Wednesday, April 22, 2009


In yesterday's Washington Post, Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter, cited a specific terrorist attack one torture memo say was thwarted by brutal interrogation techniques:

Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles." KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that "information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the 'Second Wave.'" In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.

The right-wing CNSNews site followed up with this:

The Central Intelligence Agency told today that it stands by the assertion made in a May 30, 2005 Justice Department memo that the use of “enhanced techniques” of interrogation on al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) -- including the use of waterboarding -- caused KSM to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles.

And in today's New York Times, we have:

The Bush administration has long argued that harsh questioning of Qaeda operatives like Zubaydah helped prevent a planned attack on Los Angeles and cited passages in the memos released last week to bolster that conclusion.

Um, does anyone remember the details of that plot, as recounted by the Bush administration in 2006?

President Bush offered new information on Thursday about what he said was a foiled plot by Al Qaeda in 2002 to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building west of the Mississippi, the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, as he sought to make the case for his record on national security.

Although the administration made public the Los Angeles plot in general terms four months ago, Mr. Bush, in a speech to the National Guard Association, disclosed more specific details, including what he said was the planned use of a "shoe bomb" by hijackers to breach the airplane's cockpit door and take over the controls.

What's wrong with this picture? Oh, a couple of things.

First, how on earth do you use a shoe bomb to blow open a hole in a cockpit door without either (a) injuring or killing yourself or (b) destroying critical equipment you'll need to pilot the plane into the building? That's got to be an awfully precise shoe. (Remember, Richard Reid shoe bomb was meant to blow up the plane.)

And second, this attack was meant to take place in 2002? Following the Richard Reid incident, there were shoe inspections at airports starting in December 2001:

... in airports all across the United States today, people who were taking off their shoes and putting them through the magnetometers.


Michael Scheuer, a veteran al-Qaida expert who was working at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, when the arrests were made, told the Voice of America that he never heard about them, and a U.S. government official told the Los Angeles Times that the plot never approached the operational stage. Moreover, as the story of United Flight 93 demonstrated, the tactic of flying passenger planes into buildings -- which depended on passengers not conceiving of that possibility -- didn't remain viable even through the morning of 9/11 ("Let's roll").

Is that what torture saved us from? A poorly developed pipe dream?


UPDATE: There's also the inconvenient fact that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured months after the L.A. plot was broken up according to Bush administration statements. Timeline here.

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