CIA book review. For the historical record from Charles O. Walts

As President George W. Bush’s top speech writer, Marc Thiessen
was provided unique access to the CIA program used in
interrogating top Al Qaeda terrorists, including the
mastermind of the 9/11 attack, ,  (KSM).
Now, his riveting new book, “Courting Disaster”, How the CIA Kept America Safe (Regnery), has been published.
Here is an excerpt from “Courting Disaster”:

Just before dawn on March 1, 2003, two dozen heavily armed
Pakistani tactical assault forces move in and surround a safe
house in Rawalpindi . A few hours earlier they had received a
text message from an informant inside the house. It read: “I am with KSM.”
Bursting  in, they find the disheveled mastermind of the 9/11 attacks,
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in his bedroom. He is taken into
custody. In the safe house, they find a treasure trove of
computers, documents, cell phones and other valuable “pocket litter.”
Once in custody, KSM is defiant. He refuses to answer questions,
informing his captors that he will tell them everything when
he gets to America and sees his lawyer. But KSM is not taken
to America to see a lawyer Instead he is taken to a secret CIA
“black site” in an undisclosed location.
Upon arrival, KSM finds himself in the complete control of Americans.
He does not know where he is, how long he will be there, or what
his fate will be.
Despite his circumstances, KSM still refuses to talk. He spews contempt
at his interrogators, telling them Americans are weak, lack
resilience, and are unable to do what is necessary to prevent
the terrorists from succeeding in their goals. He has trained to
resist interrogation. When he is asked for information about
future attacks, he tells his questioners scornfully: “Soon, you will know.”
It becomes clear he will not reveal the information using
traditional interrogation techniques. So he undergoes a series
of “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved for use only on
the most high-value detainees. The techniques include waterboarding.
His resistance is described by one senior American official as
“superhuman.” Eventually, however, the techniques work, and KSM
becomes cooperative-for reasons that will be described later in this book.
He begins telling his CIA de-briefers about active al Qaeda plots
to launch attacks against the United States and other Western
targets. He holds classes for CIA officials, using a chalkboard
to draw a picture of al Qaeda’s operating structure, financing,
communications, and logistics. He identifies al Qaeda travel
routes and safe havens, and helps intelligence officers make
sense of documents and computer records seized in terrorist
raids. He identifies voices in intercepted telephone calls, and
helps officials understand the meaning of coded terrorist
communications. He provides information that helps our
intelligence community capture other high-ranking terrorists,

KSM’s questioning, and that of other captured terrorists,
produces more than 6,000 intelligence reports, which are shared
across the intelligence community, as well as with our allies
across the world.

In one of these reports, KSM describes in detail the revisions he
made to his failed 1994-1995 plan known as the “Bojinka plot” to
blow up a dozen airplanes carrying some 4,000 passengers over
the Pacific Ocean.
Years later, an observant CIA officer notices the activities of a cell
being followed by British authorities appear to match KSM’s
description of his plans for a Bojinka-style attack.
In an operation that involves unprecedented intelligence
cooperation between our countries, British officials proceed to
unravel the plot.
On the night of Aug. 9, 2006 they launch a series of raids in a
northeast London suburb that lead to the arrest of two dozen al
Qaeda terrorist suspects. They find a USB thumb-drive in the
pocket of one of the men with security details for Heathrow
airport, and information on seven trans-Atlantic flights that
were scheduled to take off within hours of each other:
* United Airlines Flight 931 to San Francisco departing at 2:15 p.m.;
* Air Canada Flight 849 to Toronto departing at 3:00 p.m.;
* Air Canada Flight 865 to Montreal departing at 3:15 p.m.;
* United Airlines Flight 959 to Chicago departing at 3:40 p.m.;
* United Airlines Flight 925 to Washington departing at 4:20 p.m.;
* American Airlines Flight 131 to New York departing at 4:35 p.m.;
* American Airlines Flight 91 to Chicago departing at 4:50 p.m.
They seize bomb-making equipment and hydrogen peroxide to make liquid explosives. And they find the chilling martyrdom videos the
suicide bombers had prepared.”
Today, if you asked an average person on the street what they know
about the 2006 airlines plot, most would not be able to tell you much.
Few Americans are aware of the fact al Qaeda had planned to mark the
fifth anniversary of 9/11 with an attack of similar scope and magnitude.
And still fewer realize the terrorists’ true intentions in this plot
were uncovered thanks to critical information obtained through
the interrogation of the man who conceived it: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
This is only one of the many attacks stopped with the help of the CIA
interrogation program established by the Bush Administration in
the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Editor’s Note: For other foiled terrorist plots, see page 9 of “Courting Disaster.”
In addition to helping break up these specific terrorist cells and

plots, CIA questioning provided our intelligence community with
an unparalleled body of information about al Qaeda Until the
program was temporarily suspended in 2006, intelligence
officials say, well over half of the information our government
had about al Qaeda-how it operates, how it moves money, how it
communicates, how it recruits operatives, how it picks targets,
how it plans and carries out attacks-came from the interrogation
of terrorists in CIA custody.
Former CIA Director George Tenet has declared: “I know this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program
alone is worth more than what the FBI, the Central Intelligence
Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.”
Former CIA Director Mike Hayden has said: “The facts of the case are
that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made
us safer. It really did work.”
Even Barack Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair,
has acknowledged: “High-value information came from
interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a
deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was
attacking this country.”
Leon Panetta, Obama’s CIA Director, has said: “Important information
was gathered from these detainees. It provided information that
was acted upon.”
And John Brennan, Obama’s Homeland Security Advisor, when asked in
an interview if enhanced-interrogation techniques were necessary
to keep America safe, replied : “Would the U.S. be handicapped
if the CIA was not, in fact, able to carry out these types of
detention and debriefing activities? I would say yes.”
On Jan. 22, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13491,
closing the CIA program and directing that, henceforth, all
interrogations by U.S. personnel must follow the techniques
contained in the Army Field Manual.
The morning of the announcement, Mike Hayden was still in his post
as CIA Director, He called White House Counsel Greg Craig and
told him bluntly: “You didn’t ask, but this is the CIA
officially nonconcurring”. The president went ahead anyway, over
ruling the objections of the agency.
A few months later, on April 16, 2009, President Obama ordered the
release of four Justice Department memos that described in
detail the techniques used to interrogate KSM and other
high-value terrorists. This time, not just Hayden (who was now
retired) but five CIA directors -including Obama’s own director,
Leon Panetta — objected. George Tenet called to urge against
the memos’ release. So did Porter Goss. So did John Deutch.
Hayden says: “You had CIA directors in a continuous unbroken
stream to 1995 calling saying, ‘Don’t do this.'”
In addition to objections from the men who led the agency for a
collective 14 years, the President also heard objections from
the agency’s covert field operatives. A few weeks earlier,
Panetta had arranged for the eight top officials of the
Clandestine Service to meet with the President. It was highly
unusual for these clandestine officers to visit the Oval Office,
and they used the opportunity to warn the President that
releasing the memos would put agency operatives at risk. The
President reportedly listened respectfully-and then ignored
their advice.
With these actions, Barack Obama arguably did more damage to
America’s national security in his first 100 days of office than
any President in American history.

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