WASHINGTON -- 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 attacks, asked his jailers whether he could embark on an unusual project:
Would the spy agency allow Mohammed, who had a degree in mechanical engineering, to design a vacuum cleaner?
A CIA manager approved the request, according to a former senior CIA official.
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. And for that, he'd need to be sane.
"We didn't want them to go nuts," the former senior CIA official said.
So, using schematics from the Internet, Mohammed began re-engineering the household appliance.
Mohammed's military lawyer, Jason Wright, said he was prohibited from discussing his client's interest in vacuums.
The CIA won't discuss the vacuum plans, either. In refusing a Freedom of Information Act request, the CIA responded that records, "should they exist," would be considered operational files of the CIA, among its most highly classified category of government files.