It’s no coincidence that former CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez chose the one year anniversary of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden to finally break his silence. In his new memoir, Hard Measures, published today, Rodriguez reveals never before told details about how the questioning of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other CIA detainees made the bin Laden operation possible.
Rodriguez reveals that it was KSM’s efforts to cover for bin Laden’s courier (who eventually led the CIA to bin Laden) that put the agency on his trail. He writes:
The detainees were always trying to game the system. At one point we discovered that KSM was trying to signal his fellow detainees (using a method I cannot describe). In one message he instructed another detainee to “tell them nothing about the courier.” Short of giving us a name, you couldn’t ask for a better tipoff.
This altered the agency to focus on uncovering bin Laden’s courier network. And when another senior al Qaeda leader was taken into custody, he revealed still more information about the courier:
An al-Qa’ida operative was captured in 2004. He was quickly turned over to the CIA. He had computer discs with him that showed that he was relaying information between al-Qa’ida and Abu Musab Zarqawi… Initially, he played the role of a tough mujahideen and refused to cooperate. We then received permission to use some (but not all) of the EIT procedures on him. Before long he became compliant and started to provide some excellent information…. He told us that bin Ladin conducted business by using a trusted courier with whom he was in contact only sporadically. He said that the Sheikh (as bin Ladin was referred to by his subordinates) stayed completely away from telephones, radios, or the internet in an effort to frustrate American attempts to find him. And frustrated we were.
We pressed him on who this courier was and he said all he knew was a pseudonym: “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” This was a critical bit of information about the identity of the man who would eventually lead us to bin Ladin.
Armed with this information, CIA debriefers confronted KSM with what they had learned:
Agency officers went to KSM and asked him, “What can you tell us about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti?” KSM’s eyes grew wide and he backed up into his cell. He said no words but spoke volumes with his actions.
Then in May 2005, they captured another senior terrorist named Abu Faraj al-Libi. Rodriguez writes:
Al-Libi admitted that a courier like the one we described was the person who had informed him that he had been elevated to the status of AQ’s operational leader. That kind of information and assignment isn’t entrusted to a run-of-the-mill runner. We figured a courier empowered to deliver the news that someone had been anointed “number three” had to be well wired with “number one.” Al-Libi vehemently denied, however, that he had ever met a courier named al-Kuwaiti. His denial was so vociferous that it was obvious to us that he was trying to hide something very important….
By now we were pretty convinced that this mysterious courier by the name of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti could be the key to unlock the mystery we most wanted to solve: Where is bin Ladin? From that point on, finding Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti became one of our top intelligence-collection priorities. About two years later we learned the true name of the man we sought. That was progress, but it wasn’t enough. Now the CIA had to find him….
The courier exercised excellent tradecraft, maintaining a low profile and generally avoiding using methods of communication that might trip him up. Then, sometime after I left the CIA, he made a mistake. He slipped and did something that allowed U.S. intelligence to find him. From there, using great patience and skill, CIA officers eventually were able to trace him to the compound in Abbottabad and assemble the intelligence case that led to the successful raid on May 2, 2011. It all started with information a detainee provided after receiving EITs bolstered by information that KSM and Abu Faraj al-Libi (who both became compliant after receiving EITs) gave us, whether they meant to or not.
President Obama and his national security team deserve great credit for following the trail to its conclusion and making the gutsy decision to send in the U.S. special operations forces team that performed so magnificently.
President Obama is happy to take the credit for this operation, and even use it as fodder for political attack ads. How sad that he refuses to share the credit with the dedicated CIA officers who made the greatest achievement of his presidency possible.