The CIA’s Top Secret Anti-Terrorism Vacuum

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Vacuum cleaners are pretty great tools. Modern ones can clean kitchen floors, get dust and grime in hard-to-reach places, and of course, clean your carpet. They may even help U.S. government officials thwart a future terrorist attack.

But we don’t know, because that’s classified.

You’ve probably heard of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The U.S. government, in the official commission report on the September 11, 2001 attacks, deemed Mohammed the “principal architect” of the attacks and has kept him under lock and key since his capture in 2003, most recently in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Prison. Under what officials call “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Mohammed has admitted to masterminding not only the events of 9/11 but also the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the attempted “shoebombing” in December of 2001, and various other terrorist attacks.

These “enhanced interrogation techniques” are controversial; critics argue that the amount of duress Mohammed and others are subjected to puts into question the validity of any statements elicited this way. The morality, legality, and effectiveness of these methods are a debate for another time, but in order to talk about highly classified vacuum cleaners, let’s take as given that “enhanced interrogation techniques” intentionally aim, in part, to inflict some level of psychological strain on the subjects.

Further, there could be some long-term effect on a prisoner’s sanity due to such examinations.

It should go without saying that keeping Mohammed sane is pretty important; there’s a good chance he can provide value to American security interests going forward. But life as a captured, accused terrorist mastermind isn’t all that conducive to maintaining one’s sanity. According to a report in the summer of 2013, a decade earlier while Mohammed was an American captive in a secret, CIA-run prison in Romania, he requested an activity intended to keep his brain sharp and occupied between interrogations. According to a person only identified as a “former senior CIA official” by the Associated Press, Mohammed asked to design a vacuum cleaner.

According to the source, Mohammed—who has a mechanical engineering degree from North Carolina A&T State University— wanted permission to start drawing up schematics for a vacuum, which would almost certainly never be built. Why he picked this project is unknown, but his military-assigned lawyer, Jason Wright, told the AP that such a project would be in line with Mohammed’s passions; while maintaining a great interest in Islam and the Quran, Mohammed also marvels at modern technology.

The CIA allegedly approved Mohammed’s request to start drawing. Further, they allowed him access to some online materials, which helped him design his schematic. So somewhere, in some filing cabinet or data warehouse, there may be plans for an improved home-cleaning system, designed by a person widely characterized as one of history’s worst terrorists.

We can’t be sure, of course, because the CIA won’t confirm or deny what the official told the AP. The CIA responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by claiming that the documents, if they exist, would be highly classified operational files of the agency.

Wright, on the other hand, approached the AP’s question with a bit of humor: “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.”

Excerpted from Now I Know More Copyright © 2014 by Dan Lewis and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.