As President George W. Bush 's top speechwriter, 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, Khalid Sheikh
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
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
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
* 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
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
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