FBI Retirees Warn against Jim Comey, Torture, and Indefinite Detention

When one of the unions that represent FBI Agents floated a trial balloon supporting Mike Rogers to be FBI Director, it got a lot more press attention than the unlikelihood of their request merited.

Let’s see whether this letter — from 5 retired FBI Agents — gets similar press attention. It raises concerns about two parts of Jim Comey’s past: his concurrence with a May 10, 2005 memo authorizing (among other things) torture — which I wrote about here — and his support for the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla.

However, the public record also shows that Mr. Comey concurred with a May 10, 2005 Office of Legal Counsel opinion that justified those same enhanced interrogation techniques for use individually. These techniques include cramped confinement, wallstanding, water dousing, extended sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, all of which constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in contravention of domestic and international law. Further, Mr. Comey vigorously defended the Bush administration’s decision to hold Jose Padilla, a United States citizen apprehended on U.S. soil, indefinitely without charge or trial for years in a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

Among the signatories is Jack Cloonan, a former member of the Osama bin Laden team who watched as CIA started interrupting successful interrogations to subject the detainee to torture instead. I’d be surprised, too, if he didn’t know Comey from the Southern District of NY days.

The letter suggests that Comey might not guard the FBI’s legacy as nobly as Robert Mueller (!) did.

The FBI, while not a perfect institution, has a proud history of dealing with terrorism suspects in accordance with the law. When other agencies and departments resorted to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, FBI Director Mueller directed FBI agents not to participate and in many cases FBI agents were pulled from the field where there were concerns about complicity with unlawful interrogation approaches. To date, the FBI has played a role in prosecuting within the civilian criminal justice system nearly 500 international terrorism cases–often leading to substantial periods of incarceration—

without having to resort to indefinite detention. Even Jose Padilla was ultimately given a trial in a civilian court, despite claims by Mr. Comey that prosecuting Padilla or otherwise affording him traditional due process protections would compromise national security.

They also tied Comey’s confirmation process to the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report.

The Agents ask only that Comey “reject” the May 10, 2005 OLC memo. Me, I’d like the Senate to demand a full explanation for the circumstances of it. The memo was retroactive to cover someone who had already been tortured (though of course probably served to authorize Abu Faraj al-Libi’s torture, among others). At the very least the Senate Judiciary Committee could demand that Comey explain the circumstances of that retroactive approval.

Marc Thiessen, You Are My Piñata

Normally, Marc Thiessen’s torture apologies aren’t worth my time. But seeing as how I didn’t whack any piñatas on Cinco de Mayo, why not Thiessen’s latest, in which he claims those who deny CIA interrogations played a part in nabbing bin Laden are the latest birthers?

Note the formulation, though: Thiessen’s not talking about torture. He’s talking about CIA interrogations generally, even while he links to a Sully post that in turn links to me (thanks Sully!). Sully was explicitly talking about torture, not interrogations generally, and I was talking specifically about waterboarding, and from that Thiessen concludes we deny CIA interrogations had any role in nabbing OBL.

What’s the matter, Marc? Is your shifting of the debate indication you know you’ve lost the torture debate?

And boy does he lose that debate. Thiessen spends much of his column talking about people whose interrogations led to other plots, some of them totally debunked even within the documents Thiessen quotes. About the only piece he really connects to OBL is this interpretation of the intelligence Abu Faraj al-Libi contributed.

Take, for example, the file on Abu Faraj al-Libi — one of several CIA detainees who helped lead the agency to bin Laden’s courier. The document describes Abu Faraj as the “communications gateway” to bin Laden who once in custody “reported on al-Qai’das methods for choosing and employing couriers, as well as preferred communications means.” Based on intelligence obtained from Abu Faraj and other CIA detainees, it states that “in July 2003, [Abu Faraj] received a letter from UBL’s designated courier” (to whom he referred by a false name, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan) in which “UBL stated [Abu Faraj] would be the official messenger between UBL and others in Pakistan.” The file also notes a vital piece of intelligence: To better carry out his new duties “in mid-2003, [Abu Faraj] moved his family to Abbottabad” — the city where bin Laden eventually met his end — “and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar.” And the file reveals that “in mid-April 2005, [Abu Faraj] began arranging for a store front to be used as a meeting place and drop point for messages he wanted to exchange” with bin Laden’s courier and was captured while waiting to meet him.

