The Magazine

Interrogating Terror

How tough justice keeps us free.

Jul 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 43 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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Even the most severe technique, waterboarding .  .  . did not produce immediate results. KSM seemed to have figured out that we weren’t going to push things too far. While strapped down on a gurney and as water was being applied, he used his fingers to tick off the seconds. What eventually brought KSM to the compliant stage was more sleep deprivation. .  .  . As with the others, once KSM reached the compliant state, the EITs stopped. .  .  . The information that came from KSM, like that from Abu Zubaydah before him, was a treasure trove.

The CIA produced thousands of intelligence reports through EIT interrogations. The FBI, having opted out of the aggressive interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, wanted back in when the flood of intelligence started pouring forth from Zubaydah and Mohammed. The quality and quantity of the intelligence produced (according to Rodriguez) silenced whatever concerns the bureau may have had about methods. Langley decided, however, not to let the FBI return. 

Rodriguez, who has the direct, earthy manner typical of case officers who’ve risen through the Latin America division, isn’t kind in describing how the FBI initially handled itself with Zubaydah, the first of the big al Qaeda targets to be captured. He gives examples of FBI interrogation methods, which so many journalists and counterterrorist pundits have decided are superior to the CIA’s more aggressive approach. It’s worthwhile to hear Rodriguez at length:

Despite the current claims by former FBI agents that they had bonded with AZ and were able to charm information out of him, the facts are quite different. .  .  . AZ told CIA interrogators that he respected all of our team, especially the female chief of base (whom he called “the Emira,” Arabic for “princess” or “leader”) of the black site. He respected them all, he said, except for a Muslim FBI agent [Ali Soufan], who had offended him early on. The agent, it turned out, had tried to debate Islamic theory with AZ, who thought the agent had insufficient grounding in the facts. .  .  . At one point the Bureau guys decided to try to “recruit” AZ. .  .  . [T]he Arab-American agent [Soufan] told AZ, “Don’t pay attention to those CIA people .  .  . you work with me,” and he gave him a candy bar. .  .  . The FBI man tried to use his Arab heritage as an opening to get AZ to talk, but it turned out to be counterproductive. “You are the worst kind of Arab,” AZ told [Soufan], “you are a traitor!” “Look,” the FBI agent told him, “America knows who its friends and who its enemies are. Work with us and we can make you a wealthy man.” AZ responded, “What makes you think I would turn my back on Allah for money?”

As Rodriguez underscores, the FBI and CIA have two fundamentally different missions. The bureau is always thinking about criminal prosecutions. (Read Ali Soufan’s The Black BannersThe Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda; the FBI’s clear focus on prosecuting jihadists is omnipresent through this agent’s solipsistic voyage through American counterterrorism.) But unless the CIA is operationally subordinate to the FBI, Langley couldn’t care less; it’s after “actionable intelligence.” Both organizations obviously want to stop future terrorist attacks, but the approaches are invariably different. Indeed, the British use MI5 in fundamentally different ways than they use Scotland Yard precisely because Parliament has recognized the superiority of intelligence methods against certain targets, including jihadists. And the British public is willing to tolerate MI5’s very intrusive methods because they know it has no law enforcement, judicial, or prosecutorial powers. 

Different missions attract and build different personalities, which has further complicated the tense, historic relationship between case officers and G Men. Although Rodriguez doesn’t dwell on FBI-CIA relations, Hard Measures reveals clearly that the two organizations still don’t work well together. Read between Rodriguez’s lines, where he talks about most FBI and CIA officers working collegially side by side, and it’s a good guess that, since 9/11, greater familiarity has actually bred greater contempt.