Michael Nutkiewicz’s recent letter to the Journal (Dec. 20) about the futility and danger of torture was spot-on correct. I spent 25 years in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and retired in 2009 as the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the FBI for New Mexico. Prior to that I was SAC for the FBI in Alaska for four years. My heart does not ache, and I face no moral dilemma, for those chosen to undergo enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT). My issue with EIT and torture in general is that it just doesn’t work and is, in fact, counterproductive. Mr. Nutkiewicz correctly notes studies have shown valuable intelligence overwhelmingly being collected through simple and direct interrogation techniques.
In his masterful, carefully crafted, but sometimes obtuse press conference of Dec. 11, CIA Director John Brennan ably defended his organization and colleagues while accepting some of the conclusions of the recently released Senate report on enhanced interrogation techniques. While never actually using the word “torture,” Brennan acknowledged that some CIA officers’ actions were “not authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all.” What do you call an abhorrent EIT?
The director swung swiftly into obtuseness when he tried to argue for the effectiveness of the EIT program. Per Brennan, “it is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against Bin Laden”. He also acknowledged that it was “unknowable” what information could specifically be attributed to those techniques. It makes one nostalgic for Donald Rumsfeld’s “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.”
In a moment of honest clarity, Brennan identified what I believe was the genesis of the legacy they now face. According to the director, the CIA “was unprepared to conduct a detention and interrogation program and our officers inadequately developed and monitored its initial activities.” In other words, they didn’t know what they were doing. And why should they? What experience or training did the average CIA case officer have extracting intelligence or cooperation in a hostile interrogation environment? They had very little, if any, resulting in their adoption of tactics best left to bad film noir police holding cells.
When FBI agents were allowed to participate in interrogations at Guantanamo and overseas, they were shocked at the tactics of CIA and military personnel and complained loudly to FBI headquarters. I would refer readers to Michael Isikoff’s Dec. 15 article for Yahoo News wherein he outlines investigators’ complaints resulting in the September 2006 prohibition by FBI Director Robert Mueller against FBI agent participation in CIA “debriefings.” Isikoff also details efforts by the CIA to spin the media into believing their tactics were viable and productive.
The FBI has a history of successfully obtaining intelligence and confessions from subjects using sophisticated interviewing and interrogation techniques – without the use of EIT or torture. It sometimes takes years for an agent to develop these techniques through training, observation and experience. Such techniques can work against terrorist detainees just as they have worked in the past against more sophisticated targets such as mob wise guys, bank officials or Enron executives. I also don’t limit this talent to FBI agents. I believe any experienced U.S. homicide detective from a mid-sized city, with proper background training, could obtain better results than we have seen from the CIA.
Every time a detainee is forced to “tell them what they want to hear” in order to mitigate the pain or discomfort, it sends the rest of the intelligence and law enforcement communities into a tailspin. We will likely never know how much has been spent in valuable time and treasure chasing down vague and phony leads originating from some dark pit. As Isikoff ends his article: “there may be more evidence to come of what some FBI agents had been trying to say from the very beginning: that brutal tactics, more often than not, don’t yield useful intelligence – and sometimes produce useless lies.”