Yesterday, I noted Marc Thiessen’s op-ed in which he asserted that the interrogation of KSM helped thwart an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles. Thiessen was citing a freshly declassified May 2005 memo (PDF), which states (referencing a CIA “effectiveness memo”) that, “the interrogation of KSM — once enhanced techniques were employed–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.'” Yesterday, CNSNews reported that the CIA was standing by this claim.
But in Slate, Timothy Noah explains that the timeline doesn’t add up:
In a White House press briefing, Bush’s counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002, and “at that point, the other members of the cell” (later arrested) “believed that the West Coast plot has been canceled, was not going forward” [italics mine]. A subsequent fact sheet released by the Bush White House states, “In 2002, we broke up [italics mine] a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.” These two statements make clear that however far the plot to attack the Library Tower ever got—an unnamed senior FBI official would later tell the Los Angeles Times that Bush’s characterization of it as a “disrupted plot” was “ludicrous”—that plot was foiled in 2002. But Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t captured until March 2003.
This does raise legitimate questions about the validity of the claim that waterboarding KSM thwarted the LA attack. What still doesn’t make sense to me is why the CIA, in a top secret memo, would make a claim to the administration that could so easily be shot down. Remember, this isn’t a politician going on TV, but one group of government officials informing another group in a document that they didn’t believe was going to be made public. There may be more to this story — perhaps there were multiple plots, which wouldn’t be unheard of — but until I hear a credible explanation for this discrepancy, I’m going to have to be skeptical about this particular claim.
UPDATE: More here.
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