And the college’s lack of concern for such self-segregation helped give KSM the impression that America lacked social cohesion. In fact, once in custody KSM described the America that he thought he knew—a loose federation of states with no uniting culture or character. It’s why he thought it would be so easy to attack the U.S. and get away with it.
“Unlike in Arab lands, he never felt any restrictions,” Miniter said. “We call that freedom, but he thought that was weakness.”
One thing he did learn about Americans was a willingness to believe in coincidences—a perception that inspired a strategic trick that became a mark of KSM’s attacks on the U.S.
The first World Trade Center bombing was plagued by amateurishness. The vehicle that carried the bomb still had its VIN number on it. One of the bombers, Mohammed Salameh, reported the vehicle stolen and demanded his deposit back. When Salameh showed up at the Ryder leasing outfit to claim his deposit return, the FBI were waiting for him.
“That,” Miniter writes, “was what [WTC bomb planner] Ramzi Yousef wanted. His capture would be another helpful distraction.”
The subsequent investigation avoided the question of whether there may have been a broader conspiracy or a foreign source of money funding the attacks. It helps you avoid the extra scrutiny, Miniter said, if you look like unsophisticated amateurs.
“We are naïve enough to believe that there are coincidences, that there are people who simply wake up one morning and say: You know, I’m tired of America and I’m going to let them have it,” he said. “That’s just really not the way it works—all of these things involve training, planning, targeting.”
Miniter also said that one lesson from KSM’s experience was that America behaves as though the world is “a schoolyard without a bully,” when in reality the world has several. “And bullies multiply when they get away with it.”
One consequence of this is that states like Pakistan harbor our bitterest enemies, such as Osama bin Laden, even though they are ostensibly our allies in the war on terror. “They don’t fear us,” Miniter said. “They do fear the various terror networks operating inside their country.” For good reason: Miniter points out that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s late wife was Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by Islamist terrorists in 2007.
Miniter also covers new ground in the book; for example, two al-Qaeda terror plots that were foiled but never made public. And he fleshes out a compelling case that KSM was behind the murder of Jewish Defense League founder Rabbi Meir Kahane. Miniter talks about what went wrong with Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and how it led to one of the biggest scoops of all time for al-Jazeera. And the American intelligence work that led to the capture of several high-value detainees reads like a spy novel—and is a reminder that truth is often stranger than fiction.
The fortuitous timing of the book will also encourage those celebrating bin Laden’s death to appreciate the significance of the man we’ve had in custody now for eight years: the Mastermind.
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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