CIA Interrogations Under Scrutiny for Years

The debate over CIA interrogation methods goes back a long way. Some examples: James Angleton's 1963 instructions on what's acceptable, and Yuri Nosenko, a former double agent for the KGB and the CIA.

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Congressional intelligence committees are looking into the CIA's questioning of terror suspects.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been reminded of some historical controversies over CIA methods.

DANIEL SCHORR: At issue at the moment is the CIA's destruction of hundreds of hours of videotaped interrogations of two terrorism suspects and the extraordinary rendition grilling of other center countries like Egypt and Poland. But the agency is an old hand at unfriendly questioning dating back to Cold War days.

In 1963, the legendary counterintelligence chief, James Angleton, issued a secret handbook on interrogation methods. Aimed at defectors and double agents, it authorized techniques involving pain, debility, hypnosis and drugs. It said that prior approval from headquarters should be obtained if bodily harm is to be inflicted or for medical, chemical or electrical methods of coercion. The next item is marked deleted, leaving it to the imagination what horrors may there be described.

Probably, the most famous target of CIA interrogation was KGB Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Nosenko who defected to the United States 10 weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy. Nosenko told the FBI that he had handled the KGB file on Lee Harvey Oswald during his stay in Russia. He said that the KGB had never used Oswald for any purpose because they regarded him as mentally unstable.

Angleton didn't believe that. He believed that the coincidental defection was, well, too coincidental and that Nosenko was a double agent sent to defect and mislead the United States about Soviet involvement in the assassination. For the next three and a half years, Nosenko was held incommunicado in a variety of uncomfortable places - one of them an almost airless cell at a CIA facility at Camp Peary, Virginia. Nosenko was subjected to some of the methods outlined in the Angleton manual, but he never broke. And eventually with Angleton's power waning, Nosenko was released with a new name, a new identity, the standard treatment for a defector.

An investigating commission headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller later determined that the Nosenko case was an example of gross mistreatment. It was on cases like this that the CIA honed its interrogation techniques long before 9/11.

This is Daniel Schorr.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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