Later On

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CIA: knows little of interrogation

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Definitely worth reading. The article begins:

In a bucolic field two miles north of Mount Vernon, beside a baseball diamond in Fort Hunt Park, Va., about 20 veterans of a secret World War II intelligence unit gathered together last year for the first time since 1946. The National Park Service was holding a ceremony to commemorate their service. The men, mostly in their eighties, had never before told their stories. During the war, Fort Hunt was a secret interrogation center, where some 4,000 German and Italian military officers, high-ranking government officials and scientists were debriefed. A few years ago, Park Rangers responsible for the area learned of Fort Hunt’s critical intelligence role in recently declassified documents, and they decided to create a memorial and reunite the unit’s veterans. The dedication ceremony was held over two balmy, peaceful days last October.

Col. Steve Kleinman, a U.S. Air Force Reserve interrogator, 50, who had served in Panama and both Iraq wars, was one of the speakers that fall day. In a conversation earlier this month, Kleinman said he was horrified by America’s turn to what Dick Cheney has called “the dark side” in the war on terrorism: indefinite detention in the name of national security, torture in the name of intelligence collection. And so he fought against it. Kleinman joined an effort, sponsored by the Intelligence Science Board—an interagency intelligence-advisory panel—to get the intelligence community to finally renounce torture. His speech at Fort Hunt was a subtle rebuke of the use of torture, comparing the war on terrorism to an earlier era, when interrogators shunned brutality.

Suddenly, at Fort Hunt that October day, a veteran approached Kleinman. “I never laid a hand on one of my prisoners,” the older man said. “That allowed me to do my job and retain my humanity.” Kleinman was moved. “I thought, when’s the last time I heard an interrogator concerned about that?” he recalled.

Many interrogators today are, in fact, concerned about that. But the program that developed within the Central Intelligence Agency after 9/11 has left the intelligence community playing a fateful role. Surprising as it may be, the CIA has never really been in the interrogation business. After 9/11, it turned its back on its own limited history of interrogations and never consulted those in the U.S. with solid experience in that difficult art. Even in the seven years since it has built an interrogation capability mostly from scratch, the agency has never applied the best practices in behavioral science to improve its regimen. The result has been to privilege brutality out of ignorance, which, according to many experts and insiders interviewed, means that interrogation practices that produce faulty information are now at the very heart of the U.S. efforts against a mysterious and still-unfamiliar enemy.

In short, despite innumerable statements from the Bush administration about the value of the CIA’s interrogation program, U.S. interrogators are still mostly in the dark—in the dark not only about al-Qaeda, but about how to effectively elicit vital national-security information from the detainees in its custody.

Those with intimate knowledge of the program say that in many cases, U.S. interrogators haven’t even been able to learn the basics about many of those they hold or have held, to say nothing of whatever crucial information they possess. “How do you separate the sheep from the wool? There’s no fingerprints, no DNA,” said a former senior intelligence official who helped set up the CIA’s interrogation program, and who would not speak for attribution. “You don’t know if you have Osama bin Laden or Joe Shit the rag-man.”

Worse than a crime, to paraphrase Tallyrand, interrogation by the CIA has been—and remains—a blunder.

That, of course, is not how the Bush administration has portrayed the CIA’s interrogations. “This program has been, and remains, one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists,” President Bush said in his September 2006 acknowledgment of its existence. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations a year later, Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, said that the intelligence produced by the interrogation program “is absolutely irreplaceable.” This month, Hayden’s boss, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, told Lawrence Wright of The New Yorker, “Have we gotten meaningful information [from the program]? You betcha. Tons!”

Yet, until 9/11, the agency had limited experience with interrogation, and had few people on staff who had even conducted one. Most of the CIA’s experience had involved consulting with partner intelligence agencies on how to torture, sometimes using methods learned from the Nazis, instead of conducting interrogations itself—as demonstrated by the infamous Kubark torture instruction manual of the 1960s.

Young CIA officers weren’t trained in interrogations. “How to resist torture was the only thing related to interrogation at the training program,” said one former senior official in the Directorate of Operations. “There was no thought, no commentary, or any practicality on how to apply it.” The landmark Church and Pike commissions of the 1970s that examined illegal CIA programs further reinforced the CIA’s impulse to avoid, whenever possible, activity with a high political cost and marginal benefit.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 January 2008 at 10:19 am

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