The Obama administration has taken the CIA “out of the business” of interrogating high-value terrorists and the lack of data is endangering the U.S. security, according to former CIA counterterrorism chief Jose A. Rodriguez.
If U.S. intelligence or military personnel capture a senior terror leader today, no system is in place or facilities set up where he could be questioned, said the 31-year agency veteran who was awarded several medals for his intelligence work before retiring in 2007.
“We are out of the business of doing that,” he said of terrorist leader interrogations in an interview with the Free Beacon. “We don’t have anywhere to take them. If you capture a high-value target outside the war zone, where [are] you going to take them? They are not taking prisoners in Guantanamo, [and] the black sites have been closed.”
When U.S. special operations forces recently captured a terrorist in Sudan, the only place he could be questioned was aboard a Navy ship at sea, he said.
“So we don’t have anywhere to take them, but even if we did, we are restricted by the Army field manual, so we are basically out of the interrogation business.” The manual restricts all interrogations to tactics outlined under international rules for questioning and treatment of prisoners of war in conventional conflicts.
Rodriguez, author of the bestselling book Hard Measures, also said he and fellow CIA colleagues were disgusted by President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo asserting that U.S. officials were guilty of torture for harshly questioning terrorists.
On the current state of terrorist interrogations, Rodriguez said al Qaeda is damaged but the CIA lacks current intelligence on the group that is needed to prevent future attacks.
Since 2009, the Obama administration canceled presidential directives allowing harsh interrogations, closed down covert CIA interrogation sites in Europe and elsewhere, and sought to shut down the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Additionally, current interrogation practices are limited to those outlined in the Army field manual, such as requiring captured prisoners to provide their name, rank, and serial number.
Now that details of harsh interrogation are known, terrorists who are captured will be able to exploit their knowledge of the rules to avoid giving up information, Rodriguez said.
“The problem is, of course, we’ve given away the playbook,” he said. “We’ve given away how far we can go legally interrogating, there are not many options left.”
If a new administration comes into office next year, “they are going to have take this issue on and figure out what we can do” to gain intelligence from captives, he said.
Rodriguez said he has not been in touch with the presidential campaign of Gov. Mitt Romney, but knows several advisers, including another former CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.
Some intelligence specialists have mentioned Rodriguez as a candidate for CIA director if Romney wins in November.
On current CIA counterterrorism operations, Rodriguez said the CIA is relying too much on drone strikes and expressed concerns that the policy of killing but not capturing key terror leaders has led to a lack of intelligence.
Armed Predator strikes play an important role in hitting terrorists hiding out in remote locations, he said.
“The problem is that when you over-rely on the Predator, you miss out on the intelligence,” Rodriguez said. “We are still living off the intelligence that was collected over the first eight or nine years of post-9/11.”
“At some point, you are going to be needing information regarding the actual status of al Qaeda, and what they are thinking, and what they are planning, what their intentions are. So I think we’re going to pay for this [lack of intelligence] at some point.”
Rodriguez expressed outrage over Obama’s major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt June 4, 2009 when he said, “I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States.”
“I was just disgusted to hear my own president basically saying those of us who stepped up to the plate after 9/11 and went ahead and implemented programs that were authorized and sanctioned by the U.S. government were then being labeled as torturers by our president,” Rodriguez told the Free Beacon. “I just could not believe it, especially when all of this was approved.”
Equally upset were colleagues in the counterterrorism intelligence business who took part in what became known as the enhanced interrogation program designed to elicit information from captured al Qaeda leaders.
“That was the reaction of some of my friends that I worked with. The feelings are shared by many people in the counterterrorism center who participated in all of these [policies] thinking we had the full support and the legality and the approvals from the White House to proceed.”
At least 10 terrorist plots were preempted as a result of harsh interrogations, Rodriguez said. They included an al Qaeda plan to conduct hijacked plane attacks on the U.S. West Coast; planned terror strikes on London’s Heathrow Airport; planned attacks in Djibouti using water trunks filled with explosives; and an attack planned against the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.
Al Qaeda agents inside the United States were also uncovered as a result of the interrogation program.
“I can tell you that interrogation of high-level detainees produced such valuable intelligence, intelligence that allowed us to destroy the al Qaeda organization that attacked us on 9/11,” he said.
On other topics in Hard Measures, Rodriguez disclosed new details of the shadow war on terrorism, including:
- The CIA set up its own black site secret detention facilities to make sure key detainees were not mistreated by contractors. “It is more than a little ironic that the secret detention facilities that the CIA established, at which we have been widely accused of abusing prisoners, were established in part for the express purpose of making sure that these critical detainees were not mistreated,” he wrote.
- A Muslim FBI agent tried to take control of CIA interrogations but was rebuffed, and the Bureau pulled out of cooperation with the agency’s interrogation program in 2002. However, once valuable secrets were gained, the FBI asked to be allowed back into the program but was turned down over concerns it would compromise the locations.
- One FBI agent tried to “turn” an al Qaeda leader into a Bureau informant by offering him a Snickers candy bar. The terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, called the agent a traitor and told him, “What makes you think I would turn my back on Allah for money?”
- Rodriguez personally led a team of CIA officials to brief senior House leaders on CIA interrogation techniques and was surprised that Rep. Nancy Pelosi falsely claimed she was never briefed on the program and told reporters that the CIA routinely lied to Congress. “I couldn’t believe it that someone of that seniority in Congress making statements like that, especially when I knew that not to be the case,” Rodriguez said.
- Videotapes obtained at the time of the capture of al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah revealed that he had “been to Iran or was somehow cooperating with the Iranians.”
- A corrupt Pakistani police officer learned of U.S. efforts to locate terror mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Karachi and tipped him off before he could be caught. He was eventually captured.
- The CIA turned down a request from Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) to be waterboarded so he could see its effect because the agency feared he would have a heart attack and die during the simulation.
Rodriguez defended his decision to destroy CIA interrogation videos in 2005 as legal and appropriate since the action protected CIA personnel in case the videos leaked. Such a leak could have resulted in CIA officers being hunted down by al Qaeda.
“The enhanced interrogation program was effective, legal, and protected American lives,” Rodriguez said in the interview. “I made the decision to destroy to protect the people who work for me. And I’m very proud of the work the agency did following 9/11 that allowed us to destroy the organization that attacked us on 9/11. So I think it’s a good story for the agency.”