- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — One of the most experienced interrogators in the Defense Department looked straight into Ahmed’s eyes and asked him for the third time: “Ahmed, what insurgent organization do you belong to?”

Sitting in the room with no windows, Ahmed refused to answer the interrogator’s questions. He was stoic — similar to many al Qaeda insurgents the interrogator had questioned at the detention center at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But, this time, things were different.

Ahmed, who uses an alias, was practicing as an advanced interrogation student at Fort Huachuca, the nation’s largest intelligence-training facility and the home of the Defense Department’s war on terror.

Photos:Training operatives at Ft. Huachuca

Just 13 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, the heavily guarded Army fort, once the home of the Buffalo Soldiers, is noted today for training some of the U.S. military’s most-talented intelligence operatives and interrogation personnel.

Many buildings at the fort have no windows to protect the classified information and the training that takes place inside. Their central focus is combating the country’s latest threat: terrorism.

“The threat changed. We went from communism to terrorism,” said Steve Norton, chief of the Defense Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Management Office within the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). “So we’re not looking at nation states; we’re not looking at armies; we’re not looking at equipment — submarines and ships. We’re dealing with a very diabolical enemy, but within the human dimension kind of threat.”

Mr. Norton and John Antonitis, an intelligence professional and a staff member of the now-defunct Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, said preparing military personnel to go “outside the wire” is essential to winning the war on terror.

In an interview with The Washington Times at the Pentagon, Mr. Norton and Mr. Antonitis explained how the war on terror is like no other in the history of the U.S. military and provided an inside look at the making of a new generation of soldiers.

Maj. Gen. John M. Custer III, commander of the Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca, said the program wants to add 7,000 more “intelligence soldiers” and 350 more interrogators by 2013. Military officials could not provide the total projected cost of the program because they consider it classified information.

Last year, at the Army Intelligence Center, about 1,700 enlisted soldiers, National Guard members, Army Reservists and other military personnel were taught to become 97Es — also known as human intelligence collectors.

On a visit to Washington last year, Gen. Custer described the war on terror as searching for a “needle in a needle stack,” telling The Times it would be much easier to search for a “needle in a haystack” because at least “there’s a visible difference.”

Mr. Norton said that post-Sept. 11, the Defense Department, on the recommendation of the 9/11 commission and other national security experts, realized that developing human intelligence would be essential to gaining ground on al Qaeda. It became more imperative once the war in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

“We can still look, we can still listen, but if we’re looking to see where a human being moves, well, that’s pretty tough,” he said, referring to former Cold War strategies of analyzing the enemy.

Terrorists operate “like ghosts,” he said, adding that winning against extremists requires having the tools and human operatives necessary to root them out.

A new generation

Life as an intelligence operative in the 21st century reads like the spy books of the past, but minus the glamour of James Bond.

Tom, who uses the alias for security purposes, is one of the new generation of soldiers, who recently prepared for his third tour of duty in the Middle East — this time as an intelligence operative behind enemy lines.

He describes his work “outside the wire,” as a necessary challenge to stay ahead of the extremist groups who operate clandestinely in the region.

With a youthful face and humorous demeanor, Tom’s ability to make conversation wasn’t difficult. He said “developing relationships” and “learning the ins and outs of people” are imperative in his work.

“[In] both jobs, you have to be well-organized, outgoing, or at least pretend to be outgoing,” he said laughing, describing both the intelligence operatives and interrogators in training.

The young soldier from the Midwest said his skills and abilities would be better utilized in his new line of work, despite the lack of protection from the troops he once fought beside.

“There is a need for military source operators out there. It’s a newer challenge, and I want to fulfill that role,” Tom said. “I want to step up and do what I can for my country, for my unit and the American people.”

Military officials interviewed by The Times could not release the number of human intelligence operatives now working around the world because of security reasons. But they did say the agency continues to expand all facets of the program, from recruiting new agents to adding new classes.

Operatives such as Tom are taught to blend into foreign societies, develop relationships with locals and collect the necessary information to protect their military units. They don’t carry notepads or recorders. They are taught to memorize the smallest details of the environment around them.

“Once you learn how people interact and do things in one part of the world, you notice the differences in other parts of the world a lot easier,” Tom said.

Military officials tout this generation of soldiers as “unsung heroes,” whose duty to country and fellow troops outweighs any public accolades they will receive or the dangers they will face.

An uphill battle

For the Defense Department, creating a single intelligence-training facility, combining all military branches, was difficult.

Mired in red tape, the project was an uphill battle that took nearly two years once the plans were in place, Defense Department officials said.

In October, the Defense Department completed the Human Intelligence Training-Joint Center of Excellence (HIT-JCOE), at the Army fort, where Tom and others now train.

Lt. Col. James Hamby, commander of HIT-JCOE, said under his jurisdiction the government developed five courses that would give all human intelligence specialists the ability to interact on the same wavelength.

“A Marine should be able to interoperate with an Army person and speak the same language,” Col. Hamby told The Times in an interview at Fort Huachuca. “A special forces persons should be able to interact with an intelligence person — speaking the same language if you’re working a mission together.”

Speaking the same language is imperative to gaining ground on al Qaeda, enabling intelligence officials to share information, he said.

