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Profile: Ron Suskind

Ron Suskind was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Bush administration broadens the definition of what the government considers classified information from the very beginning of its time in office. Author Ron Suskind will later write, “The [classification] initiative was a pet project of [Vice President Cheney], who’d long believed that public and congressional scrutiny of presidents was weakening executive power. With Cheney’s guidance [before 9/11], documents were being classified at twice the rate of the previous administration.” This penchant for secrecy and classification will increase even more after 9/11. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 98]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft leads a presidential panel which proposes that control of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency be transferred from the Department of Defense to the head of the CIA, the director of central intelligence (DCI). The plan is favored by the Congressional 9/11 joint inquiry but opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. For years experts have argued that the US intelligence community’s 13 disparate agencies—“85 percent of whose assets reside in the Defense Department”—should be consolidated under the head of the CIA. [US News and World Report, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 8/19/2004]
Intelligence Community Still Focused on Cold War Needs, Scowcroft Finds - Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close friend and confidant of former President George H. W. Bush, actually revises a report he began before the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the US intelligence apparatus had been designed to meet the needs of the Cold War era and should now be overhauled. The 9/11 attacks are evidence of this, Scowcroft believes. The attacks came from rogue Islamist terrorists, not a superpower like China or the old USSR.
Opposition from Rumsfeld, Cheney - But, as Ron Suskind will write in his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Rumsfeld is “strongly opposed” to Scowcroft’s idea, presumably because, by transferring control of the NSA from the Pentagon to the CIA, it would take power away from him. Scowcroft approaches Cheney with the dilemma. Scowcroft is well aware of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s long political partnership, and gives Cheney an easy out. If his proposals are overly “disruptive,” Scowcroft says, “I’ll just fold my tent and go away. I don’t want to… but I’ll be guided by you.” Cheney now has a choice. Knowing this is a battle Scowcroft will not win, he can either call Scowcroft off now and defuse a potential political conflict within the administration, or, in author Craig Unger’s words, he can “send Scowcroft off on a fool’s errand, pitting Bush 41’s close friend, as Suskind noted, against Bush 43’s cabinet secretary [Rumsfeld], who just happened to be Bush 41’s lifelong nemesis (see September 21, 1974 and After). Cheney chose the latter.” Cheney tells Scowcroft to “go ahead, submit the report to the president.” He knows President Bush will listen to Cheney and Rumsfeld’s advice and ignore the report. Unger later notes, “Scowcroft had once been Cheney’s mentor, his patron. Now the vice president was just humoring him.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 225-226]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Ron Suskind, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Central Intelligence Agency, Brent Scowcroft, Craig Unger, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

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 capture of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is leaked to the press shortly after it occurs and on April 9, 2002, President Bush says in a speech: “The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaida. He’s one of the top operatives planning death and destruction on the United States. He’s not plotting and planning anymore.” In the weeks and months that follow, Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida. He is frequently described as “chief of operations” for all of al-Qaeda and the group’s number three leader. Zubaida is the only significant al-Qaeda capture in the first year after 9/11, so there is pressure to hype his importance. However, at the time there is a raging debate among US intelligence analysts as to Zubaida’s actual importance and even his mental sanity (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). According to journalist Ron Suskind, one day, when CIA Director George Tenet reminds Bush that Zubaida was not such a top leader after all, Bush reportedly says to him: “I said he was important. You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” Tenet replies, “No sir, Mr. President.” Suskind will later comment: “In the wide, diffuse ‘war on terror,’ so much of it occurring in the shadows—with no transparency and only perfunctory oversight—the administration could say anything it wanted to say.… The administration could create whatever reality was convenient.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 99-100] But in 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will issue a report containing the biographies of al-Qaeda detainees held at Guantanamo. In marked contrast to previous announcements, this biography downgrades the importance of Zubaida. It merely calls him a “leading extremist facilitator” and “one of al-Qaeda’s senior travel facilitators,” and says he is “not believed to be directly linked to the attacks on 11 September 2001.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 9/6/2006 pdf file; Time, 9/6/2006; Dickey, 2009, pp. 77] In 2006, Bush will make new claims about Zubaida’s capture that are at odds with the known facts (see September 6, 2006).

