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May 05, 2011

UPDATED**: Experts Comment on Collecting Effective Intelligence
Posted by The Editors

In the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the rampant speculation on the nature of the intelligence used to plan the raid, the National Security Network and the Center for American Progress held a press call this morning with Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Paul Eaton, NSN Senior Advisor; Ken Gude, Managing Director for National Security at CAP; Matthew Alexander, Air Force interrogator who led the team that tracked down the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq; and Glenn L. Carle, former CIA Clandestine Service officer and Deputy National Intelligence officer for Transnational Threats, to examine the methods used by military and intelligence officials -- what these practices and policies are and how they fit into the United States' overall counterterrorism and foreign policy.

Listen to the call here .

Read the transcript here.

 

Selected highlights from the call (more after the jump):

**

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: I’ll be the person to go on record and say that we do know that other interrogation techniques would have worked and produced more info definitively.  And why do I say that?  Because we have Saddam Hussein, who was captured without using them, and we have Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who my team tracked down and killed, without using them.

**

QUESTION: I was wondering if [...] what this demonstrates is – what we know now is that actually there was more information left, you know, undiscovered because of torture rather than discovered because of torture?

GLENN CARLE:  [...] The answer to that is yes, that I’m convinced that that’s the case from personal, first-hand experience.

**

MAJ. GEN. (RET.) PAUL D. EATON: Enhanced interrogation techniques has a corrosive effect on the good order and discipline [of American troops] to the point where the commanding general at the time, General Petraeus, had to issue a letter that set a higher standard for the conduct of the American soldier than was set by the president and the vice president and secretary of defense of the United States.

EATON: This is a war of ideas and I will not allow the Taliban to set the moral standard for America. 

**

KEN GUDE: It [the decision by the Bush administration in 2005 to shut down its bin Laden unit in the black sites in Eastern Europe] seems to indicate that the Bush administration itself did not view information that was being produced from those interrogations as in any way decisive or critical in the hunt for bin Laden.

**

 

More highlights from the discussion on the efficacy, consequences and correctness of enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT):

 

MATTHEW ALEXANDER, Air Force interrogator who led the team that tracked down the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq: 

ALEXANDER: Any time we talk about enhanced interrogation techniques, we need to talk about the long-term negative consequences, such as the fact – that I witnessed in Iraq – which was it was al-Qaida’s number-one recruiting tool and brought in thousands of foreign fighters who killed American soldiers. 

But more than that, I’ll say, why are we having a discussion about efficacy?  Because torture’s wrong, and so it’s a moral issue for me.  And it’s a legal issue; it’s unlawful.  And we don’t apply that same standard to other fields like the infantry who, despite finding – facing some obstacles in battle are not allowed to use chemical weapons which are 100 percent effective. 

So I reject the fact that we reduce this to an argument about efficacy, and I’ll be the person to go on record and say that we do know that other interrogation techniques would have worked and produced more info definitively And why do I say that?  Because we have Saddam Hussein, who was captured without using them, and we have Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who my team tracked down and killed, without using them.  We have an entire generation of interrogators from World War II, Vietnam, Panama, first Gulf War – all who did their jobs without enhanced interrogation techniques.  So there’s no doubt in my mind that we could have done more without enhanced interrogation techniques.

**

ALEXANDER:  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – if it’s true that he gave the nickname of the courier of bin Laden, and that proved useful, what we have to ask ourselves is, why didn’t he continue to provide information, such as his real name and location, and probably a hundred other things that he knew that would have led us – or help lead us to bin Laden. So if success for an interrogation is one thing out of a hundred, then we’ve set some very low standards for success. 

Also, I never saw enhanced interrogation techniques work in Iraq; I never saw even harsh techniques work in Iraq.  In every case I saw them slow us down, and they were always counterproductive to trying to get people to cooperate. 

 

GLENN L. CARLE, former CIA Clandestine Service officer and Deputy National Intelligence officer for Transnational Threats:

CARLE: It [EIT] didn't work, it had the opposite effect. [...] Both from a practical and a – a tactical and a strategic sense and a moral and legal one – the methods are counterproductive. And “counterproductive” is a euphemism.  They do not work; they are – they cause retrograde motion from what you’re seeking to accomplish.  They increase resentment, not cooperation.  They increase the difficulty in assessing what information you do hear is valid.  They increase the likelihood that you will be given disinformation and have opposition from the person that you’re interrogating, across the board.  Not a good thing.

