– Former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, December 16, 2003, on the initial decision to hand interrogation matters regarding Saddam Hussein, over to the CIA.
That decision was soon redacted:
And the three-minute decision was reassessed within weeks as the Federal Bureau of Investigation took the interrogation reins for the reason described in a January 2004 article:
The F.B.I. involvement reflects C.I.A. reluctance to allow covert officers to take part in interrogations that could force them to appear as court witnesses. In contrast, F.B.I. agents are trained to interview suspects in preparation for prosecutions.
In 2008, the two themes expressed in those sentences — C.I.A. aversion to public spectacle and F.B.I. experience on interrogation matters — are still being reinforced as a long-running rivalry continues to play out.
George Piro (former partner of Kenneth Williams), one of only 50 or so Arabic speaking F.B.I special agents out of 10,000, was assigned the task of being Saddam Hussein’s interrogator.
This past Sunday, saw 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley interview George Piro.
I was hoping it would reveal something new that has not already been covered in Ronald Kessler’s Terror Watch. Oddly enough, the interview reads almost verbatim, the chapter in the book which covers George Piro and Saddam Hussein. Much of the 7-month’s worth of interrogation is still classified, of course. But what is revealed, is still pretty interesting, if not particularly revelatory, as we’ve heard before about Saddam’s pretense of WMDs, for fear of Iran. It is interesting to note, that in Kessler’s book, he does not close the door on the possibility that Iraq did still possess WMD:
every time inspectors came, Saddam gave them the runaround, reinforcing for Iran’s consumption the notion that he had WMD. And that explains why, if there were no WMD, he acted as if he did have them.
Notice the big “if”? My emphasis.
It might just be the partisan in me, but I could have sworn I saw Pelley’s eyeballs begin to salivate when he came to his “gotcha” question, regarding what Saddam says he thought of bin Laden, and the question of connections between Saddam and al Qaeda.
Among the most important questions for U.S. intelligence was whether Saddam was supporting al Qaeda, as had been claimed by some in the Bush administration:
What was Saddam’s opinion of Osama Bin Laden?
“He considered him to be a fanatic. And as such was very wary of him. He told me, ‘You can’t really trust fanatics,'” Piro says.
“Didn’t think of Bin Laden as an ally in his effort against the United States in this war against the United States?” Pelley asks.
“No. No. He didn’t wanna be seen with Bin Laden. And didn’t want to associate with Bin Laden,” Piro explains.
Piro says Saddam thought that Bin Laden was a threat to him and his regime.
Saddam’s story was verified in interrogations with other former high-ranking members of his government.
Such as Khalil Ibrahim Abdallah, an Iraqi intelligence officer
told U.S. interrogators that Saddam ordered his intelligence service in July 1999 to refrain from all contact with al-Qaeda.
I can see Saddam not trusting bin Laden, but not having sought some form of an alliance? Numerous documentation seems to speak otherwise. This includes recovered internal Iraqi Intelligence Service documents. Just click on the FA category, Iraq-al-Qaeda connections. This post is a good place to start. I think the George Piro interview only enriches the complexity of the picture, and does not disqualify previous documents and evidence of an al-Qaeda presence, and a relationship sought, at one time or another. It was a CIA assumption that a secular Saddam would never work with a religious terror group. And it is to the CIA’s discredit, that their analysts at the time refused to look “outside the box” (linking because of the citation of Feith, not Think Progress’ rebuttal) and lacked the imagination to conceive of this as a possibility. They basically expressed disinterest and left stones unturned that should have been examined.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.