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The successes of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, the old saying goes, are never known and the failures are never forgotten. The takedown of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs, who were guided onto their target by the work of hundreds of intelligence officers around the world, is a welcome exception to this rule. In a similar way, the successful strike on bin Laden forces us to take a fresh look at the notion that enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) are not useful or effective. If recent comments from high-level officials are any indication, EITs played an important part in the hunt for and elimination of the terror mastermind.
Ever since 9/11, the CIA has been pounded for not “connecting the dots.” The “dots” in the world of intelligence-gathering can be anything—individuals, places, times, targets, dates, fragments of messages, inscrutable codes—but they mean nothing to policymakers unless or until an intelligence analyst can draw a line from one dot to another and thereby paint at least part of a picture.
That connecting line is crucial. And in the case of taking down bin Laden, that connecting line was apparently provided by sources that were subjected to EITs, according to an NBC interview of CIA director Leon Panetta.
The most likely source to provide what NBC calls “the thread of information” about bin Laden’s trusted courier was Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), who masterminded the 9/11 attacks.
According to the Associated Press, KSM, while being held in a CIA prison somewhere in Eastern Europe, divulged nicknames of key bin Laden aides and couriers. Although he had been subjected to water-boarding, or simulated drowning, several times prior to divulging the names, KSM turned over these fragments of info long after agents had stopped using the technique. Obama administration officials concede, however, that “U.S. intelligence did not learn the identity of the courier until after the CIA interrogation program was terminated,” Reuters reports. In other words, it is possible fear of another round of water-boarding had an impact on KSM.
“We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day,” Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer, told AP.
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