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Reporter and author Ron Suskind meets with a unnamed senior adviser to Bush, who complains to Suskind about an article he recently wrote in Esquire magazine about Bush’s communications director, Karen Hughes. In spite of his displeasure, the senior advisor says, boastfully: Guys like you are “in what we call the reality-based community”—people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” [New York Times Magazine, 10/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Karen Hughes

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Condoleezza Rice appears on CNN to discuss the alleged threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. She insists that Iraq is intent on developing a nuclear weapon. “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.” [CNN, 9/8/2002; CNN, 9/8/2002; New York Times, 7/20/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004] In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind writes, “The statement sent off shock waves. Rice was criticized for fear-mongering, for suggesting that there was evidence that Hussein might have such a weapon. Arguments about proof, though, were missing the point—Rice’s roundabout argument was that the United States should act whether or not it found a “smoking gun.” She was showing an edge of the actual US policy: the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response; acting on any inkling was now appropriate—to be safe, to be sure, to get an opponent before he can develop capability, so others know to not even start down that path.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 170]

Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Ron Suskind, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The US search for al-Qaeda figures Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh focuses on the city of Karachi, Pakistan, culminating in the capture of bin al-Shibh there on September 11, 2002. Accounts differ, but at some point in mid-2002 Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda allegedly interviews bin al-Shibh and KSM in Karachi (see April, June, or August 2002). In 2003, Fouda will write a book about 9/11 with London Times reporter Nick Fielding. In the book, they will speculate why bin al-Shibh was arrested in Karachi on September 11, 2002, only a few months after the interview (see September 11, 2002), and within two days of when Fouda’s report (with audio from bin al-Shibh but not KSM) is first broadcast (see September 8-11, 2002): “Al Jazeera’s broadcasts probably confirmed what intelligence agencies already suspected, namely that bin al-Shibh and [KSM] were hiding in the Karachi area. That information would have been enough to justify the deployment of massive electronic resources in the area.” The authors further claim that, according to unnamed intelligence sources, while the NSA’s Echelon satellite network intercepts communications all over the world, the network’s “real strength” is that it “can concentrate huge resources into one specified area.” A source close to US intelligence will tell the authors: “Bin al-Shibh was apparently caught because he was a geek who was too willing to get onto his [satellite phone] and his e-mail. He thought he was too clever and had been getting away with things for too long.” Declassified Russian intelligence reports say that US intelligence satellites oscillate in their orbit in a way that allows the satellites to pick up the same satellite phone signals from slightly different angles and thus take bearings to identify the precise locations of the calls. The authors will further say that sources close to the NSA have dismissed the idea that bin al-Shibh was located by an electronic voice print based on his voice in the Al Jazeera interview, as such a technique is very hard to do, especially since his voice was electronically altered. [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 184] Three years after the book by Fouda and Fielding is published, a book by Ron Suskind will claim that this intensive US surveillance of Karachi begins not because of bin al-Shibh’s voice in the interview, but because shortly after the interview takes place, Fouda tells his superiors at Al Jazeera that the interview had been in Karachi, and this information gets passed on to US intelligence (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). This would have given US intelligence several months to home in on bin al-Shibh’s location instead of just two days (see September 9, 2002). KSM apparently makes it out of Karachi without being captured, and he will be captured elsewhere in Pakistan in early 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, just one day after the interview with Fouda is aired, there are reports that KSM was captured in Karachi in June 2002, close to the time the interview is said to have taken place (see June 16, 2002).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al Jazeera, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Nick Fielding, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ron Suskind, Yosri Fouda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind will report that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He gives him the alias “Ali.” He claims that many within al-Qaeda like Ali thought the 9/11 attacks were a mistake, and that as a result US intelligence began “working a few potential informants.” He claims that by early 2003, Ali’s reports over the previous six months “had been almost always correct, including information that led to several captures.” Ali also warned of a new chemical bomb al-Qaeda has developed and revealed the name of the top al-Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia (see February-Late March 2003). But Suskind will give no further details about Ali or what becomes of him, and no details about the other “potential informants” that he hints at. However, he will comment, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-218]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ron Suskind, Al-Qaeda, Ali

