Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Panetta letter McCain referenced

From National Review Online

In the op-ed, Sen. McCain indicated that, according to information he’d gotten from CIA Director Leon Panetta, al-Kuwaiti’s name had first come to the CIA’s attention “from a detainee in another country.” I assumed the Senator was referring to Ghul. Ghul, after all, had clearly provided critical intel about al-Kuwaiti. Marc Thiessen, however, reported Monday (also in the Post) that another unidentified detainee held in an unidentified country had mentioned al-Kuwaiti in 2002. That mention was insignificant — the CIA only found it in the files (in a dated liaison report from another country’s intelligence service) because information from detainees subjected to harsh interrogation tactics had caused them to scrub their files for any intelligence about al-Kuwaiti. Moreover, the fleeting mention of al-Kuwaiti did not tell them anything they did not already know by that point. That is, I gave Sen. McCain the benefit of the doubt that he’d at least been referring to a source of some importance (Ghul) — that he’d not attributed significance to a source who was unimportant.

It is now clear that Sen. McCain was, in fact, speaking about the unimportant source. I can confirm that because we now know the source mentioned the name in 2002. Ghul was not even captured until 2004.

How do I know this? After my post from yesterday, I got an email from a member of Sen. McCain’s staff, who told me she “wanted to point out some hard facts” that had been “provided to the Senator in a letter from the CIA from Director Panetta.” The staffer, however, was not looking to provide me those facts directly. Rather, the Senator’s office is touting a post on Monday from the Washington Post’s leftwing blogger Greg Sargent. Mr. Sargent’s post, which I had not seen, contains a lengthy excerpt from Director Panetta’s letter — although Sargent does not explain who gave him the letter (it “was sent my way by a source,” says he).

When I read the published portions of the letter, and compared them to Sen. McCain’s essay, I was taken aback by the information McCain elected not to include in his essay. Here are the Panetta letter passages excerpted by Sargent:
Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that Bin Ladin was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. there was no one “essential and indispensible” key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence — including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources — led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the “only timely and effective way” to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to Bin Ladin.

Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting.

In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.

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