The Whole Story: Torture “Techniques” were Ineffective and Led to False Intelligence

Counterterrorism Officials Agree That Coercive Interrogation Methods Don’t Work, Waste Resources, And Generate Misleading Intelligence. According to Vanity Fair’s David Rose, “[Bush’s] most detailed exposition came in a White House announcement on September 6, 2006, when he said such tactics had led to the capture of top al-Qaeda operatives and had thwarted a number of planned attacks, including plots to strike U.S. Marines in Djibouti, fly planes into office towers in London, and detonate a radioactive ‘dirty’ bomb in America. ‘Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives.’ Really? In researching this article, I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/08]

Torture In Years After 9/11 “Shut Down Rich Sources Of Intelligence.” According to Vanity Fair’s David Rose, “If torture doesn’t work, what does? The evidence suggests that when the Bush administration decided to ignore many of America’s most experienced counterterrorist agents and go for torture in 2001 and 2002, it shut down rich sources of intelligence. In the biggest terrorist case of the 1990s, the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed more than 220 people, the F.B.I.’s Cloonan and his colleagues were able to persuade three of the main conspirators not only to talk to them but also to give prosecution testimony in court.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/08]

FBI Agent: CIA’s Harsh Techniques Interfered With Successful Intelligence Gathering. According to Salon, “The testimony of a key witness at a Senate hearing Wednesday raised serious questions about the truthfulness of former President George W. Bush’s own personal defense of the CIA’s brutal interrogation program. Former FBI agent Ali Soufan also indicated that the harsh interrogation techniques may actually have hindered the collection of intelligence, causing a high-value prisoner to stop cooperating. In the first congressional hearing on torture since the release of Bush administration memos that provided the legal justification for torture, Soufan told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the CIA’s abusive techniques were “ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaida.” According to Soufan, his own nonviolent interrogation of an al-Qaida suspect was quickly yielding valuable, actionable intelligence — until the CIA intervened.” [Salon, 5/14/09]

FBI Counterterrorist Agent: Torture Has Made Job Harder Because 30-50 Percent Of Time Is Spent On False Leads. According to Vanity Fair’s David Rose, “At the F.B.I., says a seasoned counterterrorist agent, following false leads generated through torture has caused waste and exhaustion. ‘At least 30 percent of the F.B.I.’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullshit. There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true? That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.’” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/08]

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Divulged Information Leading To Bin Laden’s Capture Under Standard Interrogation, Not Torture. According to the Associated Press, “In a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe years ago, al-Qaida’s No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, gave authorities the nicknames of several of bin Laden’s couriers, four former U.S. intelligence officials said. Those names were among thousands of leads the CIA was pursuing. […] Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.” [Associated Press, 5/2/11]

Gen. McChrystal: We Tried “Enhanced Interrogation” And It Doesn’t Work. According to U.S. News & World Report’s Robert Schlesinger, “Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, out promoting his new memoir, was at the Aspen Institute today and had some interesting comments about “enhanced interrogation techniques,” also known as torture. His team used them a bit in Iraq, he said, but he has ultimately come to the conclusion that such tactics don’t work. […] He said that when he arrived in Iraq in 2003, his team was ‘originally authorized enhanced techniques’ (though he pointedly said that they did not include water boarding). He went on that they ‘used them a little bit in the first few months after I took over and then just stopped because one, we realized—I didn’t feel good about it and they weren’t working so we did away—it took me about nine months before I was completely convinced, the summer of 2004, completely convinced the only way to operate is … sitting down and just talking with people.’” [U.S. News & World Report, 2/8/13]