Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the principal mastermind behind the 2001 terrorist attacks – told his CIA interrogators in 2003 that he’d sent a militant to Montana seeking African-American Muslim converts to blow up gas stations, according to a U.S. Senate report released this week.
Issued by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the new report details the tactics used by the CIA to glean information from detainees in the years following the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Montana is referenced on five pages throughout the 525-page report, first on page 118 and lastly on page 511. All references include Mohammed – identified as KSM – and Majid Kahn, who provided intelligence to CIA officials while in the custody of a foreign government.
According to the report, Mohammed was waterboarded in March 2003 after the CIA received intelligence from Kahn saying Mohammed wanted to use “two to three unknown black American Muslim converts who were currently training in Afghanistan" to "conduct attacks" on gas stations in the U.S.
“The questioning of (Mohammed) was not based on Kahn’s actual reporting, which was about potential operatives already in Afghanistan, but rather, on something Kahn had not said – that (Mohammed) directed him to make contact with African-American converts in the U.S.,” the report says.
After a “contentious” interrogation session lasting for hours that included waterboarding, Mohammed “flatly denied” efforts to recruit African-American Muslim converts. Later in the day, as he faced a second waterboarding session, he allegedly “relented” and changed his story.
Mohammed told interrogators that “maybe he had told Kahn” to make contact with members of the black American Muslim convert community. After that confession, Mohammed was returned to a “standing sleep deprivation position” without any additional waterboarding.
An hour later, the report says, Mohammad was “ready to talk.”
“He told CIA interrogators that he had sent Abu Issa al-Britani to Montana to recruit African-American Muslim converts, a mission he said had been prompted by discussions with a London-based shaykh whose bodyguards had families in Montana,” the report says.
Mohammed also stated that he’d told Kahn to attend Muslim conferences in the U.S. to “spot and assess potential extremists” who could assist in the gas-station plot.
But in June 2003, Mohammed admitted that he’d fabricated the story about al-Britani and Montana. He said he was “under enhanced measures” when he made the claims and had told interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear.
“What we knew before we were torturing is that you get a lot of false information,” former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Wednesday. “If that was credible at all, if anybody believed what he said, the next call should have been made to us. But we heard absolutely nothing.”
The report also details the role Spokane-based Mitchell, Jessen & Associates played in the enhanced interrogation sessions. The company was paid $80 million to carry out the waterboarding, mock burials and other techniques detailed by the committee report.
One contracted interrogator, identified as “Dunbar,” stated in March 2003 that Mohammed was resisting their questions and that he planned “to go to school on this guy.” Interrogators then “devoted all measures to pressure” Mohammed for information.
The “intense questioning and walling” left Mohammed with abrasions on his ankles, shins and wrists, along with the back of his head. He also suffered from pedal edema – or the pooling of blood in his feet – from extended standing.
The George W. Bush-era interrogation tactics have come under fire by critics who say it failed to net results and that such enhanced measures resulted in torture.
“I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Tuesday. “Its use was shameful and unnecessary and ... it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.”
Schweitzer also believes the tactics failed to net useful intelligence. He served as Montana’s governor from 2004 to 2012 as the nation’s war on terror escalated, but he heard nothing from government officials regarding Mohammed’s confessions as they pertained to Montana.
In June 2005, CIA officials finally concluded that Mohammed’s story about recruiting African-American Muslims in Montana was “an outright fabrication.”
“We have a lot great things in Montana, but the recruitment of black Muslim men is not one of them,” Schweitzer said. “Having lived in Muslim countries, I can tell you, I haven’t found many people I can speak Arabic with in Montana.”
The report also says Mohammed gave interrogators information regarding al-Britani. The militant was on a list of people connected to Mohammed’s plot to bomb London’s Heathrow Airport.
Prior to the 2001 attacks, Mohammed said he asked al-Britani to go to the U.S. and “collect information on economic targets.” Part of that mission included surveying Montana and places where terrorists could ignite forest fires.
Nearly a decade later, in 2012, the al-Qaida English magazine “Inspire” urged terrorists to set fire to Montana’s forests – a challenge that put the U.S. Forest Service on edge.
After the article’s publication, the agency asked employees and the general public to stand vigilant and report unusual circumstances to authorities.