So to summarize Thiessen’s spin of how al-Libi helped nab OBL:

  • Al-Libi told the CIA that at a time when he was a key messenger for OBL, he had been in Abottabad
  • Al-Libi told the CIA how important couriers were
  • Al-Libi managed to hide the name of the all-important courier through whom we eventually found OBL, even under torture

Okay, Marc, so what did the CIA do with that intelligence? As Jose Rodriguez (who was head of Clandestine Services at the time) helpfully explained, they concluded from al-Libi’s interrogation that OBL was just a figurehead.

Al-Libbi told interrogators that the courier would carry messages from bin Laden to the outside world only every two months or so. “I realized that bin Laden was not really running his organization. You can’t run an organization and have a courier who makes the rounds every two months,” Rodriguez says. “So I became convinced then that this was a person who was just a figurehead and was not calling the shots, the tactical shots, of the organization. So that was significant.”

And later that same year, the CIA shut down its dedicated hunt for OBL.

The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials confirmed Monday.

The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.

The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush pledged to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice “dead or alive.”

The realignment reflects a view that Al Qaeda is no longer as hierarchical as it once was, intelligence officials said, and a growing concern about Qaeda-inspired groups that have begun carrying out attacks independent of Mr. bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

It wasn’t until the intelligence community got the courier’s real identity, and with it traced him back to Abbottabad–neither of which (according to reports thus far) came from al-Libi–that the intelligence community managed to track the courier in Abbottabad and in turn to OBL.

Now, as even the little bit I wrote that was quoted in Sully’s post made clear (so Thiessen presumably read it), the point I’m making is not that CIA interrogations didn’t yield information and–just as importantly–unbelievable denials–that ultimately helped lead to OBL. Rather, that either torture didn’t do as promised (that is, ensure we got all the important information that might lead to OBL’s location quickly) or the torturers were unable to understand the intelligence they were getting and so the intelligence was not used for years after we got it. Here’s what Sully quoted from me.

We can conclude that either KSM shielded the courier’s identity entirely until close to 2007, or he told his interrogators that there was a courier who might be protecting bin Laden early in his detention but they were never able to force him to give the courier’s true name or his location, at least not until three or four years after the waterboarding of KSM ended. That’s either a sign of the rank incompetence of KSM’s interrogators (that is, that they missed the significance of a courier protecting OBL), or a sign he was able to withstand whatever treatment they used with him.

And Thiessen’s own argument backs that up! According to his own argument, al-Libi gave us two key pieces of information, lied about another, and … the CIA responded by deprioritizing their hunt.

This, apparently, is Thiessen’s idea of a success!

And so, while those of us who note how torture stalled the hunt for OBL and didn’t deliver as promised note that fact, Thiessen sits at the WaPo proclaiming misunderstood leads and detainee lies a sign of success.

Alas, thwacking Thiessen’s nonsense won’t do a damn bit of good. Like torture, I guess, piñata thwacking never seems to work with dead-enders like Thiessen.

(Piñata image by peasap, used under Creative Commons license)

The MSM’s Gift to Moms? The Mushroom Cloud Brigade

I noted this already, but it so exceeds even the abysmal standards of the Sunday show bookers, I’m going to repeat it.

To celebrate Mothers Day, the Sunday shows have brought you the Mushroom Cloud Brigade–Condi Rice, Rummy, and Dick Cheney–the three people who, on September 8, 2002 used the Sunday shows to trumpet the intelligence they had laundered through Judy Miller to lie us into war against Iraq.

RICE: You will get different estimates about precisely how close he is. We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance — into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to — high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.

We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device.

The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

Of course, the Mushroom Cloud Brigade won’t be lying about Iraq today. They’ll be lying about torture. And they’ll be helped by a slew of other torture apologists: Michael Hayden, Michael Chertoff, Rudy “9/11” Giuliani, and Liz “BabyDick” Cheney. Update: My apologies for forgetting Univision, which also hosted a torture apologist (Alberto Gonzales), today.

