The former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service defended the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on top al-Qaeda terrorists in an interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes” Sunday.
Jose Rodriguez told a skeptical Stahl that the controversial tactics, which some left-wing terror experts consider torture, were essential to gathering information from captured terrorists.
Rodriquez has written a book, titled “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Action After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” which offers a detailed defense of the harsh interrogation tactics he authorized in the wake of the catastrophic terror attacks.
“For the first time in our history, we had an enemy come into our homeland and kill 3,000 people. I mean, that was a huge deal,” he told Stahl. “This was a threat. And we had to throw everything at it.”
Rodriguez said the United States intelligence community was faced with a “ticking time bomb situation” and vowed to use every means at their disposal—within the bounds of the law—to prevent another attack.
“We were flooded with intelligence about an imminent attack,” he said. “That al-Qaeda had an anthrax program, and that they were planning to use it against us. And that they were seeking nuclear materials to use in some type of nuclear weapon.”
That is why he authorized the use of stress-inducing interrogation methods—including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of diapers—on high-level terrorist operatives such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and top al-Qaeda henchman Abu Zubaydah, Rodriguez said.
The tactics, which he said were not intended to inflict pain, yielded crucial information that ultimately saved lives.
Stahl, who at times during the interview appeared to be in a stress-inducing position, noted that the FBI has disputed the CIA’s claim that the enhanced tactics were effective.
“In fact, what they say is everything important that [Abu Zubaydah] gave up, he gave up to them before the harsher interrogation techniques kicked in,” she told Rodriguez.
“Well, that is just not true,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not true.”
Stahl pressed further, relaying an unfavorable construal of the CIA operation that “was told” to her.
“Here’s something that was told to me. Abu Zubaydah’s stories sent the CIA around the globe. Not a single plot was foiled. We spent millions chasing phantoms,” she said.
Rodriguez emphatically rejected the notion.
“Bullshit!” he said. Abu Zubaydah “gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of al-Qaeda senior leaders.”
Asked if he had any “qualms” about the use of harsh tactics on high-level terrorists, Rodriguez expressed none.
“We made some al-Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days,” he said. “But we did the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the homeland and to protect American lives. So yes, I had no qualms.”
“I am very secure in, in what we did and I am very confident that what we did saved American lives,” he added.
Rodriguez pointed out that under President Obama, few suspected terrorists are captured and interrogated.
“[The] default option of this administration has been to kill all prisoners,” he said, referring to the administration’s preference for unmanned drone strikes. “How could it be more ethical to kill people rather than capture them? I never understood that one.”
Obama has criticized the CIA’s interrogation program under President George W. Bush, accusing American agents of engaging in “torture.”
Rodriguez said that while the president is “entitled to his opinion,” it was highly unbecoming of the commander in chief to challenge the U.S. intelligence community and its efforts to protect the country.
“When President Obama condemns the covert action activities of a previous government, he is breaking the covenant that exists between intelligence officers who are at the pointy end of the spear, hanging way out there, and the government that authorized them and directed them to go there,” he said.
Though the sluggish economy is likely to be the foremost issue in the 2012 presidential election, national security is sure to be a topic of heated debate.
Republicans have expressed concern over the president’s policies, and in particular his off-the-cuff remarks to former Russian figurehead Dmitry Medvedev, in which he said he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate with ascendant Russian dictator Vladimir Putin after the election.
Obama, meanwhile, has sought to repeatedly remind voters that he was the one who authorized the Navy SEAL raid that killed al-Qaeda ringleader Osama bin Laden.
The Obama campaign’s efforts to politicize bin Laden’s death have been criticized by both sides. Shortly after the successful raid, the president vowed not to “spike the football” by making bin Laden’s death a political issue.
Left-wing dilettante Arianna Huffington said a recent campaign ad featuring former president and failed terrorist-hunter Bill Clinton and suggesting that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would not have ordered the bin Laden raid was “despicable.”
Romney, who has yet to select a running mate, may choose to solidify the Republican ticket by picking an individual with solid credentials on national security.
Talk is increasing in some GOP circles that Rodriguez may soon find himself atop Romney’s short list of potential vice-presidential nominees. Not only does he possess impeccable national security bona fides, Republicans say, but the Puerto Rican-born Rodriguez could also help the party shore up support among Hispanic voters.
Rodriguez would be largely immune from the aggressive attacks from Democrats and members of the media that were directed at former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008, given that most details of his record as a government official are either classified or have been destroyed.