Time magazine takes a look at Ron Suskind’s upcoming book:
Al-Qaeda terrorists came within 45 days of attacking the New York subway system with a lethal gas similar to that used in Nazi death camps. They were stopped not by any intelligence breakthrough, but by an order from Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. And the U.S. learned of the plot from a CIA mole inside al-Qaeda. These are some of the more startling revelations by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, whose new book The One Percent Doctrine is excerpted in the forthcoming issue of TIME. It will appear on Time.com early Sunday morning.
U.S. intelligence got its first inkling of the plot from the contents of a laptop computer belonging to a Bahraini jihadist captured in Saudi Arabia early in 2003. It contained plans for a gas-dispersal system dubbed “the mubtakkar” (Arabic for inventive). Fearing that al-Qaeda’s engineers had achieved the holy grail of terror R&D — a device to effectively distribute hydrogen-cyanide gas, which is deadly when inhaled — the CIA immediately set about building a prototype based on the captured design, which comprised two separate chambers for sodium cyanide and a stable source of hydrogen, such as hydrochloric acid. A seal between the two could be broken by a remote trigger, producing the gas for dispersal. The prototype confirmed their worst fears: “In the world of terrorist weaponry,” writes Suskind, “this was the equivalent of splitting the atom. Obtain a few widely available chemicals, and you could construct it with a trip to Home Depot – and then kill everyone in the store.”
So if Suskind’s information is accurate (and it appears to be at least partially accurate) the plans for this device are out there? I just can’t imagine why the attack would be aborted. Even stranger is that the plans for this device have existed since at least 2003. If execution is that easy why haven’t we seen one of these deployed? I can see an operation getting delayed for a few weeks or months but years? It’s difficult to image the “holy grail of terror R&D” sitting on the shelf that long.
I’d really like to get my hands on this book.
Newsweek’s version of this story contains a bit more detail. Including this interesting bit of information:
According to the source familiar with his book, Suskind also reports that Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, who was seriously wounded during the U.S. operation that led to his capture in March 2002, was carefully nursed back to good health by doctors flown into Pakistan by the CIA. Suskind quotes a CIA official saying: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet…We got him in very good health so we could start to torture him.” Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the Abu Zubaydah story said they could not confirm this quote.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for that confirmation. I’ll just say that I hope there’s someone out there ready to do whatever it takes to prevent men like Abu Zubaydah from succeeding.
James Joyner is skeptical:
I can’t help being a bit dubious of this level of detailed intelligence being in the hands of a reporter, kept secret long enough for him to write a book, combined with the lack of an attack in the subsequent three years.
Macsmind on Ron Suskind:
Fool us once…..fool us twice….not quite
Jeff Goldstein’s initial reaction:
My preliminary thoughts are these: whatever you happen to feel about George Bush, one thing is clear: when it comes to defending the homeland against al Qaeda, he has not hesitated to act in a decisively proactive way once he and his advisors have settled on what they believe is the proper course of action. To that end, he has proven himself unafraid to use substantive military force and has proven himself largely immune to the opinions of both the western media and international elites
The point to take away: Al Qaeda has crude WMD capabilities. Have a great evening!
Suitably Flip breathes a sarcastic sigh of relief:
I tell you, I’m feeling better and better about that 40% cut in New York’s federal anti-terror funding.
Blue Crab Boulevard is one of many bloggers wondering why this information is being printed:
From Time magazine comes a handy little guide on how to kill lots of people. Oh, and a signed death warrant for an informant. They explain what ingredients are needed and give a hint on the device you need to make it work. Gee, thanks, Time.
Dean Esmay is not impressed:
But who’s kidding who here? Al Qaeda came within 45 days of doing something. Then they…. decided not to. Whoah boy. The sweat’s just running in rivulets all over my keyboard and into my shoes.
Tony Snow won’t comment on the story:
Snow told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he has nothing to say about the excerpt. “I don’t want to confirm or deny this particular story,” Snow said. “I just don’t have anywhere to go with it.”
Daniel Rubin at The Philidelphia Inquirer blog Bling has a good roundup.