Today is the official publication date of Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack by Marc Thiessen. Thiessen has unusual credentials to address the subject of his book. As White House speechwriter for George Bush, Thiessen was locked in a secure room and given access to the most sensitive intelligence when he was assigned the task of writing Bush’s September 2006 speech explaining the CIA’s interrogation program and why Congress should authorize it. Few public figures in a position to address the subject publicly know more about these CIA operations than Thiessen. We invited Marc to explore the subject for us in connection with the publication of his book and he has kindly provided the following post:
On Christmas Day, a new terrorist network–a mysterious branch of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula – almost succeeded in bringing down a commercial airliner over one of America’s largest cities. If the plane had exploded and crashed into downtown Detroit, thousands could have perished. Only luck saved us from catastrophe.
We did not see this attack coming. By the Obama administration’s own admission, we know very little about this new terror network or its plans to attack America. In Courting Disaster, I explain that the reason why we were caught by surprise on Christmas Day – and the reason why we are in growing danger of suffering another terrorist attack – is that Barack Obama has eliminated the most important tool our nation has in the fight against terror: the ability to detain and effectively interrogate senior terrorist leaders.
Intelligence is like putting together a puzzle without being allowed to see the picture on the cover. We can collect pieces of the puzzle through many means – intercepted phone calls and emails, sources we recruit inside al Qaeda. But only captured terrorists like KSM – who know the full scope their plans to attack America – can explain to us how the pieces all fit together, and show us the picture on the cover of the box.
The reason we have not suffered another attack like the one we experienced on 9/11 captured and questioned KSM and other top al Qaeda leaders and got them to share their plans. But today, thanks to Obama, we are no longer trying to capture the leaders of al Qaeda alive, and bring them in for interrogation so they can tell us what the cover of the box looks like.
Courting Disaster takes you behind the scenes at the CIA “black sites” and introduces readers to the actual interrogators who broke KSM and his fellow jihadists. It tells the story of how, in the months and years that followed 9/11, we captured many of al Qaeda’s top operational leaders–the terrorists tasked with carrying out the “second wave” of attacks–and got them to tell us what they were planning. It explains how:
Information from detainees in CIA custody led to the arrest of an al Qaeda terrorist named Jose Padilla, who was sent to America on a mission to blow up high-rise apartment buildings in the United States.
Information from detainees in CIA custody led to the capture of a cell of Southeast Asian terrorists which had been tasked by KSM to hijack a passenger jet and fly it into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.
Information from detainees in CIA custody led to the capture of Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, KSM’s right-hand-man in the 9/11 attacks, just as he was finalizing plans for a plot to hijack airplanes in Europe and fly them into Heathrow airport and buildings in downtown London.
Information from detainees in CIA custody led to the capture of Ammar al-Baluchi and Walid bin Attash, just as they were completing plans to replicate the destruction of our embassies in East Africa by blowing up the U.S. consulate and Western residences in Karachi, Pakistan.
Information from detainees in CIA custody led to the disruption of an al Qaeda plot to blow up the U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, in an attack that could have rivaled the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut.
Information from detainees in CIA custody helped break up an al Qaeda cell that was developing anthrax for terrorist attacks inside the United States.
In addition to helping break up these specific terrorist cells and plots, CIA questioning provided our intelligence community with an unparalleled body of information about al Qaeda–giving U.S. officials a picture of the terrorist organization as seen from the inside, at a time when we knew almost nothing about the enemy who had attacked us on 9/11.
Until the program was temporarily suspended in 2006, intelligence officials say, well over half of the information our government had about al Qaeda–how it operates, how it moves money, how it communicates, how it recruits operatives, how it picks targets, how it plans and carries out attacks–came from the interrogation of terrorists in CIA custody.
Consider that for a moment: without this capability, more than half of what we knew about the enemy would have disappeared.
Former CIA Director George Tenet has declared: “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than what the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.”
Former CIA Director Mike Hayden has said: “The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work.”
Former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte has said: “[T]his is a very, very important capability to have. This has been one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable … human intelligence program with respect to Al Qaeda. It has given us invaluable information that has saved American lives. So it is very, very important that we have this kind of capability.”
Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has said: “We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened.”
Even Obama administration officials have acknowledged the value of the program.
Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, has said: “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.”
Leon Panetta, Obama’s CIA Director, has said: “Important information was gathered from these detainees. It provided information that was acted upon.”
And John Brennan, Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, when asked in an interview if enhanced interrogation techniques were necessary to keep America safe, replied: “Would the U.S. be handicapped if the CIA was not, in fact, able to carry out these types of detention and debriefing activities? I would say yes.”
Indeed, the official assessment of our intelligence community is that, were it not for the CIA interrogation program, “al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.”
And in his first forty-eight hours in office, President Barack Obama shut the program down.
Obama not only put a stop to the CIA interrogation program, several months later he released sensitive documents detailing our interrogation methods of high-value terrorists. With these actions, Barack Obama did arguably more damage to America’s national security in his first 100 days of office than any president in American history.
In shutting down the CIA program, Obama eliminated our nation’s most important tool to prevent the terrorists from striking America. And in releasing highly sensitive documents describing the details of how we have interrogated captured terrorists–and the legal limits of our interrogation techniques–Obama gave critical intelligence to the enemy.
These were two of the most dangerous and irresponsible acts an American president has ever committed in a time of war. It is as if Winston Churchill had shut down the ULTRA program which had broken German codes, and then shared secret documents detailing how it worked with the public–and thus with the Nazi leadership in Berlin. President Obama has given up a vital source of intelligence needed to protect our country. And al Qaeda will now use the information Obama released to train its operatives to resist interrogation, and thus withhold information about planned attacks. Americans could die as a result.
Today America no longer has the capability to detain and effectively question high-value terrorists. By eliminating this capability, the president is denying America’s military and intelligence professionals the information they need to stop new terrorist attacks before they are carried out. And that means that America is significantly less safe today than it was when Obama took office.
We have added Marc’s book to our Power Line bookshelf. It is available for purchase from Amazon here.