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind will claim that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, was monitored as he attempted to fly to the US. According to Suskind, NSA surveillance discovers that Khan is coming to the US soon and has been in contact with suspect US citizens, including Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an Islamist radical living in Virginia. E-mails between Khan, Ali, and others discuss plans for various violent activities, including a desire to “blow up synagogues on the East Coast.” FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, reads the intercepts and advocates either a very intensive surveillance of Khan when he is in the US, or not letting him in at all. Officials, including Joe Billy, head of the FBI’s New York office, worry about being held responsible if Khan is allowed into the country and then manages to commit some violent act. With Khan scheduled to come to the US in one day, “top bosses in Washington” quickly decide to put him on a no-fly list. Khan does fly to the US, and is stopped and sent back to Britain. As a result, he realizes the US is onto him and presumably takes greater precautions. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 200-203]
Confusion - However, when Suskind’s book is published in June 2006, a number of articles will dispute Suskind’s claim. For instance, Newsweek will report that “several US and [British] law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials” anonymously claim that Suskind is mistaken, and is confusing Sidique Khan with another British suspect named Mohammed Ajmal Khan. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006] The Telegraph reaches the same conclusion, and points out that Ajmal Khan pleaded guilty in a British trial in March on charges of providing weapons and funds to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. During that trial, it was revealed that he made several trips to the US and met with a group of suspected militants in Virginia, including one named Ahmed Omar Abu Ali.
Stands by Story - However, Suskind will resolutely stand by his story, saying, “In my investigation and in my book and in my conversations with people in the US government, there was no mistake or doubt that we are talking about Mohammad Sidique Khan, not Mohammed Ajmal Khan.” He says he was aware of the difference between the two and suggests British officials may have been trying to push Ajmal Khan instead to cover up their failures to stop the 7/7 bombings. The two officials mentioned by name in Suskind’s account, Coleman and Billy, apparently say nothing to the press to confirm or deny the story. [Daily Telegraph, 6/22/2006]
Visit to Israel - Curiously, it will be reported shortly after the 7/7 bombings that Khan visits Israel around this time, February 19-20, 2003, and the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv will claim he is suspected of helping two Pakistani-Britons plot a suicide bombing that kills three Israelis several months later (see February 19-20, 2003). [Guardian, 7/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, National Security Agency, Joe Billy, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, Dan Coleman, Mohammed Ajmal Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In February 2003, some radical militants are arrested in Bahrain. A joint US-Saudi raid of an apartment in Saudi Arabia owned by one of them reveals the designs for a bomb called a mubtakkar. This bomb is made of two widely available chemicals, sodium cyanide and hydrogen, which combine to create hydrogen cyanide. When turned to gas, it is lethal, and counterterrorism experts are highly alarmed at this technical breakthrough. CIA Director Tenet briefs President Bush about the mubtakkar bomb in early March. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 193-197; Time, 6/17/2006] Journalist Ron Suskind calls it a “nightmare delivery system—portable, easy to construct, deadly.” The CIA has a highly placed al-Qaeda informant codenamed Ali, and in late March they contact him to learn more about the bomb. He tells his CIA handlers that Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, visited al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2003. He told al-Zawahiri of an already advanced plot in the US. Operatives loosely linked to al-Qaeda had traveled to the US in the fall of 2002 and thoroughly cased locations in New York City. They would place the mubtakkar bomb in subway cars and remotely activate them. The group was ready to implement an attack in about 45 days. According to Suskind, several thousand people could be killed. But Ali learned that al-Zawahiri called off the attacks, though Ali does not know the reason why. The group did cancel the attack, and US intelligence never learns who exactly they were. President Bush and others puzzle why the attack was canceled and speculate that al-Qaeda put it aside in favor of an even bigger attack. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-220; Time, 6/17/2006] Suskind’s account will cause alarm when revealed in 2006. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will say that authorities took the plot seriously but were never able to confirm its existence. Other officials will debate the effectiveness of the bomb and how many deaths it could have caused. [CNN, 6/18/2006] University of Maryland professor Milton Leitenberg later says of the bomb, “What you would get, in all probability, is a big bang, a big splash, but very little gas.” He also says that concentrations of key chemicals present in household materials are so low “you would get next to nothing” by using them, and one would have to get them from a chemical supplier or steal them from a laboratory. One counterterrorism official points out, “If this is such an amazing weapon, and the design for it is out there, why has no one ever used it?” [United Press International, 6/27/2006] An article by the private intelligence service Stratfor is also skeptical and suggests that al-Zawahiri called off the attack because it wouldn’t have been as deadly as if conventional bombs were used instead. [Stratfor, 6/21/2006] CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton will also later suggest that a team was recruited to stage the attack but apparently never was sent to the US. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Milton Leitenberg, Yusef al-Ayeri, Charles Schumer, George J. Tenet, Ali, Ayman al-Zawahiri, George W. Bush, Hank Crumpton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In December 2003, Norwegian intelligence discovers an al-Qaeda treatise on the Internet called “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers.” Completed in September 2003, it is dedicated to Yusef al-Ayeri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula until he was killed in May 2003 (see May 31, 2003), and parts of it may have been written by al-Ayeri. The treatise has a series of recommendations on how to undercut US efforts in Iraq. One major idea is to separate the US from its allies in the Iraq war such as Britain, Spain, and Poland by bombing them. It suggests the political utility of an attack in Spain before 2004 elections there, which is what later occurs (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It will later be determined that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the leaders of the Madrid bombings, downloaded the treatise and was presumably influenced by it (it will also be alleged that Fakhet really was a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). [New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] Interestingly, the treatise focuses on new attacks in Saudi Arabia and Europe, but not in the US. This dovetails with a growing consensus within the US intelligence community that al-Qaeda may not have been trying to attack the US since 9/11. One senior CIA official will later say, “Clearly, they had the capability to attack us in about a hundred different ways. They didn’t. The question was, why?” Journalist Ron Suskind will later comment that the idea “al-Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America” was “a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized…” Suskind will later note that President Bush’s “central assertion that he should be reelected [in 2004] because he had kept [the US] from being attacked again” would have been severely undercut if the US public was aware of this US intelligence consensus. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 302-204]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Yusef al-Ayeri, US intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telephones former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill and warns him that it might be against his best interest to go ahead with the publishing of The Price of Loyalty, an insider account of how Iraq quickly became the administration’s focus once in office. The book, authored by journalist Ron Suskind, is based upon O’Neill’s experience as secretary of the treasury. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Paul O’Neill, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

