Brad Garrett: An FBI Agent's Exit Interview
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This week an agent in the FBI's Washington office retired after 21 years with the bureau. We don't always take note of these things, but in this case the agent's career was noteworthy. Brad Garrett helped track down and win confessions from some of the highest profile suspects in recent years. They included Mir Aimal Kansi, the gunman who killed two employees as they came to work at the CIA, and Ramzi Yousef, the engineer who masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center.
Earlier today, I invited in retired FBI agent Brad Garrett to reflect on his career. I began by asking him about the arrest of the World Trade Center terrorist, Ramzi Yousef, in Pakistan.
Mr. BRAD GARRETT (Retired FBI Agent): I had a Top 10 poster of him, and I held the poster up and I said, is your name Ramzi Ahmed Yousef? And he goes, oh yeah, that's me in the picture. So he was very proud of his act. He was very proud of being - an identity thing for him.
And he commenced to tell basically where he got most of the bomb components, at a place in Jersey City, Jersey, and that he was unable to build the bomb that he wanted to build because they were pushing him to do it. And his goal was to take down one tower that would take down the second tower that would go into the Omni Hotel. The goal was to kill at least a quarter of a million people. So fortunately that didn't work.
ELLIOTT: When you're working with a suspect like that and you know this suspect has political motivations, do you treat them differently than you do for somebody who's just a bad guy, just somebody who's out to kill for money or something?
Mr. GARRETT: No, because they're both bad guys. One may be philosophically driven. The other may be financially driven. Another might be behaviorally driven - sex offenders, serial killers, those kind of folks - you know, there's a psychological bent to what they're doing. But folks like Mr. Yousef, you know, are driven by a philosophy. But you know, the key is to try to get people to talk to you. And the dynamics used to get people to talk is pretty much the same.
ELLIOTT: You were with Mr. Kansi on the plane ride back to the United States after he had been captured - Mir Aimal Kansi, who fired assault rifles outside the CIA in 1993, killing two CIA workers. And he confessed to you there on the plane. What did he tell you?
Mr. GARRETT: It's interesting because I had a two-day build up to interview him. We arrested him in a hotel in north central Pakistan on Sunday morning at about four in the morning, and then brought him back to Islamabad, the capital, with the plan being the Pakistanis were going to allow us to fly out of the United States with him. And there were some political issues that got in the way, and they stopped us for two days.
So for two days five of us sat outside Mr. Kansi's cell to make sure nothing happened to him, till Tuesday morning. And after the politicians in the U.S. and Pakistanis talked with each other, they let him go.
So I on purpose did not interview him during those two days, because I didn't have him in an environment where we had privacy, and it just wasn't right. So we waited until we got him aboard the plane to interview him.
ELLIOTT: Did you chat with him, though, during that time at all?
Mr. GARRETT: Absolutely. And I think that that's an important key, because it's a bonding thing. You know, it's human nature for people to talk to you if they like you or think you're okay, despite the artificiality of you're under arrest and, you know, I sort of have control over that. It's the same human dynamic. So for two days he watched me ask him questions about his health. Does he need water? Does he need to be fed?
He got beat up a little bit in the arrest because he resisted; nothing major, scrapes. We treated those wounds to make sure everything was okay. So he saw sort of a compassionate side of these American who had basically busted in his hotel room and arrested him.
ELLIOTT: So once you got him on the plane, you all had a relationship that you could therefore build on?
Mr. GARRETT: Well, it was a starting point. Obviously, it's - that's all it is. So we got aboard the plane. I fed him and I said I'd like to talk with you, and he said that would be fine. So for about an hour and a half to two hours, we didn't talk about any criminal stuff. We talked about his life. He grew up in Quetta, Pakistan - it's about 80 miles from Afghanistan - his life there, his family.
And then about two hours into the interview, we switched to talk about his activities and actions outside the CIA. And so at that point, we went through Miranda and made sure he understood his rights. And he says, I understand my rights, I'm going to waive them, and I'll talk to you about what happened.
So he just logically and methodically lays out the story, that he was very upset that the CIA in particular were, quote-unquote, manipulating Muslim countries and governments, and he didn't think that was right.
ELLIOTT: Now this was - these killings happened right after the first Gulf War.
GARRETT: Correct. That is one of the areas that incited him, because he would watch CNN or some other network and see folks in Iraq killing Muslims, and he became outraged.
ELLIOTT: When you first started at the FBI, you were trained in solving traditional crimes, let's say, you know, drug cases, racketeering cases. What training did the FBI give you to be prepared to deal with these cases that take you overseas, these terror cases?
