Admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks designs a vacu

World

Admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks designs a vacuum cleaner

Posted:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Confined to the basement of a CIA secret prison in Romania about a decade ago, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, asked his jailers whether he could embark on an unusual project: Would the spy agency allow Mohammed, who had earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering, to design a vacuum cleaner?

The agency officer in charge of the prison called CIA headquarters and a manager approved the request, a former senior CIA official told The Associated Press.

Mohammed had endured the most brutal of the CIA's harsh interrogation methods and had confessed to a career of atrocities. But the agency had no long-term plan for him. Someday, he might prove useful. Perhaps, he'd even stand trial one day.

And for that, he'd need to be sane.

"We didn't want them to go nuts," the former senior CIA official said, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the now-shuttered CIA prisons or Mohammed's interest in vacuums.

So, using schematics from the Internet as his guide, Mohammed began re-engineering one of the most mundane of household appliances.

That the CIA may be in possession of the world's most highly classified vacuum cleaner blueprints is but one peculiar, lasting byproduct of the controversial U.S. detention and interrogation program.

By the CIA's own account, the program's methods were "designed to psychologically ‘dislocate'" people. But once interrogations stopped, the agency had to try to undo the psychological damage inflicted on the detainees.

The CIA apparently succeeded in keeping Mohammed sane. He appears to be in good health, according to military records.

Others haven't fared as well. Accused al-Qaida terrorists Ramzi Binalshibh and Abd al-Nashiri, who were also locked up in Poland and Romania with Mohammed, have had mental issues. Al-Nashiri suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Binalshibh is being treated for schizophrenia with a slew of anti-psychotic medications.

"Any type of prolonged isolation in custody — much less the settings described in the press — have been known to have a severe impact on the mental condition of the detainee," said Thomas Durkin, Binalshibh's former civilian lawyer. Durkin declined to discuss Binalshibh's case.

Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogations in Poland. Agency officers and contractors forced him to stay awake for 180 hours, according to a CIA inspector general's report. He also underwent 183 instances of waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

After the CIA prison in Poland was closed in September 2003, Mohammed was moved to Bucharest, to a black site code-named "Britelite." Soon the CIA was trying to find ways to entertain Mohammed as his intelligence value diminished.

The prison had a debriefing room, where Mohammed, who saw himself as something of a professor, held "office hours," as he told CIA officers. While chained to the floor, Mohammed would lecture the CIA officers on his path to jihad, his childhood and family. Tea and cookies were served.

Along with the other five detainees at the prison in Bucharest, Mohammed was given assignments about his knowledge of al-Qaida, or "homework," as CIA officers called it. He was given Snickers candy bars as rewards for his studiousness.

In Romania, the prison provided books for detainees to read. Mohammed, former officials said, enjoyed the Harry Potter series. For the CIA officers at the prison, not so much. For security reasons, after a prisoner finished a book, they tediously checked every page to ensure detainees weren't passing messages. They once caught Mohammed trying to hide a message in a book warning his prison mates not to talk about Osama bin Laden's courier.

Mohammed graduated from North Carolina AT&T State University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1986. It's not clear whether Mohammed was interested in designing a better vacuum or had ulterior motives. He might have intended to use the plans to conceal secret information or trick his jailers.

In Graham Greene's spy thriller "Our Man in Havana," a vacuum salesman in Cuba agrees to work for MI6, the British spy service. He dupes the British into believing his vacuum designs are military installations. The AP was unable to determine whether Mohammed ever read the famous novel.

It remains a mystery how far Mohammed got with his designs or whether the plans still exist. The secret CIA prison in Romania was shuttered in early 2006 and Mohammed was transferred later that year to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base prison, where he remains. It's unlikely he was able to take his appliance plans to Cuba.

Mohammed's military lawyer, Jason Wright, said he was prohibited from discussing his client's interest in vacuums.

"It sounds ridiculous, but answering this question, or confirming or denying the very existence of a vacuum cleaner design, a Swiffer design, or even a design for a better hand towel would apparently expose the U.S. government and its citizens to exceptionally grave danger," Wright said.

But Wright added that he often discussed "modern technological innovations" and the "scientific wonders" of the Quran with Mohammed. He called Mohammed "exceptionally intelligent."

"If he had access to educational programs in Guantanamo Bay, such as distance learning programs, I am confident that in addition to furthering his Islamic studies, he could obtain a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and very likely patent inventions," Wright said.

The CIA won't discuss the Mohammed's vacuum plans, either. The AP asked the CIA for copies of the vacuum designs or any government records about them under the Freedom of Information Act.