As they spew their torture apology, remember this. The guy who ran their torture program, Jose Rodriguez, has said the best piece of intelligence we got from torture with respect to Osama bin Laden led him to conclude that OBL was no longer the tactical leader of al Qaeda.

Al-Libbi told interrogators that the courier would carry messages from bin Laden to the outside world only every two months or so. “I realized that bin Laden was not really running his organization. You can’t run an organization and have a courier who makes the rounds every two months,” Rodriguez says. “So I became convinced then that this was a person who was just a figurehead and was not calling the shots, the tactical shots, of the organization. So that was significant.”

That led the CIA to shut down its search for OBL precisely because they believed OBL no longer headed a hierarchical organization.

Only, at least according to a background briefing at the Pentagon yesterday (which could itself be more propaganda), that conclusion was wrong. The biggest lesson our intelligence agencies have gotten from analyzing the stash of materials at OBL’s compound is that OBL was not a figurehead, he remained not just the strategic, but also the tactical head of al Qaeda.

The following is a key point:  the materials reviewed over the past several days clearly show that bin Laden remained an active leader in al Qaeda, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group.  Though separated from many al Qaeda members who are located in more remote areas of the region, he was far from a figurehead.  He was an active player making the recent operation even more essential for our nation’s security.

According to torture apologist Jose Rodriguez, the most important information we got on OBL using torture was that he was a figurehead. According to those analyzing the materials from OBL’s compound, OBL “was far from a figurehead.”

Rodriguez’ torture-induced conclusion was completely wrong.

That’s what the torture apologists have to show for themselves: they gave up the hunt for OBL because they got bad information from torture.

So whereas on September 8, 2002, the Mushroom Cloud Brigade used the Sunday shows to sell a war that would distract us from fighting al Qaeda and getting OBL, today they’ll use the Sunday shows to claim torture helped find OBL. Yet another lie from the Mushroom Cloud Brigade on the Sunday shows.

Happy Mothers Day, moms! May the breakfast in bed your kids made for you help you avoid seeing the Mushroom Cloud Brigade and torture apologists on TV.

Why Did the Torture Apologists Come Out of their Caves?

I don’t really have the heart to refute Michael Mukasey’s apology for torture. In it, he contradicts assertions made by torture apologists who were closer to the torture. He includes extraneous (and false) details to fluff up his case. He falsely pretends the torture described in the torture memos accurately described what happened to the detainees he claims led to OBL. And he doesn’t even have the amusing self-contradiction that Rummy had, which at least made Rummy’s psychological pretzel interesting to read.

In short, for Mukasey, the capture of OBL is not time to celebrate, but rather an opportunity to launch a hackish political attack on President Obama.

But the piece did lead me to reflect on why the torture apologists are so desperately trying to give torture the credit for finding OBL.

There’s the big reason, of course, hinted at by Jose Rodriguez. He stated that the most valuable piece of intelligence Abu Faraj al-Libi revealed under torture was that OBL’s courier only communicated with the outside world every two months. From that, Rodriguez concluded that OBL was only a figurehead, no longer the active head of al Qaeda (a conclusion that may have been proven false by the intelligence found at OBL’s compound). Later that year, CIA would shutter the group focusing on finding bin Laden because–they had concluded–al Qaeda was no longer the hierarchy that had made OBL such a key figure earlier.

In other words, it’s not just that the torture apologists’ claims about torture–that it would immediately yield the information that would lead to OBL, allowing them to bypass the years of intelligence gathering it ultimately took to find OBL–proved so wrong. It’s that one of the chief torturers seems aware that the best piece of intelligence they got under torture is intelligence that led him to stop searching for OBL.

Then there’s the laughable reason Mukasey seems to be animated by: because Obama’s being mean to the torturers.

Yet the Justice Department, revealing its priorities, had gotten around to reopening investigations into the conduct of a half-dozen CIA employees alleged to have used undue force against suspected terrorists. I say “reopening” advisedly because those investigations had all been formally closed by the end of 2007, with detailed memoranda prepared by career Justice Department prosecutors explaining why no charges were warranted. Attorney General Eric Holder conceded that he had ordered the investigations reopened in September 2009 without reading those memoranda. The investigations have now dragged on for years with prosecutors chasing allegations down rabbit holes, with the CIA along with the rest of the intelligence community left demoralized.


