Patek is a potential intelligence gold mine. A former U.S. senior intelligence official told me that he is precisely the kind of high-value terrorist who would have been taken into CIA custody for questioning during the Bush administration. But President Obama has eliminated the CIA’s interrogation program and closed the agency’s black sites. How will the president handle the disposition of this captured terrorist operative? Where will Patek be detained? And who will interrogate him?
A senior Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters over the weekend, “We are going to hand him over to Indonesian authorities. There is no plan to hand him over to the Americans.” That would be a disaster for American national security. The only way to fully exploit the intelligence Patek possesses is for U.S. officials to interrogate him directly. Has the Obama administration requested that Pakistan transfer him to American custody? If not, why not? And if he were handed over to the United States, where would he be taken? Guantanamo Bay? The president needs to answer these questions — and fast — if we are to find out what this senior al-Qaeda commander knows about threats to the American homeland.
What might Patek tell us? It is significant that he was captured not hiding out in Southeast Asia but in Pakistan. There is only one reason an Indonesian terrorist with a million-dollar bounty on his head would risk traveling halfway across the world to Pakistan: to meet with al-Qaeda leaders. With whom specifically was he to meet?
Last year, CIA Director Leon Panetta said that aggressive attacks against al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region had driven al-Qaeda leaders into hiding and disrupted their ability to plan sophisticated operations. “It’s pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling, and that we really do have them on the run,” Panetta said. Yet, senior terrorist operatives like Patek are still traveling to Pakistan to meet with top al-Qaeda leaders and discuss terrorist operations. Patek may be able to tell us a great deal we do not know about the current state of al-Qaeda’s leadership and its operational planning.
According to the International Crisis Group, there are credible reports that just before traveling to Pakistan, Patek was in Yemen. If true, what was Patek doing visiting the base of operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) just before going on to meet with al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan? The Post recently reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe AQAP “may be close to launching a terrorist strike” against the homeland. What might Patek know about the location of AQAP leaders and their plans for new attacks?