How Much Does the Terror Confession Change Our View of Terror?

I assume that I was not the only person who was astounded when some details of Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s confession were made public the other day. Although there are many reasons to doubt the veracity of his claims, if he is responsible for even half of what he says, how much does it change the American perception of the ongoing Islamic threat against the U.S. and, subsequently, the U.S. war on terror? That is, if so many of the most damaging terrorist acts of the past decade were conceived and/or shepherded and/or financed by one man, does the idea of a huge worldwide army of American-hating Islamic fundamentalists begin to seem out of date, or at least out of focus? Does it seem a bit like living in a city with a whole lot of violent crime and then finding out that 80% of it was being perpetrated, if indirectly, by one big mob boss? This would hardly diminish the losses and the atrocities, of course, but how much does it change the apocalyptic perception that so many Americans seem to hold?


does the idea of a huge worldwide army of American-hating Islamic fundamentalists begin to seem out of date, or at least out of focus?

Thankfully, we solved that problem by invading Iraq, thus guaranteeing that many independent people and groups will hate us for years to come.


So, did he admit to all of that because:
a) If we think he is responsible for all of that, we might let up on the "War on Terror" and make life easier for his fellow Jihadists.
b) The CIA beat it out of him. He said whatever he had to say for the torture to stop.
c) He's insane.
d) He wishes.
e) It's true.


I'm confused by it all, on one hand the idea of a nice tidy closure package of this confession are appealing, but this contradicts the whole modern make-up of terrorist groups, the splinter cell concept. The idea is that there is no leader or many leaders so that stopping the movement is more difficult.

To me it changes nothing and I don't know if anything really would. Like for instance, if Osama was captured, would we be able to stop the heightened screening at the airports? The answer is of course no, life won't be the same again. There aren't ever going to be clear images of villains and clear cut victories no matter how many Mission Accomplished banners we raise.


I agree with your post. Rather than to pursue the Timothy McVeighs of the Middle East as criminals, our president found it more sexy to bring democracy to the region. What's worse, Congress and establishment media barely raised their eyebrows. The result must feel particularly sad to conservatives.


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, commited citizens can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Of course we've all heard this a million times. But is it crazy to think it could apply to negative things like terrorism?


As a veteran of search comittees I can tell when someone is padding their C.V.


A voice of reason in the "war on terrorism"? This will never do, Mr. Dubner. Wecome to the no fly list.


Regarding the cell structure of terrorist organizations: in the case of bin Laden much of the funding allegedly came from a central source, so some person or small group of people presumably had to apportion it.

I was more interested in the timing of this release after a couple of weeks of nothing but bad news for the White House (Libby conviction, Walter Reed scandal, fired US attorneys, etc.). It's not like KSM just confessed the other day - they've had this information for a very long time. I've become cynical enough that I believe the White House keeps things like this in their back pocket and selectively releases them whenever they want to distract the media from whatever is going on at the moment. Besides, we hadn't had our regular dose of fear in a while.

The opacity of the Guantanamo internment arrangement also means that we have no visibility into the veracity of information like this. KSM could be dead for all we know. Or, since he'll likely never see the light of day again, his purported confession could be entirely made up.



Personally, the confession doesn't change much on the whole "War on Terror" image. I honestly don't know if we are even significantly safer or if we are simply more aware of the terrorism threat since 9/11. I don't want to seem that I'm marginalizing the counter-terrorism measures, but I think it's point worth thinking about.

I think the issue raised here is that if there is a "terror boss" means that large-scale attacks that require extensive coordination can become marginalized by taking away the leadership. However, small-scale terrorism only takes one motivated person.

What, then, is the objective of the "War on Terror?" If it's essentially to prevent large-scale type attacks, we can continue in a successful, but everlasting game of cat-and-mouse with terrorist leadership. If it's to eliminate all terrorism, the "War of Ideas" must be won. Essentially, "radical Islam" needs to be de-legitimized. And that is something that and and will only be done from within the religion itself.



I think you need to keep his confession in perspective. He seemed to say that he was sort of the COO of these various acts of terrorism. Since AlQuaeda is a centralized organization, it would make sense that someone VP or C-level person is responsible for seeing these operations through (especially as funding is involved). He was relying on a large network of trained cells with their own middle managers to carry out the tactical and operational aspects.
Further, like most companies, you can lock-up the COO, but the organization can keep functioning. That is, if we had left Afghanistan alone, but only captured him, I doubt it would have caused much problem for them. Sadly, as posted above, we have created a global recruiting poster out of Iraq.

