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Context of 'March 28, 2004: Sunday Times Reveals Inside Information from KSM Interrogations'

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Ramzi Yousef apprehended.Ramzi Yousef apprehended. [Source: Public domain]Ramzi Yousef is arrested in Pakistan, in a safe house owned by Osama bin Laden (see February 1992-February 7, 1995). At the time, Yousef’s uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is staying in the same building and brazenly gives an interview to Time magazine as “Khalid Sheikh,” describing Yousef’s capture. [Lance, 2003, pp. 328] Yousef had recruited Istaique Parker to implement a limited version of Operation Bojinka, but Parker got cold feet and instead turned in Yousef (see February 3-7, 1995). [Lance, 2003, pp. 284-85] Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will later report that at this time the CIA “fought with the FBI over arresting Yousef in Pakistan—the CIA reportedly wanted to continue tracking him—and President Clinton was forced to intervene.” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Yousef is rendered to the US the next day and makes a partial confession while flying there (see February 8, 1995).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Operation Bojinka, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Istaique Parker, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George J. Tenet, Dan Coleman, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed Ressam, Omar Nasiri, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Sunday Times publishes details of interrogations of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who is being held by the CIA. The article, written by Christina Lamb, indicates the information is from “transcripts” of his interrogations. It also quotes KSM as making various statements, such as “The original plan [for 9/11] was for a two-pronged attack with five targets on the East Coast of America and five on the West Coast.” The report makes the following claims:
bullet KSM introduced Osama bin Laden to Hambali, leader of the Southeast Asian militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah, who KSM first met during the Soviet-Afghan War in Peshawar, Pakistan. KSM was “impressed” with “Hambali’s connections with the Malaysian government,” and bin Laden and Hambali forged an alliance in 1996.
bullet After 1996, KSM became a “key planner in almost every attack, including the simultaneous bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.”
bullet He was the “chief planner” for 9/11 and planning started very early, before his associate Ramzi Yousef was captured (see February 7, 1995), when they hit upon the idea of using planes to attack the US. The plan for 9/11 initially had two parts, one on the US East Coast and the other on the west, but bin Laden canceled the second half. This part was then spun off into a second, separate plot, to be carried out independently, and one of the operatives to be involved was Zacarias Moussaoui. The first two operatives selected for 9/11 were Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, followed by Mohamed Atta and his associates from Hamburg.
bullet Al-Qaeda was very surprised by the US response to the 9/11 attacks. “Afterwards we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run,” KSM is quoted as saying. He added that the US campaign seriously disrupted operations.
bullet Britain was the next target after 9/11, because, “Osama declared [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair our principal enemy and London a target.” However, a plot to attack Heathrow Airport never got beyond the planning stage.
bullet KSM also described Hambali’s departure from Afghanistan in November 2001, and said the two kept in touch through Hambali’s brother.
The article points out that “the interrogation transcripts are prefaced with the warning that ‘the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead,’” and also mentions some allegations made against US interrogators, including sleep deprivation, extremes of heat and cold, truth drugs, and the use of Arab interrogators so that detainees thought they were in an Arab camp. [Sunday Times (London), 3/28/2004] When it becomes clear what techniques have been used to obtain information from KSM, doubts will be expressed about the reliability of his information (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). However, most of this information will appear in the relevant sections of the 9/11 Commission report, which are based on reports produced by CIA interrogators. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Despite this, some of the information contained in the report seems to be incorrect. For example, Abu Zubaida is described as a member of al-Qaeda’s inner shura council, although it appears he was not that close to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). In addition, KSM is described as the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee, although he will later deny this (see March 10, 2007).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture).A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture). [Source: FBI]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attends his combat status review tribunal at Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), where he admits participating in the 9/11 attacks and numerous other plots, and offers a defense of his actions. He claims responsibility or co-responsibility for a list of 31 plots, including:
bullet The 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993);
bullet The 9/11 operation: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z”;
bullet The murder of Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002): “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl”;
bullet The late 2001 shoe bombing operation (see December 22, 2001);
bullet The 2002 Bali nightclub bombings (see October 12, 2002);
bullet A series of ship-bombing operations (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001 and June 2001);
bullet Failed plots to assassinate several former US presidents;
bullet Planned attacks on bridges in New York;
bullet Various other failed attacks in the US, UK, Israel, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, India, South Korea, and Turkey;
bullet The planned destruction of an El-Al flight in Bangkok;
bullet The Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and assassination plans for President Clinton (see September 18-November 14, 1994) and the Pope (see September 1998-January 1999); and
bullet Planned attacks on the Library Tower in California, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and the “Plaza Bank” in Washington State (see October 2001-February 2002). [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] However, the Plaza Bank was not founded until 2006, three years after KSM was captured. The bank’s president comments: “We’re confused as to how we got on that list. We’ve had a little bit of fun with it over here.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007]
On the other hand, KSM denies receiving funds from Kuwait or ever heading al-Qaeda’s military committee; he says this was a reporting error by Yosri Fouda, who interviewed him in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002). In addition, he claims he was tortured, his children were abused in detention, and that he lied to his interrogators (see June 16, 2004). He also complains that the tribunal system is unfair and that many people who are not “enemy combatants” are being held in Guantanamo Bay. For example, a team sent by a Sunni government to assassinate bin Laden was captured by the Taliban, then by the US, and is being held in Guantanamo Bay. He says that his membership of al-Qaeda is related to the Bojinka operation, but that even after he became involved with al-Qaeda he continued to work with another organization, which he calls the “Mujaheddin,” was based in Pakistan, and for which he says he killed Daniel Pearl. [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] (Note: KSM’s cousin Ramzi Yousef was involved with the militant Pakistani organization Sipah-e-Sahaba.) [Reeve, 1999, pp. 50, 54, 67] Mohammed says he was waterboarded by his interrogators. He is asked: “Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?” He responds, “CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] He goes on to compare radical Islamists fighting to free the Middle East from US influence to George Washington, hero of the American War of Independence, and says the US is oppressing Muslims in the same way the British are alleged by some to have oppressed Americans. Regarding the fatalities on 9/11, he says: “I’m not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” Although Islam prohibits killing, KSM argues that there is an exception because “you are killing people in Iraq.… Same language you use, I use.… The language of war is victims.” [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 pdf file] The hearing is watched from an adjoining room on closed circuit television by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL). [US Congress, 3/10/2007] KSM’s confession arouses a great deal of interest in the media, which is skeptical of it (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).

