MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Bush administration often says that the war on terrorism is a unique conflict, and that means it requires the flexibility to use unusual tactics and methods. NPR's Jackie Northam reports that there's growing concern that some of those unusual tactics may be actually hampering efforts to gain human intelligence.
JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:
Intelligence officials say the first line of defense against a terrorist attack is accurate information. That means getting intelligence on terrorist networks, strategies and personnel. To that end, the Bush administration signed off on military prisons such as the one at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where terror suspects can be held and interrogated for an unlimited time. And the administration uses renditions, a process by which the US can transfer suspects secretly from one country to another for interrogation outside the normal extradition procedures.
The secret nature of these and other operations has helped kindle allegations of abuse and torture. Vincent Cannistraro, former director of intelligence at the National Security Council, says these methods are creating anger and resentment, particularly in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Mr. VINCENT CANNISTRARO (Former Director of Intelligence, National Security Council): The fact is our image in the world has diminished considerably because of the war on terrorism and the questionable use of techniques in the war on terrorism. You know, I think our intelligence gathering today is severely handicapped because the United States has lost the moral high ground.
NORTHAM: Cannistraro says recruiting potential agents in places such as Iraq, Iran and Pakistan often requires establishing credibility with them, trust that you'll protect them. He says that's hard to do if the intelligence agencies are accused of using cruel and inhumane methods. Frank Anderson, the former chief of the CIA's Near East and South Asia Division, says during the Cold War, US intelligence agencies also used questionable methods, such as supporting the Afghan mujaheddin, which used harsh tactics in its fight against the Soviet occupation. But, Anderson says, that didn't impair efforts to recruit agents.
Mr. FRANK ANDERSON (Former Chief, CIA Near East and South Asia Division): During the Cold War, recruiting Soviets was duck soup; getting access to them was tough. But getting people from that system to cooperate with us against the system was easy. They were profoundly motivated to do so. They knew they were part of something evil and they wanted to be associated with something that was good.
NORTHAM: Anderson says because of that, the world back then was willing to forgive the US for its mistakes. But, he says, that's less true now in the Middle East, or even amongst America's traditional allies in Europe and, Anderson says, that undermines the effort to recruit new agents. `Nonsense,' says Jennifer Dyke, a senior spokesperson for the CIA.
Ms. JENNIFER DYKE (CIA Spokesperson): These claims are woefully uninformed and untrue. The CIA is doing some amazing things in the war on terror, and we continue to find many individuals to help in our fight.
NORTHAM: The CIA won't publicly discuss its operations or agents, but Dyke says the agency has invested enormous resources into crushing groups like al-Qaeda.
Patrick Lang headed up the Pentagon's human intelligence collection worldwide in 1994 and '95. Lang says undoubtedly the bad press over the CIA's secret prisons and renditions presents a challenge to recruitment efforts. But, Lang says, that bad press by itself may not deter potential spies, who have many motives for handing over information.
Mr. PATRICK LANG (Former Pentagon Official): This is like a game, you know. This is a work of art that is performed by a case officer, which is what the agent handler is called. So it's up to him to overcome this handicap. But it is a handicap, there's no doubt.
NORTHAM: Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Middle East specialist with the CIA, says he doesn't think bad news about Abu Ghraib or secret CIA prisons has any effect on efforts to recruit agents in what he calls hard target countries such as Iraq.
Mr. REUEL MARC GERECHT (American Enterprise Institute): The PR damage of that is probably, you know, more substantial in Europe and the West than it is amongst fundamentalists. I mean, if you're going to find individuals inside of militant groups that are going to be of any operational value, these are individuals who are going to hate you already, that will assume the worst about you.
NORTHAM: Gerecht says the key to hard targets is volunteers, people approaching an intelligence officer for whatever reason. Gerecht says that's going to take time because right now it's very difficult to get any intelligence on the inner circle of al-Qaeda. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
MELISSA BLOCK (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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