Education Of An Interrogator: Questioning The CIA

President Bush (right) addresses employees of the Central Intelligence Agency as CIA director George J. Tenet looks on in March 2001.  Under Tenet's leadership, the CIA would develop its role in the war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks. i i

President Bush (right) addresses employees of the Central Intelligence Agency as CIA director George J. Tenet looks on in March 2001. Under Tenet's leadership, the CIA would develop its role in the war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Bush (right) addresses employees of the Central Intelligence Agency as CIA director George J. Tenet looks on in March 2001.  Under Tenet's leadership, the CIA would develop its role in the war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

President Bush (right) addresses employees of the Central Intelligence Agency as CIA director George J. Tenet looks on in March 2001. Under Tenet's leadership, the CIA would develop its role in the war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Glenn Carle's bosses asked him if he could go on a trip — one that would last somewhere between 30 and 60 days. His job? To interrogate a man suspected of being a top member of al-Qaida.

It was 2002 and, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. was heavily engaged in its "War on Terror." Carle, a former CIA intelligence officer, was "surged" to become an interrogator and sent to one of the agency's secret overseas facilities. He writes about his experience in his new book, The Interrogator: An Education.

Carle tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly that he was told to do whatever it took to make the man talk. When Carle questioned his superiors, saying, "We don't do that," they replied, "We do now."

The Interrogator by Glenn Carle
The Interrogator: An Education
By Glenn Carle
Hardcover, 336 pages
Nation Books
List Price: $26.99

Read An Excerpt

None of the specifics about the detainee's name, nationality or location of the interrogations are included in the book. In fact, large chunks of the book are blacked out — Carle says the CIA redacted close to 40 percent of the original manuscript

But what readers do learn is Carle's feelings about, and reactions to, the situation he was in. From early on, Carle believed that physical abuse would be counterproductive and that it would not be something he would take part in.

"However," he says, "there are psychological measures that I had been subject to as part of my training. We had been taught that psychological manipulation was not lasting or severe — that's the definition of what would be unacceptable treatment. ... I concluded pretty quickly that that was wrong and came to oppose [psychological manipulation], too."

The subject of Carle's interrogations — a man he refers to as CAPTUS — had had contact with people of interest. He also had useful information. But he didn't have the intimate connections or the critical knowledge that would have marked him as a member of al-Qaida.

"Did his work facilitate some al-Qaida activities?" Carle asks. "You could argue that it did, but I try to give an analogy of a ticket conductor in Grand Central Station. If you sell a ticket to a member of al-Qaida going to Long Island, are you aiding and abetting? I think that's a long stretch to make."

Glenn Carle served for 23 years in the Clandestine Services of the Central Intelligence Agency. i i

Glenn Carle served for 23 years in the Clandestine Services of the Central Intelligence Agency. Sally J. Carle hide caption

itoggle caption Sally J. Carle
Glenn Carle served for 23 years in the Clandestine Services of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Glenn Carle served for 23 years in the Clandestine Services of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Sally J. Carle

Carle doesn't think CAPTUS was entirely innocent, but he also wasn't who the CIA claimed him to be. Toward the end of his time on the CAPTUS case, Carle wrote two cables saying as much and had them sent to CIA headquarters. When he returned to Washington, D.C., he found that no one even knew of the cables' existence.

"I think that they were impolitic and upset the apple cart," he says. "They challenged the premises of the specific operation and the methods being used. They placed in question years of work by very talented people."

Carle's experience left him deeply disturbed. That was the driving force behind his decision to write the book. "Americans need to know what we've done to ourselves," he says. "We have coarsened ourselves and weakened our laws, and I think what we did is not at all what I took an oath to serve."

Excerpt: The Interrogator

The Interrogator by Glenn Carle
The Interrogator: An Education
By Glenn Carle
Hardcover, 336 pages
Nation Books
List Price: $26.99

Preface: Lying, Honor, And The Gray World

I was a spy. I broke laws. I stole. I lied every day, about almost everything: to my family, to my friends, to my colleagues, to everyone around me. I almost never was who I said I was, or did what I claimed to be doing. Sometimes I was not American. I exploited people's deepest hopes, won their deepest trust, so that they provided me what my government wanted. I was an angel who made men's dreams come true, but my name was Faust.

I healed a father's desperately ill child, helped a frustrated employee do in his boss, or the organization that slighted him. I was sometimes a revolutionary, nodding my head as some worked to overthrow oppressive governments; sometimes I sympathized with racists; sometimes I suppressed insurgents. I was suave, intellectual, and sophisticated, talking over sparkling glasses in salons with elegant women in low-cut designer dresses, appetizing curves, and high heels, smiling at banalities as we looked past each other. I bounced around mines in a jeep, carried a weapon, wore a keffiyah over my face to conceal my identity and offer a less obvious Western target to snipers, spat, swore a lot, scratched my crotch, slapped my buddies on the back, and almost got shot.