**

DAN FROOMKIN, HUFFINGTON POST: I was wondering if you shared Matthew Alexander’s view that what this demonstrates is – what we know now is that actually there was more information left, you know, undiscovered because of torture rather than discovered because of torture?

CARLE:  Yes, thank you.  The answer to that is yes, that I’m convinced that that’s the case from personal, first-hand experience. 

**

CARLE: […] do I think information was lost?  Well – or KSM’s capture was delayed?  I can’t say that.  By making a person – a detainee less likely to provide information, and making the information he does provide harder to evaluate, they [the pursuit of EIT] hindered what we were – what we needed to accomplish.

**

CARLE: […] I was brought into a case that was considered to be – presented to me as a critical success and very important; it possibly could lead us to bin Laden, so this is a high honor.  And I’m very excited; and they said, you will do whatever it takes to obtain the information that we need.  Do you understand?  To which I responded, we don’t do that.  And the answer was, we do now.  And I said, well, we would need at least a presidential finding, direct authorization from the president if something is of grave national security concern, signed off and approved by the relevant agencies and parties in the government.

And the answer was, well, we have it.  The “it” was the infamous torture memo written by John Yoo, which when I finally saw the thing – I’m not a lawyer, but I studied Constitutional law, and I know my oath – it was a bit of hack work – I mean, clearly not in concert with the history of the United States, of habeus corpus, the Magna Carta, the whole thing that founds America and gives meaning to our flag.


MAJOR GENERAL (RET.) PAUL D. EATON, NSN Senior Advisor, retired two-star general who designed and led the training of the Iraqi military in 2003-2004: 

EATON: Enhanced interrogation techniques has a corrosive effect on the good order and discipline [of American troops] to the point where the commanding general at the time, General Petraeus, had to issue a letter that set a higher standard for the conduct of the American soldier than was set by the president and the vice president and secretary of defense of the United States. 

**

EATON: When we look at WWII and the hundreds of thousands of Germans and Italian prisoners who gave up to American military power to the thousands upon thousands of Iraqis who gave up, who surrendered during Gulf War I, these are men that we did not have to kill.  They knew that they would be better treated by the American soldier than their own forces would treat prisoners.  So they surrendered. 

**

EATON: This is a war of ideas and I will not allow the Taliban to set the moral standard for America. 

**

EATON: With respect to alliance support, when the Bush administration enhanced interrogation techniques became known, we lost a lot of support […] And my contact with our allies in Iraq at that time – again, a very negative effect on the willingness of our allies to cooperate with a government that would mistreat detainees.

 

KEN GUDE, Managing Director for National Security at CAP:

GUDE: At about the time this information was supposedly emerging from these enhanced interrogations at CIA black sites in Eastern Europe, the Bush administration shut down its bin Laden unit.  This was in 2005 [...] And why I think that’s critical is because it seems to indicate that the Bush administration itself did not view information that was being produced from those interrogations as in any way decisive or critical in the hunt for bin Laden.  Or, if it did, it certainly wouldn’t have shut down that operation. 

**

GUDE: It’s clear that the record shows the use of – the policies that the Obama administration has pursued has produced more actionable and better intelligence information than anything that we were able to get during the Bush administration.

**

GUDE: I think that the lessons of history are quite clear, and especially when you identify where the techniques that were used at the CIA black sites were derived from, which was the training of U.S. special forces soldiers, special forces operatives that was based on interrogation practices that were used against them in Korea that were developed by the Chinese and the Soviets largely to extract false confessions.

This, as Glenn [Carle] mentioned before, the CIA’s KUBARK manual basically describes what not to do as an interrogator if you want to produce reliable and valuable intelligence information.  But in the wake of September 11th, just in those few, first months caught up in that moment, all of that history was cast aside.  And unfortunately we had to re-learn it at great pain and great cost to the United States.

 

**5/6/11, 2:56 PM: This post has been updated from an earlier version to include selected highlights.

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