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Marc Thiessen Was Right About the "Library Tower Plot"

7:18 PM, Sep 8, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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In an op-ed for Sunday's New York Times, former FBI special agent Ali Soufan wrote:

Supporters of the enhanced interrogation techniques have jumped from claim to claim about their usefulness. They have asserted, for example, that harsh treatment led Mr. Mohammed to reveal the plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles. But that plot was thwarted in 2002, and Mr. Mohammed was not arrested until 2003.

This is not accurate. Soufan, who is a well-known critic of the CIA's so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques, is simply repeating an ill-informed critique that has been made elsewhere.

Earlier this year, in two pieces for Slate, Timothy Noah took former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen to task for claiming that the "enhanced" interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed led to a plot against the "Library Tower" (now known as the U.S. Bank Tower) being foiled. Noah argued that the Bush administration itself claimed this plot was thwarted in 2002, before Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured on March 1, 2003. Therefore, according to Noah, it is not possible that the same attack was averted in 2003, following the "enhanced" interrogations of KSM.

Soufan repeats this argument in his op-ed. But with the release of portions of two formerly classified CIA analyses on August 24, we know that Noah and Soufan got it wrong. Marc Thiessen got it right.

The story is as follows.
In February of 2006, Frances Townsend, who was then Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, held a press briefing to discuss the "West Coast Terrorist Plot." Townsend said that KSM had conceived a plot to attack the "Library Tower." For assistance in this effort, KSM relied on a top al Qaeda terrorist named Hambali, who led an al Qaeda affiliate named Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Southeast Asia. With Hambali's help, KSM recruited and trained four terrorists for the mission.

In 2002, the leader of this four-man cell was arrested. Townsend explained, "at that point, the other members of the cell believed that the West Coast plot [had] been canceled." The cell's members thought it "was not going forward," Townsend said. After the cell leader was captured, all three of the other cell members were eventually arrested too (two of them after KSM was captured). Somewhat understandably, Noah cited Townsend's press briefing to argue that the plot was finished in 2002 and there was no way the "enhanced" interrogation of KSM could have led to intelligence that helped stop the attack.

But al Qaeda does not give up that easily. KSM's nephew, Ramzi Yousef, tried to bring the North Tower of the World Trade Center down in 1993. While Yousef's truck bomb did kill several people, he failed to topple the tower. KSM picked up where Yousef left off and managed to orchestrate a plot that brought both towers down on September 11, 2001. The same goes for the October 2000 USS Cole bombing, which followed an unsuccessful attack in January of 2000 on the USS The Sullivans.

And, earlier this week, we were reminded again just how dogged al Qaeda can be in its pursuit of terror. Three Pakistani men were convicted of attempting to blow up as many as ten airliners mid-air using liquid explosives. Their plot, which was broken up in the summer of 2006 and targeted flights originating from London's Heathrow Airport, was a reformulation of KSM and Yousef's thwarted 1995 Bojinka plot, which relied on the same modus operandi.

So, just because al Qaeda puts a plot on the shelf for the time-being it doesn't mean they are finished with it for good. This was the case with the "West Coast," or "Library Tower" plot. In some form, it was originally slated to be part of the September 11 operation, but was reportedly nixed by Osama bin Laden. The terror master wanted to maintain some degree of operational simplicity. After September 11, KSM carried on with the plot. And after the leader of his original four-man cell was arrested, KSM carried on still further.