Fifth Degree, Second Thoughts
Wall Street Journal
Fifth Degree, Second Thoughts
The best way to get information from a detainee? Rapport, personal trust and . . . manipulation.
By ALI SOUFAN
A persistent and damaging national-security myth is that in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks a dispute developed between the FBI and the CIA over the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The intelligence agency was uniformly in favor, or so the story went, and the FBI was strongly opposed. What should have been a simple question about efficacy (what is the fastest and best way to gain reliable information from terrorists?) was transformed into a highly charged debate in which facts were discarded and emotions ran high.
In “The Interrogator: An Education,” Glenn Carle, a 23-year CIA veteran who retired in 2007, confirms what I knew from my own experience as an FBI agent at the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba and at so-called black sites: It would be a struggle to find a CIA operative who endorses the use of enhanced-interrogation techniques. The agency’s supporters of such measures were predominately political appointees and desk officials, not professional field operatives. Anyone with actual interrogation experience knows that rapport-building techniques, which use knowledge to outwit detainees and gain cooperation, produce better intelligence than enhanced interrogation.
I served alongside CIA officers in interrogation rooms at Guantanamo and at black sites. I saw the officers disagree with instructions to start using coercive interrogation and demand to have the orders in writing; some even left the locations in protest. CIA officers also complained to their inspector general, John Helgerson, who conducted an investigation and produced a report in 2004, later released by the Obama administration, that was critical of enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs. This is why I’ve publicly opposed calls to prosecute CIA officers involved in the interrogations: The officers registered their protests through the channels available.
The officials behind the enhanced-interrogation program, to prevent criticism, over-classified everything to do with it. They fought to prevent the declassification of the CIA’s Inspector General Report—it wasn’t released to the public until April 2009, and then with heavy redactions. The officials also wrote secret memos making false claims about the successes of the interrogations and allowed only officials supportive of the techniques to speak publicly.
Mr. Carle’s book pulls back part of the curtain. In “The Interrogator,” he describes being sent to a foreign country to provide linguistic support in the interrogation of a detainee, but he then took over the process because of what he perceived as a colleague’s incompetence. Mr. Carle, whom I’ve never met, had success in getting the detainee to open up, discovering that “interrogation called for the same skills and approaches as those of a good case officer: developing rapport, personal trust, a bond between the two individuals, and, of course, manipulation.”
He learned that they had captured the wrong person: “We had misread the man; he was not a jihadist or a member of al-Qa’ida; he did not warrant transfer to Hotel California”—a black site where coercion would be used—”and doing so would serve no useful purpose.”
But his analysis was ignored. Headquarters insisted that the detainee was lying and that he was a high-level operative; he was moved to the black site. Mr. Carle soon left frustrated, but first he fired off two cables listing mistakes made and reiterating his analysis. On returning to headquarters, he says, he found no trace of his cables in the system. Two years later he bumped into the colleague who had taken over from him and learned that the colleague had come to the same conclusion as Mr. Carle. Eventually the detainee was released.
Mr. Carle’s assessment of why headquarters’ analysis was so wrong echoes that of the CIA inspector general, who wrote: “The Agency lacked adequate linguists or subject matter experts and had very little hard knowledge of what particular Al-Qaida leaders—who later became detainees—knew. This lack of knowledge led analysts to speculate about what a detainee ‘should know.’ . . . If a detainee did not respond to a question posed to him, the assumption at Headquarters was that the detainee was holding back and knew more; consequently, Headquarters recommended resumption of EITs.” Declassified memos indicate that Abu Zubaydah, one of the first prisoners subjected to coercive techniques, ran into this approach: Analysts at headquarters believed he was the No. 3 in command of al Qaeda; on that basis they determined that he wasn’t cooperating and that EITs were needed. In reality, he wasn’t even a member of the group. (He was a senior terrorist facilitator, which we had already known from operations years earlier.)
Mr. Carle observed a disturbing tendency of those giving the orders: questioning the patriotism of those engaging in critical thinking. When he questioned the wisdom of using coercive techniques, Mr. Carle says, he was asked: “Which flag do you serve?”
At the FBI, our director, Robert Mueller, barred any involvement in coercive interrogations. Our CIA counterparts were not so lucky—and their bosses didn’t stop the false narrative of an institution-wide clash between the CIA and FBI. But Mr. Carle doesn’t blame George Tenet, the CIA director during this period, or other senior agency officials. “The institution and its leaders also fell victim to the perennial problem in the intelligence business,” Mr. Carle says, “that one usually finds what one is looking for.” At a minimum, a system needs to be put in place to discourage such self-delusion.
Mr. Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, is chairman of the Soufan Group, a strategic intelligence consultancy.