FP: In the past, you have raised another objection to the use of enhanced interrogation techniques: that it reinforces the so-called Chinese wall between intelligence agencies. Can you explain why that is and why it's dangerous?
AS: The "Chinese wall" or the lack of cooperation between agencies -- when we don't talk to each other and work together -- caused 9/11. When you have secret jails, and programs that are so highly classified that information is not being shared and people are not working together, that's dangerous. I gave an example, the details of which are still classified, in my Senate statement back in 2009, when these kinds of techniques backfired. We had a situation where some entities refused to believe that terrorist attacks were being planned because the information came through smart interrogations and didn't come through their enhanced interrogation program, and, of course, we found out otherwise.
FP: Right, and Lawrence Wright's profile of you in the New Yorker tells that story -- about how information that was withheld by the CIA prevented you from foiling the 9/11 plot. There's a throwaway line in that article about how after 9/11 you were given orders to identify the hijackers "by any means necessary." Wright notes that that was the first time you had heard such an order, but leaves it at that. What changed after 9/11? Did we essentially abandon the tried and true interrogation techniques that had been developed over decades?
AS: When I heard that line, I never thought in a million years that it meant beating the detainee up, or doing whatever I needed to get the information. You have to put it in the context of what was happening in Yemen at the time. The Yemenis were not giving us access to suspects. For example with Fahd al-Quso, one of the co-conspirators in the USS Cole bombing, they used to say, "He's in Sanaa," so we'd go to Sanaa. Then they'd say, "No, he's in Aden." So I interpreted the directive as "Make sure you get to him and get the information." It wasn't about torture, but now, because of what was done later in the spring and summer of 2002, people have looked at it from a different perspective. They interpreted it as if someone in Washington or in FBI headquarters said that we need to abandon the way we do things. This wasn't the case. As a matter of fact, when I went back and we identified the hijackers -- I talked to Quso, Abu Jandal and many others -- I actually read them their Miranda rights every time that I interrogated them. So that line has been taken out of context.
FP: So let's move forward to 2002. Was there a concerted move away established interrogation tactics? Why the change in 2002?
AS: The people who engineered the enhanced interrogation program were people from outside the government -- they were contractors. So the theory of EITs came from the top down, not from the bottom up. There was fear in Washington of the unknown. People did not understand the enemy. Those who were working the target understood the enemy. We had been dealing with al Qaeda since 1996. I started working on al Qaeda in 1997. We had Bin Laden indicted before the East Africa bombings in a sealed indictment in 1998. So I think there was a lot of fear that led to EITs. When somebody came and said, "Hey, the only way you can get information out of these people is by roughing them up," people jumped the gun and said, "You know what, why not?" So I think there was a sense of confusion. I think there was a sense of ignorance about the reality of the enemy, how the enemy operates, and the ideology that motivates the enemy. And there was a lot of fear of another attack happening. Unfortunately, we adopted a system and a program that I truly believe -- based on my personal experience and the experience of other professionals -- damaged the national security of the United States. It took about 400 people -- the people who had pledged the bay'ah, or oath of loyalty, before 9/11 to Bin Laden -- and we got a war that's lasted longer than World War I and World War II.