GARRETT: I may have a different bent about this, but I don't see a whole lot of difference between investigating a case in the United States, in particular a terrorism case, or any other type of case. The same skill set is required to track people, put a case together, arrest them, prosecute them, and convict them.
ELLIOTT: Now, you worked with the CIA on that case, and the FBI and the CIA sort of have a rocky relationship from the past. How did that work?
GARRETT: Well, two fortunate things were going on for me. One is that they were the victims, and this was a homicide case. You know, because it's the early '90s and terrorism was sort of at its, if you will, infancy in the United States, this case was treated literally like a criminal case. And so the CIA, they really weren't used to dealing with somebody like me, which really functions more like a homicide detective.
And once we worked through that and they saw that I had all the correct intentions, and more importantly, I knew what we should and should not do as far as proper procedure, because, you know, they never have to go to court and testify. I have to testify to every aspect of a case. And so once we got on that sheet of the music, it was a wonderful relationship for four and a half years.
ELLIOTT: What's changed since 9/11?
GARRETT: You have a lot more of the FBI investigating national security issues, and so the criminal side, numbers-wise, are less, number of agents working criminal cases are less today than they were prior to 9/11.
ELLIOTT: What is the impact of that?
GARRETT: Well, one of the impacts is that we are dedicating less resources, numbers-wise, to assist the local city, county and state police, and sometimes other federal agencies. So I mean you only have so many people, and you know, the upper management decides, you know, through the president and the attorney general, how to use their people. And the reality is they just shifted a lot of people after 9/11.
ELLIOTT: A big post-9/11 case was the anthrax poisoning case. There was the anthrax letter that was found in Senator Daschle's office, ABC offices in New York, the postal workers that were killed here in Washington, D.C., because of anthrax going through the postal service. You worked on this case as well. Why do you think it hasn't been solved?
GARRETT: You know, that's a very, I guess, unique case and very difficult to investigate, because one of the things that - why people get caught is replication of behavior. Now, obviously you didn't have - you did have two sets of mailings, but after that you had no one, that we're aware of, that mailed any more anthrax in the mail. So then you're left with, can you track the origin of the anthrax. That's not an easy thing to do. I mean...
ELLIOTT: I thought that the government sort of required anthrax to have a label that you could track it. No.
GARRETT: No. I mean, and I'm no expert on this...
GARRETT: ...and I did not work on this aspect of the case, but prior to that event, you know, there were universities around the country that worked with anthrax in their research labs that I think the security was pretty minimal. So one's ability to obtain anthrax I'm not sure was that difficult.
ELLIOTT: When you look back over your career, is there one thing that you really point to as this was my shining moment?
GARRETT: Well, it's hard to sort of top the CIA case, because I worked that case from the crime scene to standing next to Mr. Kansi when he was executed. And you know, the impact of that - you're talking a period of time from 1993 to November 14th of 2002, when he was put to death via lethal injection in Virginia. I mean that's - how do you top that as far as events and activities? I traveled all over the world on that case. The Pakistanis allowed us to create an ops plan and actually go in this hotel, four of us, and arrest him. I just - you know, that's unheard of in a foreign country.
ELLIOTT: Why did you want to be there when he was executed?
GARRETT: Well, he asked me to be there. It wasn't that I put my hand up and - and I wouldn't recommend that to anybody. But we had this sort of unusual relationship, but because after he sort of witnessed my behavior early on at the arrest, after the arrest, the plane ride back, testifying in court, he sort of bonded to me because he understood I was just doing my job, it wasn't personal. And so he and I actually had a letter-writing thing going on during the time he was on Death Row. And I would go down every few months and interview him, primarily to gather more information about Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But it was clear to me that he liked me, and so when it got - when his appeals were about to end and he knew he was going to be executed, he said, you know, I don't really have anybody else here in the country. Would you consider coming? I mean - so I really felt sort of, I guess, a moral responsibility to go at that point.
ELLIOTT: It must have been difficult.
GARRETT: Oh, it's...
ELLIOTT: I mean on the one hand, because you developed the relationship, I would think it would have been somewhat sad. But on the other hand, this is the culmination of the process that you had started.
GARRETT: Right. I mean I wouldn't recommend to anyone to watch someone else die, in particular - particularly when it's an event that we're actually legally, quote-unquote, putting him to death. It's just - I think I've used the quote before: I just felt really hollow when I walked out of there. And it really affected me for days, and you know, I hope I don't have to do that again.
ELLIOTT: Brad Garrett, who retired this week after 21 years with the FBI. Thanks for coming in.
GARRETT: You're welcome.