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CIA Veteran Jose Rodriguez Defends Waterboarding in New Book

CIA veteran Jose Rodriguez answers critics of the agency’s harsh interrogation techniques. Philip Shenon on his explosive new book.

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The CIA’s former top spook, unable for years to respond publicly to criticism of his role in waterboarding terrorist suspects after 9/11, is finally getting the chance to answer his critics. And to launch a counterattack.

In a memoir being published Monday and obtained by The Daily Beast, the former CIA official Jose Rodriguez defends the waterboarding program and says he was right in 2005 to order the destruction of videotapes of the harsh interrogation sessions, in which suspected Al Qaeda terrorists were held down and subjected to a simulated drowning.

In his book, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives, Rodriguez, a career undercover CIA officer who headed the agency’s clandestine services from 2004 until his retirement in 2007, tries to turn the table on his critics, identifying many people—in and out of the United States government—who, he says, have hindered the fight against Al Qaeda and other international terrorist networks.

His book, written with Bill Harlow, the CIA’s former top public spokesman, identifies relatively few heroes, at least by name, in the U.S. war on terrorism. It does identify many others who, Rodriguez says, have done damage to the U.S. government’s efforts to prevent a new wave of terrorist attacks. His list of targets includes:

Pakistan. Rodriguez’s book will add to suspicion that the government of Pakistan, Washington’s supposed ally in combatting Al Qaeda and the Taliban, is actually assisting the enemy. The book reveals that a corrupt Pakistani policeman tipped off Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to CIA efforts to track him down in the streets of the city of Karachi, ahead of his eventual capture elsewhere in Pakistan in 2003.

“We got close to KSM a couple of times,” Rodriguez writes. “At one point we had narrowed down his whereabouts to a few square miles in Karachi. Working with Pakistani liaison, we tried to narrow it down. But then a corrupt Pakistani policeman who had somehow learned of the effort tipped off KSM. An email from the crooked cop was intercepted. In it, he told KSM, ‘They know where you are.’”

Rodriguez says that the loyalties of the ISI, Pakistan’s premier spy agency, “will probably always be suspect from an American perspective.” While some senior ISI officers proclaim their support for U.S. counterterrorism efforts, others in the agency are “happily supporting al Qaeda and the Taliban,” he says.

The FBI. Rodriguez portrays FBI officials as an obstacle to CIA efforts to round up and interrogate terrorist suspects. He writes that FBI agents tried to “recruit” a captured senior Al Qaeda leader, Abu Zubaydah, as a bureau source out from under the noses of his CIA captors. He quotes one FBI agent as telling Zubaydah, “Don’t pay attention to those CIA people … you work with me,” as he handed Zubaydah a candy bar. “AZ was offended that the agent would think that he could be bought for a Snickers bar,” Rodriguez writes.

He says that while FBI officials publicly criticized the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques as counterproductive and at one point withdrew from the questioning of some terrorists, the bureau later petitioned the CIA to get back into the interrogation program because of the “windfall reported in the intelligence reports” from the interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The FBI request was denied, Rodriguez says.

He writes dismissively of the FBI’s gentler approach to interrogating terrorist suspects. “Could we have gotten the same information using FBI practices?” Rodriguez asks. “Maybe. If we had all the time in the world, perhaps we could have. But we did not.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and other CIA critics in Congress. Rodriguez challenges Pelosi’s assertion that, while a ranking member of the House intelligence committee after 9/11, she was not informed in detail about the use of waterboarding.

“Pelosi said that we only briefly mentioned waterboarding and left the impression that it had not been used,” Rodriguez writes, insisting that the California Democrat was fully briefed—by Rodriguez himself—about waterboarding and its use. “ He says that Pelosi was explicitly briefed on waterboarding and posed no objection to the technique. “I know she got it.”

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“There is no doubt in my mind that she, like almost all Americans less than a year after, wanted us to be aggressive to make sure that Al Qaeda wasn’t able to replicate their attack.” He writes that “Pelosi was another member of Congress reinventing the truth.”

Rodriguez says that he believes many members of Congress have “watched too many episodes of the old TV series Mission Impossible—the part they liked best was the opening, in which the operatives were told that if anything went wrong, their leaders would ‘disavow any knowledge of your actions.’”

The CIA inspector general’s office and other senior CIA officials. Rodriguez reveals in the book that he received a formal letter of reprimand from the CIA last December as a result of the destruction six years earlier of the videotapes of the harsh interrogation sessions, even though Rodriguez says he was told that their destruction was legal.

“The practical implication of the letter is nil,” Rodriguez writes. “But in my view, the letter and the entire process are an embarrassment—to the agency, not to me.” He said he was not allowed to keep a copy of the classified letter of reprimand. If it is ever declassified, “I’ll have it framed,” he writes. “To me, it says: Courage to Act.”

The Obama administration. Rodriguez says President Obama has abandoned interrogation techniques—including waterboarding—that allowed the CIA to prevent terrorist attacks after 9/11. He said the administration has become too reliant instead of the use of missile-armed drones in Pakistan and elsewhere to kill, instead of to capture, terrorists.

“Drones can be a highly effective way of dealing with high-priority targets,” Rodriguez writes. “But they should not become the drug of choice for an administration that is afraid to use successful, legal and safe tactics of the past.” He adds, “Needless to say, there is no opportunity to interrogate or learn anything from a suspect who is vaporized by a missile launched by a keystroke executed thousands of miles away.”