“A few months” before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), journalist Ron Suskind interviews radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed. Suskind had recently heard from a British intelligence official that Bakri “had helped [British domestic intelligence agency] MI5 on several of its investigations,” in Suskind’s words, and he asks Bakri about this. According to Suskind, Bakri looks flustered and says, “I’m upset you know this.” Asked why he helped the British, he replies: “Because I like it here. My family’s here. I like the health benefits.” In early 2007, Suskind calls Bakri on the phone. After the 7/7 bombings, Bakri moved from London to Lebanon (see August 6, 2005), but by the time Suskind reaches him, Bakri has moved again to Tripoli, Libya. Bakri admits that he misses Britain and his role there. He says that the British government misses him too, “whether they admit it or not.” He adds: “We were able to control the Muslim youth.… The radical preacher that allows a venting of a point of view is preventing violence. Now, many of us are gone or in jail, and we’ve been replaced by radical jihadis, who take the youth underground. You don’t see them until the day they vent with the bombs.” Suskind will later comment: “Bakri enjoyed his notoriety and was willing to pay for it with information he passed to the police.… It’s a fabric of subtle interlocking needs: the [British authorities] need be in a backchannel conversation with someone working the steam valve of Muslim anger; Bakri needs health insurance.” Bakri’s role as an informant will not be made public until Suskind mentions it in a book published in August 2008. Suskind will not make clear when Bakri’s collaboration with MI5 began or ended, or even if he was still collaborating when they spoke in early 2005. [Suskind, 2008, pp. 200-202] In 2002, Roland Jacquard, a French counterterrorism expert and government adviser, said that “every al-Qaeda operative recently arrested or identified in Europe had come into contact with Bakri at some time or other.” [Time, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Ron Suskind, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview.Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Rachel Maddow, Saddam Hussein, Ron Suskind, Senate Armed Services Committee, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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