National Security


This wasn't a good day for the CIA. In addition to that damning inspector general's report, the White House announced that it would create an elite team of interrogators to focus on high-profile terrorists. That was bad news for the agency because, as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, the new team will be led by the FBI, sidelining the CIA.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The White House made the news official. The CIA will no longer be taking the lead in terrorist interrogations. The FBI will be in charge instead.

Mr. BILL BURTON (White House Press Secretary): A lot of people don't know that half of the FBI's mission is actually to gather intelligence.

TEMPLE-RASTON: White House Press Secretary Bill Burton made the announcement from Martha's Vineyard, where the president is vacationing.

Mr. BURTON: What this does is it houses all these different elements under one group where they can best perform their duties. The intelligence community is going to have a deputy who will be in that group and obviously the CIA will be very involved in this.

Unidentified Man: The CIA will have a seat at the table.

Mr. BURTON: Yes.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A seat at the table is a far cry from running intelligence interrogations, which is what the CIA did after the September 11th attacks. This new team would be drawn from the best interrogators at the FBI, the CIA and the Defense Department. But the group's director would be from the FBI and its deputy from somewhere in the intelligence community. The White House's National Security Council will oversee it.

Mr. MATTHEW ALEXANDER (Military Interrogator): Al-Qaida has more in common with a criminal gang or criminal organization than it does with rank and file soldiers.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's military interrogator Matthew Alexander. He says having the FBI in charge makes sense.

Mr. ALEXANDER: And so the methods that are very effective are the ones that police detectives and criminal investigators use all the time. And the FBI is particularly well suited to conduct those types of interrogations, because they do criminal investigations and they do criminal interrogations.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He's speaking from experience. Alexander was in charge of a handpicked interrogation team that worked on one of the most important counter-terrorism operations of the Iraq war: The hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man in charge of al-Qaida in Iraq. The military had been searching for him for three years. It took Alexander's team two months to find him. Using the same kind of criminal interrogation techniques as the FBI uses, Alexander's team got a detainee to reveal where Zarqawi was hiding. He says these interrogation techniques were made famous by a World War II interrogator named Hans Scharff.

Mr. ALEXANDER: He got to know his prisoners, took them for long walks in the forest and put them so at ease that they unwittingly gave up information.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Ideally, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, would turn into a team of Hans Scharffs - a group of experienced interrogators whose sole purpose would be to tap key terrorists for intelligence information. The White House also announced today that there would be a single standard for interrogations: the Army Field Manual. It defines interrogation policies and techniques for the military. The FBI and the Defense Department largely followed its guidelines in interrogations - the CIA did not.

Colonel Steve Kleinman trains Air Force interrogators. He says the new team is a good idea, but using the Army Field Manual to interrogate terrorists is like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound.

Colonel STEVE KLEINMAN (Air Force Interrogator Trainer): It does not benefit from incredible new understandings in human behavior, social psychology, the psychology of persuasion that emerged from researchers in the last several decades.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He thinks that the interrogation task force should've taken a look at what works and what doesn't, and then set guidelines from there. And then there's another problem: The CIA has a history of not sharing classified information and using that to bully its way into leading interrogations. So what's to stop that from happening in this situation? Matthew Alexander.

Mr. ALEXANDER: Not a lot. I do think it's endemic within CIA culture to want to take control and to be the biggest lion in the kingdom.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Officials say it's unclear who from the FBI will lead the task force. They said they haven't gotten that far yet.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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