Entity Tags: Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Carl Levin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

John Brennan.John Brennan. [Source: PBS]An article in the New Yorker magazine reveals that the CIA interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) were not as reliable as they are typically made out to be. Mohammed was interrogated with methods such as waterboarding that are regarded as torture by many. CIA official John Brennan, former chief of staff for CIA Director George Tenet, acknowledges, “All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.” One former top CIA official estimates that “ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.” Cables of Mohammed’s interrogation transcripts sent to higher-ups reportedly were prefaced with the warning that “the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations was called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies” (see June 16, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel asks, “What are you going to do with KSM in the long run? It’s a very good question. I don’t think anyone has an answer. If you took him to any real American court, I think any judge would say there is no admissible evidence. It would be thrown out.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says, “A guy as dangerous as KSM is, and half the world wonders if they can believe him—is that what we want? Statements that can’t be believed, because people think they rely on torture?” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist James Risen wrote in a 2006 book, “According to a well-placed CIA source, [Mohammed] has now recanted some of what he previously told the CIA during his interrogations. That is an enormous setback for the CIA, since [his debriefings] had been considered among the agency’s most important sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda. It is unclear precisely which of his earlier statements [he] has now disavowed, but any recantation by the most important prisoner in the global war on terror must call into question much of what the United States has obtained from other prisoners around the world…” [Risen, 2006, pp. 33] In a 2008 Vanity Fair interview, a former senior CIA official familiar with the interrogation reports on Mohammed will say, “90 percent of it was total f_cking bullsh_t.” A former Pentagon analyst will add: “KSM produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Levin, John O. Brennan, Bruce Riedel, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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