(MSNBC) Khalid Shaikh Mohammed looked more like a loser in a T shirt than a modern-day Mephistopheles. But “KSM,” as he is always referred to in FBI documents, held the key to unlock the biggest mystery of the war on terror: is Al Qaeda operating inside America
THE ANSWER, ACCORDING TO KSM’s confessions and the intense U.S. investigation that followed, is yes. It is not known where the authorities took KSM after he was captured, looking paunchy and pouty, in a 3 a.m. raid in Pakistan on March 1. As Al Qaeda’s director of global operations, KSM was by far the most valuable prize yet captured by American intelligence and its various allies in the post-9-11 manhunt. He probably now resides in an exceedingly spartan jail cell in some friendly Arab country, perhaps Jordan.
He has probably not been tortured, at least in the traditional sense. Interrogation methods, usually involving sleep deprivation, have become much more refined. He probably did not tell all he knew. Qaeda chieftains are schooled in resisting interrogation, and informed sources said that at first KSM offered up nothing but evasions and disinformation. But confronted by the contents of his computer and his cell-phone records, he began speaking more truthfully. According to intelligence documents obtained by NEWSWEEK, many of the names, places and plots he revealed have checked out. After 9-11, Osama bin Laden’s terror network “was clearly here,” a top U.S. law-enforcement official told NEWSWEEK. “It was organized, it was being directed by the leaders of Al Qaeda.” Though rumors of sleeper cells have floated about for months, it is a startling revelation that Al Qaeda’s chief of operations was directly running operatives inside the United States. Thanks to some real breakthroughs by the Feds, the Qaeda plots do not appear to have made it past the planning stage. The inside story of the war at home on Al Qaeda, reconstructed by NEWSWEEK reporters from intelligence documents and interviews with top officials, has been marked by good luck and good work. Still, no one in the intelligence community is declaring victory.