Some were ruined from what I did. Some were saved; others died. Few of the living, and none of the dead, knew I had anything to do with their fates. I burgled. I listened in on men's whispered and rustled secret lives, to what they did and hoped and feared behind closed doors — the inner lives, revelatory pettinesses and quirks we all mask during the hours of light and company — so that I could manipulate them, and perhaps help them realize their private perversities. I was faceless, all-powerful, and impotent: I was unknown but could destroy people's lives or cause an international scandal, and yet often I could not even control minor details of my daily life. I held babies and soothed their fears, wiped their tears, burped them, and kept them safe.

Desperate and good men looked to me in hope. I was a shoulder to cry on, and a spur for quiet action against injustice. I was a cynic, helping near socio-paths act upon their amoral and destructive impulses. I laughed at and took advantage of dignified officials willingly abasing themselves naked on their hands and knees, wearing collars around their necks and leashes as they crawled on the floor, barking. I paid people off. I deluded men and convinced them they were acting against the United States, or one of their personal enemies, when in fact they were serving me and my country, so that we could undermine the causes in which they believed. I was a bureaucrat, and faceless, and powerless, and confused.

I made it possible for American children to sleep safe at night, and for American adults to ignore that I existed or to disdain or hate me, and to forget or never learn that the world was full of men and forces that would harm or destroy them, and our way of life. I have been called "war criminal" and "hero" to my face. I thrived in ambiguity, saw through others' eyes, saw every color of the rainbow, and realized that all the colors are just slightly different shades of gray.

All the while, to all but my colleagues I was just a wholesome, stereotypical New England Yankee, a former athlete struggling against middle age, someone always with his nose in an abstruse book, assessing, say, obscure pseudophilosopher René Guénon's eighty-year-old musings about the death of God in modern society and how Guénon inspired Muslims to fly planes into skyscrapers. I would often seek refuge while alone somewhere — in a garret in the red-light district of Paris, or beside a latrine outside Kabul, or in the CIA cafeteria during lunch — in my New England roots, with Emerson, say, and then realize that Emerson was an echo of Buddha and Siddhartha, their ideas brought back to Boston and New Bedford by missionaries and traders much as the West had been reborn centuries earlier from the returning Crusaders, inseminated by their Muslim adversaries, and betters. Carle? He's a nice guy. Normal. He likes the Red Sox. Hockey player. He lacks focus. Reads a lot. Smart. Arrogant. Unsure of himself. Both? His kids play baseball and ride horses.

It is hard to be a spy. I was one for twenty-three years. Yet, my colleagues and I share a devotion to mission, to ideals larger than ourselves, that inspired us to join the Agency, and then to serve for our careers. America is better served than it knows by its intelligence officers. Reflective people will usually seek meaning in actions and a framework for life larger than one's self. Many find fulfillment in the military, social service, or teaching. I found a direction, a way to get beyond myself, in public service, as a spy. I loved my work, even when I was bored, and even when I failed. Intelligence officers fail often, while successes come slowly and sporadically. And through it all, over the decades, many of them far away and alone, I always honored my oath, acted with integrity, protected and defended the Constitution of the United States, and never lost sight of home, or of human decency.

And yet, sometimes one finds more than one seeks. I sought mental, substantive, policy-relevant, moral, and physical challenges in my career. The Agency hires its case officers in part for their ability to thrive in ambiguity, to see clearly what decision to make, where all decisions contradict one's values and obligations; it chooses officers who will make the honorable and right decision beyond one's chain of command, when one is out of sight of anyone else, and when no decision is "right."

I love the "gray world." It is multifaceted and complex, obscure — and hard. It transcends the lie of moral purity, of good and evil, of a simple world. This is our daily challenge, if we are honest: to accept doubt, to realize there is no certainty, and yet to act with principle, finding meaning and purpose in confusion. Inhabiting the "gray world" with clear eyes has often fulfilled me.

And then I was "surged" to become an interrogator in the Global War on Terror. I traveled to a far and dark place, where I found the limits of human endurance, that zeal can blight integrity, and that with a "terrorist's" life in my hands — and perhaps the lives of many Americans — alone I had to decide how to fulfill my mission, what was legal, what was right . . . and at what point I had to oppose the orders of an administration whose actions corrupted the flag I had sworn to serve.

Excerpted from The Interrogator: An Education, by Glenn L. Carle. Copyright 2011 by Glenn Carle. Excerpted by permission of Nation Books.

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