Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— For nearly 10 years, we have been subjected to claims by critics and the media that CIA-enhanced interrogation and waterboarding were useless and constituted torture.
Jose Rodriguez Jr., the former chief of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, told the real story recently to a luncheon gathering of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO).
After 9/11, multiple sources said al-Qaida was planning an imminent second attack using unconventional weapons on the West Coast. In fact, after the CIA and FBI jointly captured Abu Zubaydah, Osama bin Laden’s chief of operations, the operatives found confirmation of those plans: In anticipation of such an attack, videotapes found in his compound celebrated a second attack.
Under questioning as he recovered from wounds, the terrorist mentioned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, used the moniker “Mukhtar.” That allowed analysts to comb through previously collected intelligence and develop leads.
But when Abu Zubaydah regained his strength, he stopped cooperating. Propelled by fear that another attack was in the works, Rodriguez turned to a private company that trained members of the U.S. military by subjecting them to waterboarding in case they were captured.
“They actually had waterboarded over the years tens of thousands of our U.S. servicemen.” according to Rodriguez, whose book “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives” came out recently.
Rodriguez asked if the company would work with CIA and Justice Department lawyers to develop an enhanced interrogation program that would pass legal muster. The Justice Department and White House approved the enhanced interrogation techniques, and Rodriguez briefed key members of Congress on them. No one objected.
The CIA decided that water should not be dripped on prisoners for more than 40 seconds. As it turned out, none of the three detainees who was waterboarded was subjected to an application of water for more than 10 seconds.
No session was supposed to last more than 20 minutes. In fact, no session lasted more than 4.5 minutes. But since each application of water was counted, press reports incorrectly said that the CIA waterboarded KSM 183 times. He actually underwent waterboarding in five sessions. Nor was any detainee subjected to waterboarding after 2003.
Before 9/11, CIA detainees had been returned to their own countries for interrogation, where they could be tortured. Because he wanted to prevent torture and make sure the U.S. obtained every last bit of intelligence, Rodriguez set up CIA facilities overseas for interrogation of high-value detainees. But the press dubbed the facilities “secret prisons” and portrayed them as evil.
The enhanced interrogation program disseminated thousands of intelligence reports and gave the CIA an understanding of al-Qaida, its members, methods, and programs. Nearly all the terrorists involved in the attacks were eventually killed or captured, including bin Laden, whose location was pinpointed in part with clues elicited during waterboarding.
In part to document that detainees were not abused, Rodriguez ordered some of the interrogations videotaped. For fear the videotapes would leak and show the faces of those involved in the interrogations, making them targets for al-Qaida, Rodriguez asked the CIA leadership and the White House if he could destroy the tapes. When no word came back and his own legal counsel said no laws would be violated if he ordered them destroyed, he did so. A transcript of the interrogations remained intact.
Still, the Justice Department of George W. Bush opened a criminal investigation of Rodriguez’ actions, while Democrats have claimed that enhanced interrogation had nothing to do with ending the life of bin Laden.
But largely ignored by the media, none other than Leon Panetta, President Obama’s choice to head the CIA, settled the debate on May 3, 2011. Two days after bin Laden’s death, when he was still CIA director, Panetta gave an interview to NBC’s Brian Williams.
On World News Tonight, Panetta confirmed that the CIA obtained some of the intelligence that led to bin Laden from enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding.
After three years of investigation, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. closed the case against Rodriguez without bringing an indictment. But Holder reopened and then ultimately closed cases against CIA officers involved in the interrogation program.
As noted in my story "Former Prosecutor: Leak Case Is 'Not Prosecutable,'
” the Obama administration continues to undermine the intelligence community’s efforts with highly damaging leaks disclosing sources and methods related to successful secret operations.
“I have never had any regrets about the decision that I made,” Rodriguez told the AFIO audience. “It was the right decision for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the identity of the officers whose faces were on those tapes. I had no doubt that the tapes would leak someday.”
Rodriguez said the sorry episode broke a bond of trust between the CIA and elected leaders.
“The enhanced interrogation program was authorized and sanctioned by the government of the U.S. of America,” he said. “So when President Obama says waterboarding is torture and that the enhanced interrogation technique undermined our values and ideals . . . he breaks the covenant that exists between CIA officers at the pointed end of the spear and the government that directed them and authorized them to be there.”
As a result, “I worry about the current and future generations of CIA leaders who will question whether the authority that they received from their president will last longer than one election cycle,” Rodriguez said. “I worry about this for the safety of our nation.”
That worry is compounded by the fact that the media rarely gave the American people the straight story.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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