping our national security experts up at night.

Update: Titled changed. After all, KSM promised hellstorm, according to WND, if OBL was captured or killed.

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  1. MaryCh says:

    OT – Did the airing of the DAB and the info on couriers hasten the strike against OBL? [This came to mind via bmaz’s “Sunday night announcement – WTF?” post below]

    • emptywheel says:

      We don’t know. It’s possible.

      My guess is that that may have been a part of it, but that after Raymond Davis was released they hastened to do (the first Principal’s meeting on this was two days before Davis was released and there have been a number of meetings since).

      In other words, they may have been collecting more info, but decided to take OBL now either bc of increasing doubts about the Pakistanis, worried that Davis or WL tipped al Qaeda, or just because it was time.

      • nextstopchicago says:

        Is there any reason to think Davis was involved in the intelligence on this? It seemed somewhat extraordinary to me that he’d react to being followed by ISI guys by killing them. Wouldn’t it be more or less routine that Americans in Pakistan would be tailed? Was there something particularly threatening about what they did? If so, why were they threatening Davis in particular?

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          Wouldn’t it be more or less routine that Americans in Pakistan would be tailed? Was there something particularly threatening about what they did? If so, why were they threatening Davis in particular?

          I assume it would be routine to be tailed in a nation of about 130,000,000 when you are clearly not a local.

          Because of the weirdness of how pissed the Pakistanis seemed to be about Davis, how tough the tug-of-war seemed to be (at least, per the Guadian), there must be some linkage. And wasn’t Davis found with some rather odd technology…?

          I doubt it was anything the Pakistanis ‘did’ to Davis; I assume they must have seen something that he didn’t want them to know about. But I wouldn’t recall any of it, apart from the fact that the hostility between US and Pakistan was said to spike sharply.

          And they got Davis out of Pakistan in what looked like one hell of a hurry, no-stopping-at-the-loo or picking up a latte at the airport.

          • bobschacht says:

            I agree; there had to be some linkage. For example, Davis may have been the crucial communication link to an agent in the field who may have been involved in the project roll-out. That is, Davis’s assets may have been involved, and he needed to manage them personally, which he could not do from the local jail.

            Bob in AZ

  2. nextstopchicago says:

    These are side-details, but I think two bits of disinformation that are infiltrating this story are the “$1 million compound” and the woman who died because a “male” used her as a shield.

    There’s no way a 2-story flat of girders and concrete with an outbuilding and a wall cost $1 million.

    The “shield” story is at once too pat and too flat. If the source really knew the story, why no detail – there were only 4 others involved – two couriers, UBL and his son. Which one used the shield? If you knew it happened, you’d know which one, and you’d say.

  3. JohnLopresti says:

    OT, Bob Garfield interviewed Carol Rosenberg very briefly in an On The Media program which aired on NPR May 1 but at the OTM website is dated April 29, 2011. The webpage says the program transcript will be posted online later today.

  4. nextstopchicago says:

    In Andrew Sullivan’s “the view from Osama’s window” post near the top of his blog now, there are other 2-story buildings visible, more evidence that this wasn’t such an extraordinary “compound”. From the outside, it looks to me a lot like similar buildings that would be found in dozens of middle-sized Mexican towns. (Mexico is just my best reference for simple construction in the third world. I’m sure others have better frames of reference.) I think the “mansion” meme is at odds with the truth and may be implicating ISI beyond what is deserved. If this is really just the normal house of a semi-upscale person in a small city, then it makes some sense that nobody noticed.

    It’s not like a high wall and barbed wire would be out of the ordinary in a country where rule of law is intermittent.

    • bobschacht says:

      In Andrew Sullivan’s “the view from Osama’s window” post near the top of his blog now, there are other 2-story buildings visible, more evidence that this wasn’t such an extraordinary “compound”.

      Two-story buildings in the Middle East are pretty common. In my experience, the ground-floor buildings are for storage, the kitchen, livestock, etc., while the upper story are the rooms where one lives. The air is better. The nicer finishing touches (e.g., mosaic tiles; nicer windows; nicer furniture) are usually reserved for the upstairs rooms. Since Abbottabad has been reported as an upscale town, two-story buildings are probably standard.

      Bob in AZ

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        In pictures I’ve seen, you can see other two story buildings in the neighborhood. It is “up-scale” after all.

        “To every thing, there is a season” “Spin, spin, spin”

        Apologies to the Byrds.

        • bobschacht says:

          On the other hand (to contradict myself), a number of observers on the ground are saying that this compound had “more” on many dimensions. For example, I’m now hearing that the main house was *3* stories, and that OBL and his family were on the second and third floors. And the walls were higher than the norm for the area. But then they also had “less”– no internet, no land-line telephone.

          But who was the house registered to? I’ll bet OBL’s was not the name registered with whatever their deeds, etc. were. I wonder who the “host” was. I’ll bet it was a Pakistani. And I’ll bet OBL had a sponsor among the military there, who were his “protectors.” But there obviously others, who made it possible for the raid to happen without a military response.