The CIA responded in a letter to the AP that the records, "should they exist," would be considered operational files of the CIA — among its most highly classified category of government files — and therefore exempt from ever being released to the public.

  • Email Alert Sign Up

    Sign up here to receive breaking news stories from KSWT.com and morning updates to your email inbox.

    * denotes required fields


    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Go to KSWT-TV's Facebook page
  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • National

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Web Producer: Lucy Valencia, Assignment Desk Editor WASHINGTON (AP) -- Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits willMore >>
    Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits will be delayed if congressional Republicans fail to increase the government's borrowing authority in a looming showdown over the nation's debt and spending.More >>
  • Your aging eyes

    Your aging eyes

    As more Americans head toward retirement and beyond, scientists expect the number of people with age-related eye problems to rise dramatically. But you can take steps to ensure you minimize those problems.More >>
  • Mercury rising

    Mercury rising

    Living in the southwest, warm temps are just part of life; but, lately as the mercury begins to rise it has proven to be too much for some. Emergency crews have been called out fordehydrations calls and area utilities have recorded larger than normal power uses. Some companies have opened their doors offering passer by’s a cool zone and even the Salvation Army has scoured the city looking for people in aide to help them get hydrated and get some shelter from the sun.More >>
    Living in the southwest, warm temps are just part of life; but, lately as the mercury begins to rise it has proven to be too much for some. Emergency crews have been called out fordehydrations calls and area utilities have recorded larger than normal power uses. Some companies have opened their doors offering passer by’s a cool zone and even the Salvation Army has scoured the city looking for people in aide to help them get hydrated and get some shelter from the sun.More >>
  • Resort fires 3 after pool water dumped in S. Tahoe

    Resort fires 3 after pool water dumped in S. Tahoe

    Officials at a South Lake Tahoe resort say they fired three employees who improperly drained about 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of chlorinated pool water into a stormwater basin.More >>
    Officials at a South Lake Tahoe resort say they fired three employees who improperly drained about 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of chlorinated pool water into a stormwater basin.More >>
  • Coming soon...Wal-Mart

    Coming soon...Wal-Mart

    On Wednesday the Yuma City Council voted to change the zoning designation on the proposed land acquired by Wal-Mart. The property located near the intersection of Avenue B and 8th Street was the home of a mobile home park as zones for residential use; the new designation changes that to mixed which will allow the new store to move in to the property. The new store will be the fifth Wal-Mart for Yuma County.More >>
    On Wednesday the Yuma City Council voted to change the zoning designation on the proposed land acquired by Wal-Mart. The property located near the intersection of Avenue B and 8th Street was the home of a mobile home park as zones for residential use; the new designation changes that to mixed which will allow the new store to move in to the property. The new store will be the fifth Wal-Mart for Yuma County.More >>
  • Father beats accused child abuser, Daytona police say

    Father beats accused child abuser, Daytona police say

    Police say a Daytona Beach father beat an 18-year-old man unconscious after finding him sexually abusing his son. Authorities say the father called 911 early Friday after he walked in on the alleged abuse.Frolander motionless on the living room floor. He had several knots on his face and was bleeding from the mouth. Police said the father -- who was not identified -- told investigators he walked in as Frolander was abusing the boy. Police did not release the boy's age, but Frolander is charge...More >>
    Police say a Daytona Beach father beat an 18-year-old man unconscious after finding him sexually abusing his son. Authorities say the father called 911 early Friday after he walked in on the alleged abuse.Frolander motionless on the living room floor. He had several knots on his face and was bleeding from the mouth. Police said the father -- who was not identified -- told investigators he walked in as Frolander was abusing the boy. Police did not release the boy's age, but Frolander is charge...More >>
  • "Graying" Population of Infertility Patients Brings New Challenges to Medical Practice and Society, Study at Center for Human Reproduction Finds

    "Graying" Population of Infertility Patients Brings New Challenges to Medical Practice and Society, Study at Center for Human Reproduction Finds

    As women seek fertility treatment later and later in life, even in their 50s, medical practice and society at large face new challenges, according to a new study...More >>
    As women seek fertility treatment later and later in life, even in their 50s, medical practice and society at large face new challenges, according to a new study published...More >>
  • Online Holiday Shopping

    Online Holiday Shopping

    Doesn’t online shopping sound rather serene this season, given gas prices and the feel-good knowledge that fewer mall trips can help the environment? What’s more, online shopping alleviates holiday shoppingMore >>