Tuesday, March 11, 2008

CIA Director Michael Hayden argued today in favor of permitting his agency to retain harsh interrogation techniques that are not spelled out in the latest Army field manual, which was revised in the fall of 2006 amid controversy over the handling of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen. Hayden, who was to testify behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee later today, said his agency would abide by any restrictions imposed by Congress. However, “the Army field manual does not exhaust the universe of lawful interrogation techniques,” Gen. Hayden said in an interview with reporters and editors from The Washington Times.

Speaking in his sunlit office at CIA headquarters, the Air Force general who took over the agency 18 months ago also said he would tell the Intelligence Committee that his agency and other government intelligence services have made substantial progress in increasing the use of human agents in intelligence gathering. “I’m going in there with what I think is a good news story,” he said.

“You would ask me to justify the numbers [of agents operating in the Middle East], but not because it is too small,” he added. “It is in the thousands.”

He also said four new directives on human spying have been drawn up, including one on “asset validation” that is aimed at preventing a repeat of the case of an Iraqi defector to Germany, known as Curveball, who provided fabricated intelligence on Iraq’s weapons program that was used by CIA analysts.

Gen. Hayden said the House of Representatives should pass the Senate version of a pending intelligence bill, which would immunize telecommunications companies from lawsuits over their cooperation with the government in monitoring international communications.

“These companies operated in good faith,” he said. Because of the risk of lawsuits, “people who helped us in the past are less willing to do so now.”

The impact of Congressional delay in reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is “not a precipice” but a “declining slope” in the agency’s ability to acquire information about potential terrorist attacks, he added.

President Bush announced Saturday that he has vetoed separate legislation that would have restricted the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques. Congress is expected to vote on whether to override the veto in the near future.

Gen. Hayden said the New York Times recently published a series of harsh editorials urging the agency to adopt the less harsh interrogation methods spelled out in the new Army field manual.

“This is not the issue,” he said. “Fundamentally the issue is not about what the Army field manual bans. There is a whole bunch of stuff between what is authorized and what is banned.”

Applying Army methods to CIA detainees is “a very blunt approach to a complicated problem and therefore I have no problem, professionally, personally, ethically and operationally saying this is not the way to go,” Gen. Hayden said.

If Congress wants to ban CIA interrogation techniques, limits should be oriented toward the CIA and the CIA will not use them, he said. But the impact could limit the agency’s ability to gain vital information in the future, he said.

All CIA high-value detainees are “unlawful combatants,” or terrorists, he said. By contrast, the Army currently has more than 20,000 captives and almost all are “lawful combatants,” he said.

While the Army is seeking “transient battlefield information” from its detainees, “we’re trying to get strategic intelligence from the highest value detainees about imminent threats to the homeland, in a population that is exclusively unlawful combatants,” he said.

“So why would you take the rules for A and drop them on B? That’s the issue,” he said. “And fundamentally the greatest impact on us from the Army field manual is limiting us to the authorized techniques.”

Gen. Hayden also pointed out that the current Army field manual was the first that did not contain a classified appendix spelling out some interrogation techniques that could not be made public.

Critics who claim the CIA is using torture, by conducting harsh techniques like water immersion known as waterboarding, “have latched on to the idea that we have to be public with our techniques, like the Army for the last 15 months,” Gen. Hayden said.

He said that revealing all interrogation techniques would help terrorists resist questioning and limit the ability of the CIA to learn about future attacks or operations.

“Traditionally, there have always been classified annexes because you don’t want your field manual to become the table of contents to the resistance training manual. That’s one reality,” Gen. Hayden said.

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