In recent days, the Left has been apoplectic that, in interviews for my book Courting Disaster, I continue to assert that CIA questioning of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed helped thwart a plot to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast — the Library Tower in Los Angeles. Those claims have been debunked, the critics argue, because key operatives in the plot were arrested in 2002, before KSM was captured. Using information from KSM to break up the plot Library Tower plot would “have been a tremendous achievement in surmounting the time-space continuum,” writes the Huffington Post. FBI agent and CIA critic Ali Soufan has made much the same claim.
It does not seem to dawn on them that while two terrorists in the plot were indeed captured in 2002, the 19 other operatives in the plot who were still at large when KSM was captured (including KSM’s partner in hatching the plot, Jemmah Islamiyah terrorist Hambali) might still have been determined to carry it out.
Unfortunately for HuffPo and the other critics, new evidence emerged this week in declassified CIA documents released by the Obama administration which confirms that this was in fact the case. Specifically, the administration released Top Secret Congressional testimony from then-CIA director Mike Hayden on April 12, 2007, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. (Hayden’s testimony begins on page 6 of this PDF), which shows that the plans for the West Coast plot were alive and well after KSM’s capture, and were disrupted because of information he provided the CIA.
In a section entitled “Benefits of the Program: ‘Capturing Terrorists, Saving Lives,’” Hayden lays out, blow by blow, how KSM’s CIA questioning led to the capture of the key players in the planned attack, including Hambali, and culminating in the capture of “a cell of JI operatives whom Hambali had sent to Karachi for possible al-Qa’ida operations. . . . Hambali admitted that he was grooming members of this cell for US operations — probably to continue trying to implement KSM’s plot to fly hijacked planes into the tallest building in the West Coast.”
Later, in a section entitled “Disrupting Plots,” Hayden states that “one of the fall-outs of detaining these additional terrorists has been the thwarting of a number of al-Qa’ida operations in the United States and overseas.” He then lists several examples of plots thwarted by the CIA interrogation program. His first example?
“The West Coast Airliner Plot.”
In the early planning stage of the attacks of 11 September, al-Qa’ida leaders considered an ambitious plot that called for striking both coasts of the United States with as many as ten planes in one operation. Usama bin Laden (UBL) reportedly scaled back that plan to the US East Coast only — saving the West Coast for a follow-on attack — and UBL specificially mentioned California as a target to be attacked in the weeks following 11 September, according to detainee reporting. Operatives assigned to this plot were detained in 2002 and 2003, including KSM. Evidence suggests — as I noted earlier — that Hambali was considering pursuing this plot, and his efforts were disrupted by his detention [REDACTED] and his cell of operatives.
So yes, two key operatives were detained in 2002 before KSM’s capture. But the JI leader who was in charge of the plot, Hambali, was not captured and continued to pursue the West Coast Plot. Neither were his key lieutenants, nor the 14 members of the cell hiding out in Karachi, which included trained pilots, and was awaiting orders from Hambali. All of these terrorists were captured as a result of the CIA interrogation program. And the CIA director testified before Congress, in closed session, this was one of the plots disrupted by the CIA program.
Who are you going to believe: HuffPo or Hayden? It’s a two-minute decision, and the first minute’s for coffee.