          Bob in AZ

  5. rugger9 says:

    Davis’ activity seems more interesting, especially since he was trying to remove the tail [allegedly]. Also, the protectors of OBL would have figured this out during Davis’ interrogation, which I’m sure they did even if they claim otherwise, and moved OBL to a different safe house, the ISI would certainly have done so. It is possible that they did so and sent him back because no US activity was found between Davis’ bad day and yesterday.

    Detection of a nuclear device can be done if you are close enough, the gamma rays are distinctive in terms of frequency/energy. Alphas are definitive but very short range (stopped by a sheet of paper) and betas don’t travel far enough either [on the order of feet in air, less for more dense material]. The fact that OBL was in Pakistan with the apparent connivance of at least one faction within the government operation, most likely the ISI, means also access to AQ Khan who gave the DPRK its bomb. KSM’s boast isn’t out of line in my view.

    Timeline for response is on the order of months and has to be big enough to be considered as revenge. That takes planning and chatter.

      • yearofthemonkey says:

        Okay gotcha. I am confused by your Update at the bottom which states:

        Titled changed. After all, KSM promised hellstorm, according to WND, if OBL was captured or killed.

  6. PeasantParty says:

    So our military tortured until they said Osama had a nuclear weapon and then they would let them go. Hmmm. No wonder there were so many claims to fame.

  7. nextstopchicago says:

    Well, in the most recent NYTimes update, Brennan knocks down my theory that someone in Pakistan’s military must have been tipped and agreed to hold fire.

    >“They had no idea about who might have been on there, whether it be U.S. or somebody else,” Mr. Brennan said. “So we were watching and making sure that our people and our aircraft were able to get out of the Pakistani airspace, and thankfully there was no engagement with Pakistani forces.”

    That seems awfully glib. I can’t put together a 40-minute raid with “we were watching …” Were they crossing their fingers and wearing their lucky socks? Or did they have high-flying aircraft ready to shoot down intercepting Pakistani aircraft, which seems like it truly could have caused WWIII? Not that I expect Brennan to give away details, but I find it hard to believe that Pakistan just didn’t respond, and the thought that our only fallback was to attack the Pakistanis too is pretty alarming.

    It looks like I might be wrong about the 40-minute firefight? There are some references to such, but others talk about a firefight during a 40-minute raid. Maybe that’s the answer – that they weren’t actually in Abbottabad very long, so Pakistan had little time to respond.

    • emptywheel says:

      Brennan did a briefing that will likely be repeaetd on CSPAN later. It was very no nonsense. And he certainly was encouraging people to ask questions about what Pakistan knew about OBL.

    • bobschacht says:

      >“They had no idea about who might have been on there, whether it be U.S. or somebody else,” Mr. Brennan said. “So we were watching and making sure that our people and our aircraft were able to get out of the Pakistani airspace, and thankfully there was no engagement with Pakistani forces.”

      That seems awfully glib….

      I’d take anything Brennan sez publicly with many large grains of salt.

      Bob in AZ

  8. nextstopchicago says:

    fehhh!

    From the briefing document (from foreignpolicy.com):

    >Our team was on the compound for under 40 minutes and did not encounter any local authorities while performing the raid.

    So 40 minutes was closer to firefight time than total flight time. I don’t see how Pakistan doesn’t mobilize unless somebody’s been tipped.

  9. rugger9 says:

    Maybe Davis’ job was to confirm the courier, but I’m still not sure why OBL wasn’t moved when Davis was found out in the way he was. As it was, the SEAL team had to be certain OBL was there when they moved in, otherwise it would have been a fiasco. That tells me Davis was not the one to confirm OBL’s presence, someone else had to do it.

    40 mins is plenty of time to respond for a military on alert, let’s not forget the fact that Pakistan is on a war footing not only for Afghanistan but also India. In addition, the location is very close to their prime officer training facility, even if it weren’t targeted, there’s no way anyone would be allowed to brazenly fly in and shoot things up, imagine that happening near West Point or Annapolis or Colorado Springs and you have the idea how hard it would be to not respond.

    That tells me the responders were under orders not to engage regardless of what they heard going on, and the power outage noted in a related post confirms that the Pakistani government was in on the deal, but (somehow) ISI doesn’t appear to have been. Does anyone have a clear picture on how the factions stack up, ISI vs gov’t vs army? That’s probably where the answer is to be found.

    Once again, the SEALs did a great job on this.

  10. croghan27 says:

    CBC radio interviewed a neighbour of the residence – he reported that it was an unremarkable house for the area. Given that Pakistan is not a hold-your-breath land of opportunity the definition of a mansion is probably influenced more by geography than by grandness. The theme of the piece was to investigate reactions to awaking one morning and finding your next door neighbour is the most wanted person in the world.

    I think Ecclesiastes and Pete Seegar had more to do with ‘turn, turn, turn,’ than Roger McGuinn and his Byrds.