In a sea of mainly shallow media coverage populated by small islands of ignorant delusional conspiracy theories about the origin of the 9/11 attacks and other acts of jihadi terrorism over the past 30 years, Richard Miniter's book `Mastermind' is a breath of fresh air: a researcher/writer who has the diligence to do the leg-work and burrow to the heart of the matter.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (`KSM') was captured in Rawalpindi in a combined US-Pakistani sting operation on 1st March 2003 and at the time of writing (July 2011), languishes in Guantanamo Bay posing serious problems for the US administration. As jihadis crave the global publicity resulting from high-profile execution the author details why, in his assessment, political consideration of the repercussions of KSM's martyrdom now make trial by a civilian court all but impossible.
Observing the classic journalistic truism `If you don't go, then you don't know' Miniter's thoroughness took him to Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, several EU countries including Germany and Spain, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Pakistan, The Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen to interview members of KSM's extensive family of contacts face-to-face. In addition terror-cell insiders, police and soldiers from several nations, analysts, diplomats, intelligence agents, lawyers, prosecutors, judges, Prime Ministers and Presidential appointees in four continents involved over 30 years as witnesses, investigators and prosecutors of jihadist terror have been tracked down by the author and interviewed on the record. The result is a thoroughly researched book crammed with facts and compelling evidence.
KSM's history of early involvement with Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimin (`The Moslem Brotherhood') and exposure to the formative philosophy of Qutb is documented. In 1979, modern Islamist jihadism as most westerners would recognise it emerged onto the world stage in the wake of three significant global events:
1. The Islamic revolution in Iran and the taking of US hostages in the Tehran Embassy: the Islamists, according to the author, were astounded that "the Americans effectively did nothing" and their cause was strengthened in confidence
2. The Grand Mosque takeover in Mecca, resulting in the public beheading of 63 jihadis taken alive by the Saudi authorities
3. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which drew thousands of Arabs - including Osama bin Laden - from the Gulf and North Africa to the mountains of Afghanistan to fight a guerrilla war against the communist infidel. They were supported by money and resources from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states but had no support from, nor contact with, any agencies of western governments who focussed support instead on native Afghan `mujahideen' principally under the command of Ahmed Shah Massoud
Born in Kuwait to parents from the persecuted Balushi minority native to the region straddling Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, KSM was always the outsider. The author has interviewed contemporaries at Chowan University in North Carolina, where KSM studied chemical engineering in the mid-1980s and where his reckless driving involved him in several serious road accidents and court cases (one case was improbably known as `Mohammed vs. Christian' after the names of the drivers of the two vehicles). In NC, KSM's Islamist radicalism hardened to the extent that he began to convert other Arab students, even meeting new arrivals at the airport. One concerned Kuwaiti recalls:
"A lot of our students came back from the US radicalised...I'm talking about cool guys; the guys who drank and went to discos came home as bearded hard-liners."
The complex process whereby exposure to American culture and values caused these `cool' young Gulf Arabs to become radicalised America-haters is investigated in detail by the author and the results are disturbing.
`Tradebom' (the 1993 WTC bombing) was planned and organised by Ramzi Yousef, KSM's nephew, inseparable friend and cohort who gained entry to the USA in the wake of the 1990 war for Kuwait by posing as a victim of Iraqi persecution. Miniter reveals that Rule 6E effectively forbade the FBI - who were investigating Tradebom as a federal crime but excluded the possibility of foreign government financing for political reasons - and the CIA from sharing information, by law. The result of the lack of inter-service co-operation was that both the CIA and the FBI overlooked links between RY, KSM and OBL, with whom KSM finally began to co-operate when he needed finance for the `planes operation,' planned in 1995 but not implemented until 2001.
The author demonstrates that the loose ad-hoc structure of Islamist terror networks, with no central C&C, was something new to the CTC which they failed to appreciate prior to September 2001. The lack of inter-service information sharing, both national and international, enabled a long string of attacks to be mounted in the Philippines, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and against the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August 1998 which killed 224 people and injured thousands.
Miniter details the `planes operation' was originally planned by KSM to strike targets simultaneously on both the West and East Coast with as many as 12 hijacked commercial airliners but was scaled down at OBL's insistence due to the high risk of a security breach and failure to recruit sufficient qualified pilot volunteers (e.g. Faruq al Tunisi backed out of the operation in May and had to be replaced by Hani Hanjour). The White House, on the original hit-list, was also removed for `targeting reasons'. Miniter's careful research has uncovered a lot of hitherto unknown detail and adds significantly to what we now understand about the motivation, organization and planning of the 9/11 attacks.
KSM also planned the aborted `Bojinka' plot to simultaneously destroy 11 passenger airliners in flight with chemical explosives; to destroy several apartment blocks (with their residents) in an American city by utilising explosive gas, and to murder both President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul 2nd.
The concluding chapters discuss the legal and ethical issues surrounding KSM and other Guantanamo detainees (Miniter does not consider water-boarding to be `torture' by legal definition, so you can argue with him on that one). Can a civil criminal trial process be made to work in these exceptional circumstances, for which the US Constitution has no provision? KSM and other jihadis were extensively trained in exactly how to behave in US custody should they be captured, and followed their training to the letter - i.e. they were told to exploit to the maximum any opportunity of media exposure; to take full advantage of the `rights' of defendants; and that the American prison guards would be afraid to harm or even touch them for fear of legal recrimination.
Miniter demonstrates obvious personal bias towards what he regards as the unambiguous and effective legal stance of the Bush 43 administration as opposed to the succeeding Obama administration which, once in office, came up against the hard realities of the Guantanamo situation and began to realise the answers were not so easy. As an example, the government of Yemen flatly refused to accept back its own citizens from Guantanamo so America is stuck with them. So, what to do? It seems the old dictum that `campaigning is poetry, but government is prose' is a hard lesson the Obama Administration has had to learn when dealing with these ruthless people who want to destroy America at any cost and welcome martyrdom in the process. Some readers will no doubt see the author as a Bush 43 apologist and he sure has it in for Eric Holder, the current US Attorney General, in his determination to prosecute CIA operatives for `abusing' Guantanamo inmates.
Miniter is a good writer, if not a great one. The book has a racy, novelistic style. However as most of these jihadis travelled under a number of aliases and had passports in several different nationalities, the narrative can be at times confusing if the reader does not pay close attention to the scores of (sometimes similar) Arabic names. However if you have a genuine interest in understanding the global Islamist jihadi phenomenon of the past 30 years and what led to the 9/11 operation and its aftermath, the thoroughness of detail uncovered by Miniter's original research is enlightening and indispensable.