Sunday, April 26, 2009


The Washington Post Opinion Pages continue the War on Arithmetic. The latest is

The latest in Marc Thiessen's op-ed which includes the claim

Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, 'Soon you will find out.' " Once the techniques were applied, "interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates."

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."


without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.

This claim is inconsistent with the assertions of Frances Townsend on a conference call with journalists

On the Weast Coast (Library Tower) plot a conference call quoted at The Counterterrorism Blog
How far along was this plot when it was “disrupted?” What was their level of operational planning? Were they close? Fran Townsend replied:

"We don't know exactly when the plot was scheduled for. The intelligence tells us that Khalid Shaykh Muhammad began to initiate it in October of 2001. We know that between then and when the lead operative was arrested in February of '02, between those two periods of time, they traveled through Afghanistan, they met with bin Laden, they swore biat, they came back, and the lead guy is arrested, which disrupts it in February of '02. So you see what I'm saying? It's during that short window of time, between October of 2001 and February of 2002, but we don't know when they planned -- we don't know when it was planned to actually be executed."

So the leader of the plot was arrested and the plot was disrupted in February '02.

Even better, from

In 2002, we broke up a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast. During a hearing at Guantanamo Bay two months ago, KSM stated that the intended target was the Library Tower in Los Angeles.

(all via SadlyNo)

Khalid Sheik Mohammad was arrested in 2003. The claim that information from his interrogation made the disruption possible depends on the claim that 2002>2003.

So how could Thiesen end up writing something so silly ? I think it is like the game of telephone in which people whisper in each others' ears and a phrase is amusingly transformed. In this case each of the people is desparately eager to argue that the Bush administration and, in particular, torture, kept us safe.

Thiesen is relying on the 2005 OLC memo by Bradbury which is based in part on a memo and a fax from the CIA. As is clear from the Op-ed the memo does assert that the successes in 2002 were caused by interrogation in 2003. I assume that Bradbury is not a fool. Therefore, I guess that the CIA memo and/or FAX were very very carefully phrased to give a misleading impression of the timing. Hmm I wonder if I could do that.

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. This plot was disrupted when its leader, Hambali, was arrested.

All possibly true. The secret (as has been noted many places on the web including especially Talking Points Memo) is that a plot can be disrupted without being discovered. It is very possible that Hambali (and associates) were arrested in 2002, but no one thought they were planning to fly a plane into the library tower. Then, KSM described such a plot while he was being water boarded, and the CIA concluded that the earlier arrests had disrupted that plot.

I have generated what seems to me to be a misleading pair of sentences by quoting Theisen and paraphrasing Townsend. It is natural to assume that the events described in the second sentence occured after the events described in the first. It is even natural to assume that the events in the second sentence were at least partially caused by the events in the first. These are normal inferences for adjacent sentences with no indication that the topic has been changed. However, the pair of sentences does not constitute a lie.

Note that there is no proof that there ever was such a plot. The words "The plot" asserts that there was, but no evidence not extracted under torture is cited. In fact, Zachary Abuza at The Counter-Terrorism Blog argues that there never was such a plot in the linked post.

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