The Corner

The Post and Abu Zubaydah

The Left’s assault on the CIA program continues with today’s front-page story about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah: “Detainees Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots.” The story, like so many on this program, is rife with errors and misinformation.

For example, the Post states:

Abu Zubaida quickly told U.S. interrogators of [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed and of others he knew to be in al-Qaeda, and he revealed the plans of the low-level operatives who fled Afghanistan with him. Some were intent on returning to target American forces with bombs; others wanted to strike on American soil again, according to military documents and law enforcement sources. Such intelligence was significant but not blockbuster material. Frustrated, the Bush administration ratcheted up the pressure — for the first time approving the use of increasingly harsh interrogations, including waterboarding.

This is either uninformed or intentionally misleading.

In fact, what Abu Zubaydah disclosed to the CIA during this period was that the fact that KSM was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and that his code name was “Muktar” — something Zubaydah thought we already knew, but in fact we did not. Intelligence officials had been trying for months to figure out who “Muktar” was. This information provided by Zubaydah was a critical piece of the puzzle that allowed them to pursue and eventually capture KSM. This fact, in and of itself, discredits the premise of the Post story — to suggest that the capture of KSM was not information that “foiled plots” to attack America is absurd on the face of it.

The Post also acknowledges that Zubaydah’s “interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla” but dismisses Padilla as the man behind a fanciful “dirty bomb” plot and notes that Padilla was never charged in any such plot. In fact, Padilla was a hardened terrorist who had trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and was a protégé of al Qaeda’s third in command, Mohammed Atef. And when he was captured, Padilla was being prepared for a much more sinister and realistic attack on America.

In June of 2001, Padilla met in Afghanistan with Atef, who asked him if he was willing to undertake a mission to blow up apartment buildings in the United States using natural gas. He agreed, and was sent to a training site near the Kandahar airport to prepare for the attack under close supervision of an al Qaeda explosives expert, who taught him about switches, circuits, and timers needed to carry it out. He was training in Afghanistan when Coalition forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom. Atef was killed by a Coalition airstrike, and Padilla joined the other al Qaeda operatives fleeing Afghanistan.

It was at this time that he met Abu Zubaydah, who helped arranged his passage across the Afghan-Pakistan border. At the time, Padilla told Zubaydah of his idea of a “dirty bomb” plot. Zubaydah was skeptical but sent him to see KSM, and told KSM he was free to use Padilla for his planned follow on operations in the U.S. Instead of the dirty bomb plot, KSM directed Padilla and an accomplice to undertake the apartment buildings operation for which he had initially trained. KSM’s right-hand man, Ammar al Baluchi, gave Padilla $10,000 in cash, travel documents, a cell phone, and an email address to be used to notify al Baluchi once Padilla arrived in America. The night before his departure, KSM, al Baluchi, and KSM’s nephew and 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh hosted a farewell dinner for him and his accomplice. Think about that for a moment: Padilla was feted at a dinner the night of his departure for America by the mastermind of 9/11, and two of his key accomplices.

Padilla left Pakistan on April 5, 2002 bound for the U.S. by way of Zurich. En route, he spent a month in Egypt, and then arrived in Chicago’s O’Hare airport on May 8 where he was apprehended — because, even the Post acknowledges, of the information provided by Abu Zubaydah. At the time of his apprehension, he was carrying the $10,000 given him by his al Qaeda handlers, the cell phone, and the email address for al Baluchi. (For a detailed account of Jose Padilla’s activities, see this speech by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

So again, the premise of the Post story, is wrong.

Since his capture, Abu Zubaydah had provided the CIA with the critical link that had identified KSM as “Muktar” and the mastermind of 9/11, as well as information that led to the capture of Padilla and the disruption of a planned attack on the American homeland. The CIA knew he had more information that could save American lives, but now he had stopped talking. So the CIA used enhanced interrogation techniques to get him talking again — and these techniques worked.

Zubaydah soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th, including Ramzi bin al Shibh. At the time of his capture, bin al Shibh had been working in Karachi on follow-on operations against the West — including a plot to hijack passenger planes in Europe and fly them into Heathrow airport. Bin al Shibh had identified four operatives for the operation, when he was taken into custody.

Together Zubaydah and bin al Shibh provided information that helped in the planning and execution of the operation that captured KSM. KSM then provided information that led to the capture of a Southeast Asian terrorist named Zubair — an operative with the terrorist network Jemmah Islamiyah, or JI. Zubair then provided information that led to the capture of a JI terrorist leader named Hambali — KSM’s partner in developing a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into the tallest building on the West Coast: the Library Tower in Los Angeles. Told of Hambali’s capture, KSM identified Hambali’s brother “Gun Gun” as his successor and provided information that led to his capture. Hambali’s brother then gave us information that led us to a cell of JI operatives that were going to carry out the West Coast plot.

KSM also provided vital information that led to the disruption of an al Qaeda cell that was developing anthrax for attacks inside the United States. He gave us information that helped us capture Ammar al Baluchi. At the time of his capture, al Baluchi was working with bin al Shibh on the Heathrow plot, as well as a plot to carry out an attack against the US consulate in Karachi. According to his CIA biography, al Baluchi “was within days of completing preparations for the Karachi plot when he was captured.”

In addition, KSM and other senior terrorists helped identify individuals that al Qaeda deemed suitable for Western operations, many of whom we had never heard about before. These included terrorists who were sent to case targets inside the United States, including financial buildings in major cities on the East Coast. They painted a picture of al Qaeda’s structure and financing, and communications and logistics. They identified al Qaeda’s travel routes and safe havens, and explained how al Qaeda’s senior leadership communicates with its operatives in places like Iraq. They provided information that allowed the CIA to make sense of documents and computer records that we have seized in terrorist raids. They identified voices in recordings of intercepted calls, and helped us understand the meaning of potentially critical terrorist communications. It is the official assessment of our intelligence community that “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.”

And the whole chain I have just described began with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.

The Left is desperate to discredit the efficacy of this program, and they have launched a desperate campaign to destroy it. Last week it was the leak of an ICRC document describing some of the techiques allegedly used in the program — one of the most damaging leaks of classified information since the war on terror began because it allows al Qaeda to train against the techniques. And now we have this highly uninformed front-page story in the Washington Post. All of this is incredibly damaging to the security of the United States. And if America is attacked again, those responsible for the disclosure of this information will bear much of the blame.

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