Having watched Zero Dark Thirty with the CIA yesterday at an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event at which a panel of reviewers included General Hayden, former CIA director, Jose Rodriguez, director of the National Clandestine Service, and Joe Rizzo, Office of General Counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), this is the political analyst view. (I wrote the film reviewer point of view yesterday.)
Did advanced interrogation techniques work, such as waterboarding? Should torture be in the arsenal in the fight against terrorists?
From listening to the panelists, one might gain the following:
These are career intelligence professionals whose participation in this discussion provides insight into their human character and personalities. Each is different as are all of the other members of the community. What ties them together is a work culture and shared systems and tradecrafts.
They are thoughtful, deliberate, and exceedingly careful.
Every detainee is treated uniquely. The relationship with detainees was described as conversational. That is, CIA interrogators asked questions and recorded answers, They visited the detainees time and again asking questions, sometimes the same ones, sometimes with a different twist.
As they learned more information to questions leading to the location and capture of Osama bin Laden, they would seek verification and validation, and corroboration among different sources. This led to tightening the noose around the target.
When detainees would not cooperate, various techniques were used to loosen them up as law enforcement people do with criminals. The difference is that the techniques available to CIA officers are more robust and the rules of engagement governing the battlefield and terrorists are different.
The administration of laws and regulations governing the processes takes time and investment as intelligence officers perform in compliance. Executives in the chain of command make decisions about what processes and techniques are best suited for the circumstances. Implementation requires close supervision and monitoring with legal checks and balances.
That explains why it took so long to eliminate bin Laden. In fact, even the removal and disposal of bin Laden’s body was governed by deliberate considerations as all have political consequences.
“Since its release, Kathryn Bigelow’s film “Zero Dark Thirty” has received not only praise and an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but also quite a bit of controversy. On Tuesday morning at AEI, three Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) veterans who were involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden convened to discuss the movie and rehash the pursuit of the worlds most wanted terrorist.
Gen. Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the CIA, suggested that enhanced interrogation techniques were never used to elicit information in the moment, but to move detainees out of the “zone of defiance” and toward cooperation. Hayden argued that it is incredibly unlikely that the raid in Abbottabad would have been successful without the help of intelligence gained from CIA detainees.
John A. Rizzo, former chief legal officer at the CIA, stressed that while the public can disagree on how big a role enhanced interrogation techniques played in the hunt for bin Laden, the intelligence collection component was paramount for the first years of the search. Jose Rodriguez, former director of the National Clandestine Service, concluded by saying that the Obama administration’s narrative conveyed that enhanced interrogations were torture and useless, but reality belies this view. The intelligence obtained at black sites was key.”
General Michael Hayden (ret) served as the 20th director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006–09. Previously, he served as the nation’s first principal deputy director of national intelligence from 2005–06. Before his tenure at the Office of National Intelligence, Hayden was director of the National Security Agency from 1999–2005. Hayden is also a retired four-star US Air Force general, having retired from the Air Force in 2008 after a distinguished 39 years of military service. Currently, Hayden is a principal at the Chertoff Group—a strategic consultancy focusing on the defense and security industries. Hayden is also a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, and serves on the board of directors at a number of major corporations, including Motorola Solutions Inc. and Alion Science and Technology.
John A. Rizzo served in the Office of General Counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for 34 years. From 2001–02 and from 2004–09, he served as chief legal officer at the CIA, responsible for all the agency’s legal matters in the post–9/11 era. Previously, Rizzo served as the deputy director for the Office of Congressional Affairs and as the liaison between the CIA and the congressional committees investigating the Iran-Contra Affair. In recognition of his service, Rizzo received the Thomas C. Clark Award from the Federal Bar Association as well as the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal—the highest recognition awarded to a career CIA officer. Currently, Rizzo is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and serves as senior counsel at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where he provides legal advice and policy counsel to clients on matters related to national security.
Jose Rodriguez served at the CIA for 31 years. In 2004, Rodriquez was appointed deputy director for operations at the agency, and shortly thereafter became the director of the National Clandestine Service, a position he held until 2008. As director, Rodriguez was responsible for all human clandestine operations for the agency. Rodriguez served as the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 2002–04, and earlier, as chief of the Latin American Division. Rodriquez is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Award, the George H.W. Bush Award for Excellence in Counterterrorism, the Defense Intelligence Director’s Award, and three Director of Central Intelligence Awards. Rodriquez is also the co-author of “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives” (Threshold Editions, 2012).
Marc A. Thiessen is a current AEI scholar and former member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush. As an official in the Bush administration, Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. Before joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the CIA’s interrogation program, titled “Courting Disaster” (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about US foreign and defense policy issues for American.com and the AEI Ideas blog.”