Man who ran CIA interrogation program rebuts report

WASHINGTON – The Central Intelligence Agency officer who headed the agency’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program calls a damning Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation activities a “totally egregious falsehood.”

Jose Rodriguez, former director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, told WTOP in an exclusive interview, “For those of us who were there, who read the reporting coming out of our black sites and who acted upon that intelligence, the conclusions by the SSCI report that the program brought no value, and the CIA misled the Congress is astounding.”

The committee, in a scathing, 600-page summary of a five-year, $40 million investigation into the now defunct Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program, says the agency of misled Congress about a program that essentially brought no value to U.S. efforts to track down the al-Qaida operatives responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The program included waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other techniques that have been classified as torture.

The Senate Committee report cited several key findings:

  • The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not effective.
  • The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.
  • The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed.
  • The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public.

But Rodriguez says the value of the program was clear and convincing. He says the program produced connective intelligence that led U.S. authorities to the key players in al-Qaida’s hierarchy.

He laid out a pattern.

“Abu Zubayda was waterboarded for the first 20 days of August 2002. Two weeks later, we captured the first important high value target, Ramzi bin al-Shibh,” said Rodriguez.

Bin al-Shibh, was a key collaborator within al-Qaida’s Hamburg, Germany, cell comprised of Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi. They formed the cell that became the essential agents of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the following days, weeks and months, CIA personnel and contract employees executed the enhanced interrogation program designed by the agency’s Counterterrorism Center to extract valuable information. They captured Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the perpetrator of the U.S.S. Cole attack. And using the intelligence they gathered, they systematically pieced together details that led them to the mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March of 2003.

Gary Berntsen, the CIA officer who led a team of military and intelligence assets into Tora Bora, Afghanistan in 2001 looking for Osama bin Laden, said the tactics paid off.

“The information they turned over, gave us entire the second tier of al-Qaida, when they were attempting to launch attacks on the U.S.”

A key contention in the Senate report is the CIA misled members of Congress. But Rodriguez says “the Senate, the House intelligence committees were briefed more than 40 times during the life of the program.”

But in a long briefing before the Senate Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said the CIA’s destruction of the video tapes of the interrogation session was an attempt to keep Congress in the dark.

Rodriguez said the tapes were recorded to help intelligence operatives understand the people they were interrogating.

They were destroyed because, he said “our people in the field came back and said these tapes are vulnerability for us, because we don’t have a place to store them and our faces are all over the place in these tapes.”

“We acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes. But the intelligence gained from the program was critical to understanding al-Qaida,” the CIA said in a statement, responding to the report.

“While we made mistakes, the record does not support the study’s inference that the agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program. Moreover, the process undertaken by the committee when investigating the program provided an incomplete and selective picture of what occurred,” the statement reads.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s minority members issued their view of the report saying in a statement, “the study does very little to provide the context in which the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was initiated and operated.”

The statement continues, “It is entirely silent on the surge in terrorist threat reporting that inundated the Intelligence Community following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by (al-Qaida).”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement alluding to the intelligence community angst over the report, “President Obama has made clear, some things were done that should not have been done — and which transgressed our values.”

But Clapper indicated, this is not a new issue.

“We recognized this 10 years ago and stopped the program as it was originally conducted; even more important, we have since enacted laws, implemented presidential orders and established internal policies to ensure that such things never happen again.”

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