“The Interrogator”: Six Questions for Glenn Carle

A career clandestine-services officer in the CIA, Glenn Carle drew an unusual assignment in the fall of 2002. He was sent to serve as the case officer of an Afghan merchant who had been seized and rendered, and who was believed to be Osama bin Laden's "banker." Carle quickly discerned, however, that the Agency's suspicions were unjustified — what followed was a frustrating effort by Carle to win his release. In The Interrogator: An EducationCarle describes his struggle against the lethargy and self-protective instincts of the U.S. intelligence community. In the process, he discloses a great deal about the renditions process and the Agency's reticence to acknowledge or act on its own mistakes. I put six questions to Glenn Carle about his book:

1. Your book was published following a year-long struggle with the CIA Publications Review Board, which insisted on redacting large amounts of material before it approved the work for publication. Even the fact that you speak fluent French has been blacked out. But a great deal of what was redacted is perfectly obvious or can easily be derived from the public record — for instance, we note in "Unredacting The Interrogator" that CAPTUS is in fact Pacha Wazir, that you first interrogated him at a location jointly operated by the CIA and Moroccan intelligence near Rabat, and that the prisoner was then removed to the CIA's Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan. The PRB claims that it redacts to protect national-security-sensitive materials. Do you think the heavy redaction of your book was appropriate?

The PRB's mandate is to protect "sources and methods." This is a legitimate task, and it sounds clear. For the CAPTUS case and my book, the PRB sometimes used a more elastic interpretation and "redacted" many passages that described non-operational facts or events. They argued that non-operational facts would reveal sources or methods. That is a pretty slippery slope, though, as by that standard they could censor any passage, however innocuous, because it could supposedly reveal secrets. With that approach, one could argue that libraries should remove high-school chemistry texts, because a basic knowledge of chemistry could help someone trying to make a bomb. The PRB has a tough job, and I truly respect my colleagues there, but protecting sources and methods is their sole mandate. They went too far.

2. In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind touted the seizure of a man named Pacha Wazir as a key breakthrough in American operations — a breakthrough aimed at crippling Al Qaeda's financial arrangements, because the captive was "bin Laden's banker." He also says that the prisoner was uncooperative with his CIA interrogators. You concluded that claims of this sort with your case were unwarranted, and that your detainee, CAPTUS, was essentially innocent of the suspicions used to justify his eight-year imprisonment under conditions that were often harsh and sometimes seriously abusive. As CAPTUS's case officer, give us your frank assessment: was his seizure and rendition warranted? Did he cooperate? And do you believe his imprisonment and interrogation led to the discovery of vital intelligence about Al Qaeda's financial operations?

Well, I write as clearly as I can that CAPTUS, on the whole, cooperated with me, as a direct function of basing my interrogation upon establishing rapport with him, rather than seeking to cow or humiliate him. Some of his answers I knew to be correct. Others I — we — were able to verify. Some few he did not answer truthfully. Some he avoided answering, when my colleagues and I believed he knew the answers. Overall, however, he cooperated with me. Concerning the usefulness of the information he provided, I also try to make clear that CAPTUS did provide useful, relevant information. He was not a random individual who knew nothing. But he did not provide, or I believe have, the critical information, or close ties with Al Qaeda, that the Agency believed he had and that had justified his rendition. This was one of the murky dilemmas of the case: he knew information relevant for our counter-terrorism operations—he was not a complete innocent, but he was less directly involved with Al Qaeda than we had assessed him to be; and he was no terrorist.

It might make sense to compare him to a small shop owner who is doing business with the mob. He doesn't want to deal with them, but he really doesn't have any choice. An investigation would turn up those dealings, but it would also learn with time that he wasn't a willing aider and abettor, either. I believe CAPTUS's case was murkier still: some things he could not avoid knowing, much he did not know, some things he did not want to know, some things he was afraid to tell us or did not want us to know. But he was fundamentally a businessman; I do not believe he was actively colluding with Al Qaeda. I came to believe him when he said that he vehemently opposed Al Qaeda's theology and acts.

At the moment he was rendered it seemed the right decision to interrogate him and bore down into his activities. Huge effort had gone into his case, and the information appeared strong. It looked as though we had a chance to strike a truly damaging blow to Al Qaeda. It was the wrong decision to continue to hold him for eight years after we had established that many of our assumptions were simply wrong.

3. The CIA would not permit you to describe the specific techniques used on CAPTUS, but you give us a clear idea of what they were by describing the techniques that were broadly approved and acknowledging that a well-informed and reasonable person might well conclude that they amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, particularly as applied cumulatively over time. In your opinion, did the use of these "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs) lead to actionable intelligence, and, if so, do you think that intelligence might have been acquired more effectively using other techniques?

The period of my involvement in the CAPTUS case occurred early on in our counter-terrorism response to the 9/11 attacks. So, the specific guidelines for the techniques that came to be understood as EITs had not been developed. From the outset, the Agency pushed for clear legal guidance and authorization on what it could do in interrogations.

"Enhanced" techniques make it more difficult to ascertain when a detainee had answered truthfully. The techniques increased the detainee's resentment, confusion, and incentive to lie. Conducting a sound interrogation is remarkably similar to conducting a good human intelligence operation: it must be based upon a rapport between officer and detainee. Successful interrogation takes understanding of the detainee's motivations, hopes, and fears, and then interaction with the detainee as a trusted interlocutor. Fear and pain do not obtain good intelligence; trust and a sound human relationship may. And I'd like to point out what is clear when one reads my book: I refused all physical measures from the get-go, as wrong on every conceivable level. I devoted a lot of effort to stopping the use of most measures of any sort on CAPTUS. To the extent possible, I questioned CAPTUS, and sought to keep any other measures from being used.

Tags: afghanistan war, cia, glenn carle, morocco, osama bin laden, pacha wazir, prb, rabat, salt pit, scott horton, the interrogator

    • Scott Horton
    • Scott Horton is a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, where he covers legal and national security issues. As a practicing attorney, Horton has focused on investment in emerging markets. He is also a life-long human rights advocate and serves as a director of the Moscow-based Andrei Sakharov F...

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