Information on the Courier that Led to the UBL Operation

[Editors’ notes: Declassification strikeouts and footnote numbers have been removed. Redactions are indicated with brackets without attempting to represent their length. Visually, all redactions appear to range from a single word to less than a sentence in length.]


20. (U) Information on the Courier that Led to the UBL Operation

[Senate Study assertion quoted. [sic] indicators are the CIA’s.] “A review of CIA records found that much of the critical intelligence on Abu Ahmed [sic] al Kuwaiti was acquired prior to — and independently of — the CIA detention and interrogation program.”

[CIA rebuttal begins. All emphasis added is theirs.] CIA correctly represented that detainee reporting helped us identify Usama Bin Ladin’s courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. The Study incorrectly characterizes the intelligence we had on Abu Ahmad before acquiring information on him from detainees in CIA custody as “critical.” That intelligence was insufficient to distinguish Abu Ahmad from many other Bin Ladin associates until additional information from detainees put it into context and allowed us to better understand his true role and potential in the hunt for Bin Ladin.

Information from detainees in CIA custody on Abu Ahmad’s involvement in delivering messages from Bin Ladin beginning in mid-2002 fundamentally changed our assessment of his potential importance to our hunt for Bin Ladin. That information prompted us to question other detainees on his role and identity and to review previous reporting. CIA combined this information with reporting from detainees [redacted] signals intelligence, and reporting from clandestine sources to build a profile of Abu Ahmad’s experiences, family, and characteristics that allowed us to eventually determine his true name and location. The other intelligence that the Study characterizes as “critical” did not distinguish Abu Ahmad from others who had some level of access to Bin Ladin, especially before 9/11.

Detainees in CIA custody Ammar al-Baluchi and Hassan Gul offered vital insights into Abu Ahmad’s role.

• Ammar, after undergoing enhanced interrogation techniques, was the first detainee to reveal what apparently was a carefully guarded al-Qa’ida secret – that Abu Ahmad served as a courier for messages to and from Bin Ladin. Before that, we had only general information [redacted] that Abu Ahmad had interacted with Bin Ladin before the group’s retreat from Tora Bora, Afghanistan in late 2001, when Bin Ladin was relatively accessible to a number of al-Qa’ida figures.

• Gul, while in CIA custody – before undergoing enhanced techniques – speculated that Abu Ahmad could be one of three people with Bin Ladin and speculated that Abu Ahmad may have handled Bin Ladin’s needs, including sending messages to his gatekeeper, Abu Faraj al-Libi.

• After undergoing enhanced techniques, Gul stated that Abu Ahmad specifically passed a letter from Bin Ladin to Abu Faraj in late 2003 and that Abu Ahmad had “disappeared” from Karachi, Pakistan in 2002. This information was not only more concrete and less speculative, it also corroborated information from Ammar that Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM) was lying when he claimed Abu Ahmad left al-Qa’ida in 2002.

Even after undergoing enhanced techniques, KSM lied about Abu Ahmad, and Abu Faraj denied knowing him. A cable in the aftermath of Abu Faraj’s debriefing indicates that this dissembling immediately raised our suspicions, and it would eventually strengthen our assessment that Abu Ahmad was an important potential inroad to Bin Ladin, which is reflected in analytic products and targeting cables beginning in 2007.

• Ammar and Gul both said Abu Ahmad worked directly for Abu Faraj as of mid-2002.

• KSM denied that Abu Ahmad delivered letters from Bin Ladin and claimed that Abu Ahmad left al-Qa’ida in 2002. Ammar, however, claimed KSM had told him that Abu Ahmad continued to deliver letters from Bin Ladin after 2002 – a point that Gul corroborated.

Detainees in CIA custody helped confirm Abu Ahmad’s true identity. We first obtained a partial true name for Abu Ahmad from a detainee but that detainee [redacted] claimed Abu Ahmad died in 2001. CIA later discovered through signals intelligence, a clandestine source, and other detainees – in CIA [redacted] custody – that the [redacted] detainee had confused Abu Ahmad with his deceased brother. Once we learned that Abu Ahmad was most likely alive, we were able to use the partial true name to acquire additional information [redacted] provided additional pieces of the puzzle.

• Detainee Abu Yasir al-Jazari told CIA interroators that Abu Ahmad mixed “Pakistani words” with Arabic. A native Arabic and Pashtu speaker, [redacted] – [redacted] – spoke with a speech impediment that made it sound as if he were mixing the two languages, [redacted] This information helped CIA [redacted] assess that the [redacted] living at the compound in Abbottabad was Abu Ahmad.

• Ahmad Ghailani during a CIA interrogation said that Abu Ahmad’s first child was a daughter born around 2002, which matched information from [redacted] about individuals at the Abbottabad compound.

Insights from detainees in CIA custody into Bin Ladin’s security practices and family increased CIA’s confidence that Bin Ladin could be residing at the compound in Abbottabad.

• Khallad Bin Attash and other detainees in CIA custody confirmed Bin Ladin after fleeing Afghanistan would not meet face-to-face with al-Qa’ida members, had few bodyguards, relied on a small group of individuals native to the area to carry messages and handle daily chores, would not leave the house, and did not relocate frequently – all of which matched circumstances at the compound.

• Sharif ai-Masri and KSM speculated during CIA interrogations that Bin Ladin’s youngest wife, Amal, probably was with Bin Ladin, and Sharif indicated he passed a letter intended for another Bin Ladin wife, Siham, along with a letter for Bin Ladin to Abu Faraj, suggesting they were at least near each other. These observations helped [redacted] identify family members at the Abbottabad compound.

CIA has never represented that information acquired through its interrogations of detainees was either the first or the only information that we had on Abu Ahmad. We have reported – and continue to assess – that the information we acquired from them significantly advanced our understanding of Abu Ahmad beyond the other intelligence cited in the Study.

• Zubair al-Ha’ili’s comment [redacted] interrogators in 2002 that Abu Ahmad was one of several “close associates of Usama Bin Ladin,” was not sufficient to distinguish Abu Ahmad from many other al-Qa’ida members who knew Bin Ladin at the time. Similarly, we assess Riyadh the Facilitator’s claim that Abu Ahmad traveled to meet Bin Ladin refers to a meeting before 11 September 2001, when numerous al-Qa/ida members had access to Bin Ladin.

• Abu Ahmad’s interactions with Bin Ladin’s son Salad – which the Study suggests were another “critical” piece of intelligence – were not unusual because Salad worked under KSM as a facilitator; he also relied on KSM to send messages to his father. Similarly, Abu Ahmad’s involvement in operational planning with KSM did not suggest that he was facilitating for Bin Ladin.

• Abu Ahmad in 2002 stopped using the phone number and the email address the Study cites as “critical” information in our possession. The IC has never linked the phone number to any of Bin Ladin’s known locations in Peshawar, Swat/Shangla, Haripur or Abbottabad, nor linked the email account to any of Abu Ahmad’s communications after 2002.

It is impossible to know in hindsight whether we could have obtained from Ammar, Gul, and others the same information that helped us find Bin Ladin without using enhanced techniques, or whether we eventually would have acquired other intelligence that allowed us to successfully pursue the Abu Ahmad lead or some other lead without the information we acquired from detainees in CIA custody. However, the information we did obtain from these detainees played a role — in combination with other important streams of intelligence — in finding the al-Qa’ida leader.


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