Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Follow-Up on Plots Allegedly Disrupted by Waterboarding

When George Bush first publically argued in favor of a "program" of not-quite-torture, he identified a number of plots the not-quite-torture of Al-Qaeda captives had revealed:

(A) A biological weapons program using anthrax
(B) An attack on Marines in Djibouti using explosive water tanks
(C) A car bomb attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi
(D) A plot to hijack airplanes in England and fly them into Heathrow or the Canary Wharf
(E) A plot to blow up buildings in the U.S., planting the explosives high enough that people above the explosions could not escape by jumping out the windows. (The Library Tower plot?)

In response to his allegations that not-quite-torture was indispensible to fighting terrorism, I responded with a number of questions:

(1) How many false leads has not-quite-torture led to? . . . What is the ratio between true and false leads generated by not-quite-torture?

(2) How many of the genunie plots uncovered were "more aspirational than operational," as so many recently uncovered ones have turned out to be?

(3) How much of the information extracted by not-quite-torture could have been gotten, albeit more slowly, by other means such as signals intelligence, paying off tipsters, and study of documents and computers captured with the terrorists?

(4) And finally, granting that legitimate means of terrorist hunting are slower than not-quite-torture, how much could they be sped up and made more efficient by recruiting and training more translators and analysts who speak Arabic and understand Mideastern culture?

Apparently I was not alone in asking these questions. And now Gregory Djerejian (Belgravia dispatch) reports his research into the subject. His conclusions:

(A) Security at the Djibouti base left much to be desired, but he found no evidence of any planned terrorist attacks.
(B) There have been many terrorist attacks on the US consulate in Karachi, but no known plot matches the description George Bush gave.
(C) No one knows whether the Library Tower plot was ever more than idle talk
(D) An attack on Heathrow Airport does appear to have been thwarted, but our major break occurred before 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) was captured.

His overall, conclusion, then, is that there was no danger so urgent as to even approach a "ticking bomb."

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