We also need to put an end to the ongoing investigations of CIA operatives that continue to undermine intelligence community morale.

Mukasey’s concern is laughable, of course, because no one really believes these ongoing investigations exist for any reason except to shield the US from torture investigations conducted by countries like Spain and Poland. After all, if you won’t charge Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence that the torture conducted by his contractors exceeded the torture memos, you’re not going to file charges against anyone. Moreover, the statutes of limitation are expiring as we wait.

Though perhaps this is the real reason motivating Mukasey:

Immediately following the killing of bin Laden, the issue of interrogation techniques became in some quarters the “dirty little secret” of the event. But as disclosed in the declassified memos in 2009, the techniques are neither dirty nor, as noted by Director Hayden and others, were their results little. As the memoranda concluded—and as I concluded reading them at the beginning of my tenure as attorney general in 2007—the techniques were entirely lawful as the law stood at the time the memos were written, and the disclosures they elicited were enormously important. [my emphasis]

Mukasey sullied his reputation as a tough but fair judge when he agreed not to pursue torture in exchange for getting the Attorney General job. And since that time, the fiction he has been telling himself–that John Yoo’s analysis was even remotely serious, that the torturers didn’t exceed the guidelines of the memo, and that the torture proved valuable–has been exposed as a sordid lie. And ultimately, OBL’s death makes clear, it wasn’t worth it. The torture just impeded the real intelligence work that ultimately yielded OBL.

After all, ultimately the torture apologists staked their reputation on a certain approach to terrorism. That’s their legacy. It’s all they’ve got.

And, ultimately, I guess there’s one more reason the torture apologists came out of their caves. Either because of the media’s own complicity, or because the media has to sow controversy where celebration should suffice, the media is inviting them out of their caves; scheduling Condi Rice, Michael Chertoff, Michael Hayden, Rudy Giuliani, Rummy, and the pulse-less wonder himself for the Sunday shows. (The last time the Sunday shows featured a crowd like this, they were lying about mushroom clouds to gin up a war to distract us from beating al Qaeda.)

Jose Rodriguez Brags that He Got Terrorists to Deny Things Using Torture

Jose Rodriguez, the guy who as head of Counterterrorism Center oversaw the torture program and who as head of Clandestine Services had the videotapes that would prove torturers exceeded torture guidelines destroyed, has chosen this moment to give his first public interview. And according to Rodriguez, torture was key in finding Osama bin Laden.

“Information provided by KSM and Abu Faraj al Libbi about Bin Laden’s courier was the lead information that eventually led to the location of [bin Laden’s] compound and the operation that led to his death,” Rodriguez tells TIME in his first public interview. Rodriguez was cleared of charges in the video destruction investigation last year.

Of course, as the NYT reports but doesn’t note the implication of, the intelligence KSM and al-Libi gave interrogators were unreliable denials.

Because Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Libi had both steered interrogators away from Mr. Kuwaiti, C.I.A. officials concluded that they must be protecting him for an important reason.

“Think about circles of information — there’s an inner circle they would protect with their lives,” said an American official who was briefed on the C.I.A. analysis. “The crown jewels of Al Qaeda were the whereabouts of Bin Laden and his operational security.”

That’s what we’re arguing about, folks: whether the torture program was so effective that it led two terrorists to protect particular information after they’d been tortured.

I guess Jose Rodriguez doesn’t think he could have gotten KSM and al-Libi to deny this information without torture?

To be fair to Rodriguez, that’s not what he said al-Libi–whom he describes as having provided the most important intelligence–gave us. Rather, al-Libi provided information that convinced Rodriguez that Osama bin Laden wasn’t all that important.

Faraj told interrogators that the courier would only carry messages from bin Laden to the outside world every two months or so. “I realized that bin Laden was not really running his organization. You can’t run an organization and have a courier who makes the rounds every two months,” Rodriguez says. “So I became convinced then that this was a person who was just a figurehead and was not calling the shots, the tactical shots, of the organization. So that was significant.”

