The Rift Torture Created Between the CIA and FBI Made America Less Safe


By Joe Campbell
September 17th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Tom Ridge makes a number of extraordinary statements here, but I want to highlight one:

[The Patriot Act] tore down the wall, the legal barrier, between law enforcement and intelligence. You couldn’t talk to each other. Patriot Act destroyed the wall. Very important. [Threatening to prosecute CIA interrogators now] is almost like putting up a psychological barrier…

What makes this statement so extraordinary is that the torture itself created a psychological barrier – as novice CIA interrogators and independent contractors (with no experience in interrogation) neither of whom were experts in the Arab world, Islam, or Al Qaeda took over interrogations instead of the experienced FBI hands such as Ali Soufan. Not only were the more experienced and knowledgeable interrogators subordinated to novices, but they were eventually forced to withdraw all agents from any interrogation sites due to the torture they witnessed. Soufan explained this in the Times back in April:

One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him. [my emphasis]

In a recent Times op-ed, he sounded almost plaintive as he reflected on the Bush administration decisions that removed him along with all other FBI agents from being able to interrogate the highest level detainees:

Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.

And as Soufan pointed out in earlier testimony to Congress, the bulk and the most important of the true information derived from Abu Zubaydah came from FBI interrogation techniques. (Soufan himself conducted the interrogations, or attempted to, as conflicting orders from Washington kept putting inexperienced CIA contractors in charge.)

Ridge’s statement is extraordinary then for its ignorance of how torture itself affected the relationship between the FBI and the CIA – how, despite the important provisions of the Patriot Act that allowed sharing of information, CIA torture effectively reinstated the wall. He gets it backwards – it is not the prosecution of torture that is creating the psychological barrier to the sharing of information; it was the the crimes of torture themselves that did.