“It also lets people in senior positions within the Department of Defense have peace of mind, knowing that when questions are asked by the American public about the training and of the quality, they can know with a comfort that all of the soldiers … that when they do this discipline, are trained to the same standard,” said Richard Pastora, senior DIA deputy chief of the Joint Coordination Element, an extension of the Defense HUMINT Management Office.

“We don’t have inferior training going on in post X versus post Y,” Mr. Pastora said. “We have everybody being trained to that same standard within the Department of Defense.”

Fort Huachuca is not without its critics. They claim that instructors at the facility teach inhumane techniques, including mental abuse and torture as part of the advanced lessons in interrogation.

Officials at Fort Huachuca insist that interrogation training is guided strictly by the Army Training Field Manual, which states, “No person in the custody of or under the control of [the Department of Defense], regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with and as defined in U.S. law.”

The interrogation

The interrogator sat opposite the detainee — the advanced interrogation student who was playing a defiant detainee known as Ali. In the scenario, Ali has kept silent for more than a year.

The interrogator pulled out a dossier, which contained detailed information on the prisoner’s family, his hometown and his associates. In this mock interrogation, the instructor was going to try a “mild fear up or a harsh fear up” to get the detainee to talk.

“I’ve turned all these documents over to the Iraqi court,” the instructor said. “Before we were looking at a possible sentence of 15 to 20 years. What we’re looking at now is possibly life.” He added later that U.S. officials visited his family in his old neighborhood and assisted his wife with money.

“You actually went to my village?” the student replied, understanding that a visit from U.S. officials into an insurgent neighborhood could mean his family’s life was now in danger.

The instructor’s eyes looked tired, his stare cold, and he was not a trusting man by nature. His years working in the field required a thicker skin.

The instructor explained how different interrogation methods are applied to detainees. He added that when some prominent detainees refuse to divulge information, the techniques used and the relationships change.

“When you’re running [interrogation techniques] in any kind of theater facility, you’re always going to try to run the direct approach first,” he said. “You’re going to try to find out what terrorist organization or insurgent organization the detainee belongs to — what his job is, what his mission is, what his mission was and what it is going to be in the future.”

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said, “We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.”

Some in the U.S. Senate have asked the CIA to adopt the same training manual in conducting interrogations after the controversy erupted earlier this year over waterboarding, a technique opponents have described as torture. The CIA recently admitted to using waterboarding on three senior al Qaeda terrorists shortly after Sept. 11.

Like the CIA, the military also received its share of criticism for its treatment of detainees.

Mr. Pastora said that “incidents, which have happened in the past, unfortunately,” including those at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, are not representative of what is taught, but rather “are isolated, individual acts, and not an act of the organization across the board.”

“That’s not what they were taught in school. That’s not the training they received. That is isolated, independent actions,” he added.

Military officials said a prominent obstacle in the war on terror is fighting an enemy without a nation and distinguishing that enemy from innocent civilians.

“We want to know the next time they have an intention to attack the United States before they actually do it,” Mr. Norton said. “Even if both theaters of operation went away tomorrow, Afghanistan and Iraq, the requirement for HUMINT doesn’t. We still have al Qaeda around the globe threatening the United States, its allies and their interests.”

Training days

A man stands at a U.S.-staffed checkpoint and demands entry into a village. Meanwhile, people crowd a town center, replete with a bazaar, police station and a mosque.

These are staged scenes from daily life in the Middle East, but they are crucial to U.S. soldiers with the 309th Military Intelligence Battalion who are undergoing field training exercises, known by the Army as “FTX,” in the southern foothills of Arizona.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey E. Jennings, the battalion’s commander, said the training prepares soldiers for what life will be like when they are deployed. They are taught how to look out for danger on crowded streets and how to assess whether individuals are insurgents or innocent civilians.

“It’s not easy, and it’s not meant to be easy,” he said.

Anything can happen when a soldier is on the front lines, and preparing them for those possibilities is the intention of the mock villages, Col. Jennings said.

“The mistakes they make here they can learn from. There’s really no room for error when they get into the field,” he said. “Their lives and those of their fellow soldiers will depend on it.”

The training lasts about 15 weeks. Roughly 10 percent drop out or fail before completing their training, Col. Jennings said.

The soldiers apply the lessons they learned from cultural-awareness classes, interrogation methods and live-fire exercises to the scenarios that arise at the mock villages.

As the training progresses, many soldiers operate on less than a few hours of sleep each night. “They learn best when under pressure,” Col. Jennings said.

The training is aided by hired contractors. They are role players from the Middle East and Africa, who teach cultural awareness through reality scenarios.

“It’s important what we do here,” said a man, who asked that his name and nationality not be published, fearing retaliation on his family in his home country. “What we teach here can mean the difference of life and death — for the soldiers, as well as the innocent people.”

The Army recently began hiring role-player linguists who do not speak English and interpreters who train soldiers on how to use interpreters.

“HUMINT soldiers provide a large amount of intelligence in the current operational environment,” said Col. Jennings. “Becoming a seasoned HUMINT professional takes not only good training, but also time and experience.”

“We train them to expect the unexpected,” he added.

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