As a reminder, Abu Faraj al-Libi would have provided this information some time in 2005–probably June or July. In late 2005, CIA closed Alec Station, its bin Laden unit, having decided that al Qaeda was no longer as hierarchical as it used to be, and so pursuing bin Laden was not that important.

The unit, known as Alec Station, was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center, the officials said.

The decision is a milestone for the agency, which formed the unit before Osama bin Laden became a household name and bolstered its ranks after the Sept. 11 attacks, when President Bush pledged to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice “dead or alive.”

The realignment reflects a view that Al Qaeda is no longer as hierarchical as it once was, intelligence officials said, and a growing concern about Qaeda-inspired groups that have begun carrying out attacks independent of Mr. bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Agency officials said that tracking Mr. bin Laden and his deputies remained a high priority, and that the decision to disband the unit was not a sign that the effort had slackened.

All of which suggests that that great piece of intelligence al-Libi gave us–that OBL’s couriers would only check in every two months which meant he was just a figurehead–led directly to the CIA’s decision to stop focusing on bin Laden.

And if that’s the case, then al-Libi’s torture didn’t lead us to OBL; rather, it led us to stop searching in concerted manner for OBL.

No wonder Jose Rodriguez has taken this moment to start spinning wildly.

KSM Was Lying about OBL’s Location While Hiding the Courier Who Could Locate Him

I apologize for yet another post on why the torture apologists claims that torture got us Osama bin Laden are wrong.

The debate is now manipulating the question at issue, suggesting that the fact Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi provided tidbits (or, according to several reports, unconvincing denials) that led to OBL equates to us needing torture to get that intelligence. Particularly given that CIA used the denials of KSM and al-Libi as indications they were hiding something, it’s unclear why a denial without coercion would have served differently.

But there are two points that seem key in assessing the torture question. First, both KSM and al-Libi had critical intelligence they withheld under torture. KSM knew of Abu Ahmed’s trusted role and real name; al-Libi knew Abu Ahmed was OBL’s trusted courier and may have known of what became OBL’s compound.

And neither of them revealed that information to the CIA.

They waterboarded KSM 183 times in a month, and he either never got asked about couriers guarding OBL, or he avoided answering the question honestly. Had KSM revealed that detail, Bush might have gotten OBL 8 years ago.

And just as importantly, the whole time KSM was shielding Abu Ahmed’s true identity while being waterboarded, KSM was also lying to the CIA about where OBL was. When asked what things he lied about under torture at his 2007 CSRT hearing, KSM specifically said he first said he didn’t know of OBL’s whereabouts, and then confirmed false locations for him, in response to the torture.

President [of the Tribunal]: What I’m trying to get at is any statement that you made was it because of this treatment, to use your word, you claim torture. Do you make any statements because of that?


KSM: I make up stories just location UBL. Where is he? I don’t know. Then he torture me. Then I said yes, he is in this area or this is al Qaida which I don’t him. I say no. They torture me.

So at the time when KSM was guarding crucial information about Abu Ahmed and with it OBL’s location, he was making shit up to get the torture to stop.

As I understand the torture apologists’ arguments, the whole point of it (aside from generating propaganda and making chicken hawks excited) is to get crucial intelligence quickly, to skip the laborious process of acquiring a mosaic of information and developing deep knowledge of an organization over years–that is, to skip the process that has now resulted in the death of OBL. But instead of skipping that step, we got denials and–in the case of KSM–disinformation. And only now, eight and six years later, we’re only now becoming aware of the intelligence these men had that would have led to OBL had our interrogation been more successful.

ISI Raided Abbottabad Compound in 2003, Looking for Abu Furaj al-Libi

The BBC has a claim from Pakistan’s ISI that, if true, ought to put the torture debate to bed once and for all. ISI claims that they raided the compound in Abbottabad in 2003, while it was under construction, believing they’d capture Abu Faraj al-Libi.

The ISI official told the BBC’s Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad that the compound in Abbottabad, just 100km (62 miles) from the capital, was raided when under construction in 2003.

It was believed an al-Qaeda operative, Abu Faraj al-Libi, was there.

The key detail is not so much the raid itself, it’s that when al-Libi lived in Abbottabad, ISI believed, he was at the compound at which Osama bin Laden would eventually be found.

