Before outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) releases her $40 million partisan report claiming that nothing of value came from CIA interrogations, she might want to save herself some embarrassment and make a few last-minute edits. Over the weekend, Pakistani forces killed the man who was believed to be al-Qaeda’s top operational commander, Adnan el Shukrijumah — a terrorist who was identified thanks to the CIA’s interrogation of two senior al-Qaeda operatives.
The Post reported Saturday that “the FBI launched a global manhunt for Shukrijumah in 2003, offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. U.S. officials at the time described him as an ‘imminent threat to U.S. citizens and interests.’ ”
Well, how did the FBI know that (a) Shukrijumah existed, and that (b) he posed an “imminent threat” to the United States? Answer: CIA interrogations.
On March 28, 2002, the CIA captured its first senior al-Qaeda operative, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, in a pre-dawn raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Abu Zubaida was critically wounded in the raid and taken to the first CIA “black site.” While still recovering, he was initially questioned by the FBI and offered up some information he thought the FBI already knew. But as he grew stronger, Abu Zubaida became increasingly defiant and evasive. He declared his hatred of the United States and refused to answer further questions. So the CIA took charge of Abu Zubaida’s interrogation and began to apply the first proto-enhanced interrogation techniques, which included forced nudity, exposure to cold temperatures and sleep deprivation.
It was under these circumstances (but before his waterboarding was approved in August) that Abu Zubaida provided information on a terrorist code-named “Abdullah al-Muhajir,” whom he identified as an American with a Latino name. This terrorist, subsequently identified as Jose Padilla, was captured thanks to information provided by Abu Zubaida. FBI agent Ali Soufan tried to take credit for getting this information, but according to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Soufan’s own FBI partner, “Agent Gibson,” confirmed that Abu Zubaida “gave up” Padilla “during the CIA interrogations.”
Padilla had trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Kandahar with another terrorist who went by the code name “Jafar al-Tayyar,” or “Jafar the Pilot.” Together, Padilla and “Jafar” had learned the use of explosives and techniques for how to bring down a high-rise building. In May 2002, the CIA asked Abu Zubaida whom al-Qaeda would pick to lead the next big attack on the United States, and Abu Zubaida told them it was “Jafar.”
But the CIA still did not know the real name or identity of “Jafar.”
Then, in March 2003, the CIA captured Khalid Sheik Mohammed, or KSM, as he is known. When KSM was first taken into custody, he was defiant and refused to provide any information about future attacks, telling his questioners scornfully, “Soon, you will know.” But after undergoing enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding, KSM became a font of information. He told the CIA about active al-Qaeda plots to launch attacks against the United States and other Western targets. He drew charts of al-Qaeda’s operating structure, financing, communications and logistics. He revealed al-Qaeda travel routes and safe havens, identified voices in intercepted telephone calls, and helped intelligence officers make sense of documents and computer records seized in terrorist raids. And he provided the names of many of his top operatives.
Three weeks after his capture, KSM identified one of those operatives, “Jafar the pilot,” as Adnan el Shukrijumah — leading the FBI to issue the first BOLO (“Be on the Lookout”) alert for Shukrijumah. Media reports at the time described Shukrijumah as the “next Mohamed Atta,” because he had lived in the United States for several years and was believed to have been “anointed the head of a new cell with orders to attack targets inside the United States” — all information that came thanks to KSM’s identification. While Shukrijumah was never captured, the alert and manhunt that followed KSM’s revelation undoubtedly set back his plans to conduct follow-on attacks. A U.S. intelligence official told U.S. News & World Report at the time that KSM’s information was critical to identifying Shukrijumah, declaring, “We can’t possibly overstate the value that [KSM] has been to us.”
It has obviously been many years since CIA officials extracted those initial leads from Abu Zubaida and KSM, and a lot of intelligence work went into tracking down Shukrijumah. But it was CIA interrogations — including waterboarding — that made it possible for the agency to identify and target him in the first place.
That presents a problem for Feinstein and her wishful conclusion that nothing of value came from the CIA’s interrogations. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly called Feinstein last week, asking her to delay the release of her report, because releasing it at such a sensitive time posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. personnel and facilities abroad. She’d be wise to take his advice. It would provide a face-saving excuse for why she can’t defend the assertion that CIA interrogations played no role in the identification of Adnan el Shukrijumah.