Internet Esquire

In the same vein, how many news items that should have been headlines were reported by the mainstream press, but buried on page 11. As I stated in a recent blog post - - once these news items are put into a timeline format, they make a compelling case for concluding that Pakistan's ISI Intelligence Service was a sponsor of Al Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers.


AlQ is very good at misdirection and I think they know we fall for it every time. By admitting guilt for some 31-odd incidents KSM is telling us that there isn't anyone else, we have the culprit, we can stop searching now. Or at least ease up. We shouldn't.


The whole thing is just clear nonsense on its face. The more he puts on his resume the more it looks like not one bit of it is true.

I talk about a personal experience I had being interrogated by police when I was 13 (before courts found Miranda rights) that strongly drives my attitude about the validity of any of his confession here.

I wasn't even tortured or seriously misstreated but I'm sure that given 2-3 months of the kind of interregation I was subjected to would have resulted in confessing to 30-40 burglaries I had nothing to do with. And my interregators weren't even competent enough to mask their attempts at psychological manipulation from a 13 year old.

The consensus of the inmate students I had when I taught econ to junior college classes at a Texas maximum security unit a few years ago was that pretty much no confession given after a few days of intense interrogation with no outside contact is reliable.



Call me an optimist but it is a positive step forward in the alleged "war on terror" whenever someone likes this is brought to trial.

Let me qualify that statement by saying that I am defining that "someone" as being a person capable of financing or influencing a large group of potential military threats.

Any sort of terrorist act against another country requires quite a bit of money. The more people we remove from society with this type of money, it is a mini step forward to feeling more safe. Yes it may be a miniscue amount but if you consider the fact that the amount of money in the world is a finite amount, not an infinite amount and the fact that wealth is concentrated in the upper tiers, it becomes all the more important to remove high wealth individuals like this from society. Perhaps the mini step may turn out to be bigger than we think if we add in the time value of the individual's money.




"That is, if so many of the most damaging terrorist acts of the past decade were conceived and/or shepherded and/or financed by one man, does the idea of a huge worldwide army of American-hating Islamic fundamentalists begin to seem out of date"

Or that armies of American-hating subsistence-level goat-herders are impotent and irrelevant, and the actually threat seems to be the random rich, intelligent, and homicidal muslim who snaps into passionate ultra-Wahhabism after giving up his dissolute, decadent lifestyle. (Bin Laden in Lebanon, KSM, etc)


"The more people we remove from society with this type of money" - although the original funding for AlQuaeda was Bin Laden's fortune, that is not how it continued through the late 90s and beyond. Unfortunately, terrorists get funding from a lot of sources, including the unknowing. A number of Muslim charities have been caught routing funds to terrorists. Many countries secretly fund terrorists. Many middle class people in certain countries donate money, etc.
As far as new leaders, it is a mistake to assume that new ones will not come along. Yes, most of them are well educated (though not necessarily rich), many educated in the West. But, passion, rage, ideology drives them just as much or more than the goat-herder (passionate college students have historically driven revolutions and rebellions). This works well for such organizations, since the educated ones can leverage their knowledge through the willing-to-die goat-herder, slum dweller, or disaffected youth in England, France, US, and Arab countries.
Note that many of those college students see "their people" being mistreated by the West and want to exact revenge (or "remedy the situation"), using their knowledge. So, the upper leaders pair them up with the less educated, and form a semi-autonomous cell.
The upper leaders have the experience with war and tactics - there are a lot of training grounds for the next generation of those: Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Yes, many of those charismatic leaders come from wealthy backgrounds, but many are also the disaffected/bored wealthy whose money comes from inheritance. They are just as susceptible to a message; it only takes a very few.



This confession really doesn't give any idea of what he's actually done. There is a strong incentive for him to take blame (read "credit") for all this. I wouldn't be surprised if he also confessed to bombing Pearl Harbor, the exiction of dinosaurs, and global warimng, too.


Hmm. The man is singlehandedly responsible for every single evil deed done in the last 15 years. Impressive.


Remember the "Bert Is Evil" site? This guy is even worse than Bert.

Connie H.

"Evidence" produced by torture is nearly always useless simply because sooner or later the torturee will hit upon what the torturer wants to hear in order to make it stop.

Not that we know what was done to KSM to make him say these things -- that's the kicker, once torture has been introduced into the "justice" process, and we have a wall of obfuscation hiding just what that particular process involved. Given this is the best intel that Guantanamo has made public it should be a heads-up about how pathetic the overall results of this miscarriage of international justice is.