As I pointed out yesterday, al-Libi’s Detainee Assessment Brief recounts that Osama bin Laden instructed al-Libi via a courier in 2003 that he would basically take over for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

In July 2003, detainee received a letter from UBL’s designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organizing travel, and distributing funds to families in Pakistan. UBL stated detainee would be the official messenger between UBL and others in Pakistan.

Either right before or right after that order from OBL, al-Libi moved with his family to Abbottabad for a year.

In mid-2003, detainee moved his family to Abbottabad, PK and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar.


In mid 2004, detainee moved his family from Abbottabad to Bajaur, PK.

And at some point during that year, the Pakistanis raided the compound which was already under construction.

As I suggested yesterday, all this may suggest that al-Libi oversaw the construction of the compound that would go on to shelter OBL and his family for up to six years.

And in any case, it seems to confirm that al-Libi not only knew the courier who could locate OBL, but knew of the actual location OBL would go on to occupy (while this doesn’t necessarily confirm al-Libi would know OBL would occupy it, remember that OBL is reported to have moved to the compound in 2005, so in the same year al-Libi was captured).

Now, we can’t say one way or another whether skilled interrogation would have yielded this information in 2005. It’s possible al-Libi would have successfully shielded it in any case. But if the ISI report is even remotely accurate, it seems clear that al-Libi sat in our custody for six years, knowing of the location that might house OBL, and never disclosed it.

Update: If these CBS satellite pictures are labeled accurately, ISI couldn’t have done a raid on the compound in 2003, because it was still a field. (h/t RS) Which I guess leaves the question why ISI wants to claim they were close to al-Libi in 2003?

Update: Here are a series of images from cryptome, though the 2004 one is still the same.

Tracking the Courier … Through Hassan Ghul

Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo have fleshed out the story I linked here, describing the threads of intelligence that led to the courier–whose name they report as Sheikh Abu Ahmed–who in turn led to Osama bin Laden. The story includes the following steps:

  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, months after he was waterboarded and via “standard” interrogation, admits he knows someone named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, but denies he has anything to do with al Qaeda.
  • Hassan Ghul, who was captured in Iraq in 2004, reveals that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was an al Qaeda courier
  • Under CIA interrogation, Abu Faraj al-Libi admits he learned he was replacing KSM through a courier, but denied knowing al-Kuwaiti so strenuously CIA figured he must be important
  • Via still unclear means, CIA learns Abu Ahmed’s real name
  • US picks up Abu Ahmed talking to someone else it was monitoring, speaking from a location away from the compound
  • US tracks Abu Ahmed back to compound

The story has many more details, so go read the whole thing and then come back for my long-winded discussion.

First, some general comments. This narrative still seems to be missing at least one step: how they learned Abu Ahmed’s real name. As I noted earlier, the senior administration official who briefed on this the other day said they learned that name four years ago, so sometime about a year after the time in 2005-2006 when al-Libi’s interrogation would have made it clear al-Kuwaiti was a key figure.

Further, the narrative the AP tells now makes it even more clear how ineffective the CIA program was. The AP’s sources specify that KSM did not admit he knew al-Kuwaiti while being waterboarded. But that sort of dodges the whole issue: in response to his torture, according to KSM, he made up false locations for OBL. At the same time he was shielding information that could lead to OBL–and he continued to shield it under “standard” interrogation (again, it’s a pity FBI’s KSM expert never got to interrogate him). And then al-Libi, when he was in the CIA’s interrogation program, managed to shield that same information even after the CIA recognized it was important.

The CIA program failed to do one of the most important things it set out to do, break through detainees’ efforts to hide OBL.

Now onto the most fascinating part of this story: the role of Hassan Ghul. Here’s how AP describes his role.

Then in 2004, top al-Qaida operative Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Ghul told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti was a courier, someone crucial to the terrorist organization. In particular, Ghul said, the courier was close to Faraj al-Libi, who replaced Mohammed as al-Qaida’s operational commander. It was a key break in the hunt for in bin Laden’s personal courier.

“Hassan Ghul was the linchpin,” a U.S. official said.

I’ve written about Ghul a bunch, largely because his treatment in 2004 appears to have presented legal problems for the Bush Administration with regards to deportation from Iraq, relations between DOD and CIA, and torture itself, all of which bubbled over just as tensions about the interrogation program arose. Just as interesting, Ghul is widely understood to have been disappeared (and there were doubts about his identity). Given the Ibn Sheikh al-Libi precedent–where they disappeared and then suicided a detainee with the most inconvenient information–Ghul’s disappearance remains an key unexplained detail. I had, in the past, wondered whether claims that Ghul served as an envoy from al Qaeda to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were overblown (which would provide one explanation for his disappearance), but Ghul’s knowledge of al-Kuwaiti (and the capture of al-Libi nine months after Ghul’s interrogation at least appears to have begun in earnest) would seem to confirm he did turn out to be who he said he was: someone with real ties to top al Qaeda leaders.

But here’s the other remarkable bit. Ghul was last heard of when the British al Qaeda figure Rangzieb Ahmed claimed to have been held with Ghul in Pakistan from 2006-2007, after which Ghul was moved. But at least according to a Goldman tweet from yesterday, after spending time in Romania, Ghul was freed. Particularly given the legal exposure the Bush Administration might have specifically with Ghul (I’ll explain this in a future post), I find that remarkable.

The Osama bin Laden Trail Shows Waterboarding Didn’t Work

The AP has confirmed that intelligence leading to the courier that in turn led to Osama bin Laden came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and–as I surmised earlier–Abu Faraj al-Libi while in CIA custody. But partly because of the language AP uses to describe this–and partly because the wingnuts love torture–many are drawing the wrong conclusion about it. Here’s what the AP says:

Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, provided the nom de guerre of one of bin Laden’s most trusted aides. The CIA got similar information from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.

Note what AP says: KSM provided the courier’s nom de guerre. The CIA got similar information from al-Libi. And they were tortured. The AP does not say torture led to this information.

Here’s what a senior administration official said last night about when they got the intelligence on the courier.

Detainees gave us his nom de guerre or his nickname and identified him as both a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11th, and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.

Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with and protecting bin Laden. But for years, we were unable to identify his true name or his location.

Four years ago, we uncovered his identity, and for operational reasons, I can’t go into details about his name or how we identified him, but about two years ago, after months of persistent effort, we identified areas in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated. [my emphasis]

In other words, while the CIA may have learned the courier’s nickname earlier, they didn’t learn his true name until “four years ago”–so late 2006 at the earliest. And they didn’t learn where the courier operated until around 2009.

From these dates we can conclude that either KSM shielded the courier’s identity entirely until close to 2007, or he told his interrogators that there was a courier who might be protecting bin Laden early in his detention but they were never able to force him to give the courier’s true name or his location, at least not until three or four years after the waterboarding of KSM ended. That’s either a sign of the rank incompetence of KSM’s interrogators (that is, that they missed the significance of a courier protecting OBL), or a sign he was able to withstand whatever treatment they used with him.

With al-Libi, the connection between whatever torture he experienced and this intelligence is less clear (since he was first detained in 2005), but even with al-Libi, it appears clear he either never revealed the courier’s real name or only did so after he had been in custody for a year, and almost certainly until after he arrived in Gitmo.

Update: Putting the AP’s reporting here together with the DAB, it seems like al-Libi did give up the name, perhaps earlier than reported. But still not waterboarding.

Either these men didn’t know the true name of their protégé and assistant (which is highly unlikely), or they managed to withhold that information even under torture.

In fact, two people who normally would be crowing about the success of torture are not now doing it. Donald Rumsfeld suggests the discovery of OBL came from intelligence gained at Gitmo (therefore, not in Poland or Romania). And while Cheney assumes enhanced interrogation aka torture led to OBL, he admits he doesn’t know where the intelligence came from; given that he was ordering up propaganda reports along the way to justify his torture program, yet can’t claim definitively that the intelligence came from it, is a pretty good tell that he can’t say it did.

If KSM and al-Libi revealed details about the courier (and al-Libi’s Gitmo file suggests he did; KSM’s, which is dated two years earlier, does not), they shielded the most important information about him for years.

All of which sort of makes you wonder whether the FBI’s KSM expert could have gotten it out of KSM had he ever interrogated him.

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.


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- 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.