- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE INTERROGATOR: AN EDUCATION
By Glenn L. Carle
Nation Books, $26.99, 321 pages

This is by far one of the most frustrating books I have attempted to read in years - the fault of both the author and the CIA’s Publications Review Board, which excised so much of his manuscript as to render it nigh unintelligible. The account is of a veteran CIA counterterrorism officer’s attempt to interrogate a suspected high-level terrorist, “CAPTUS,” who was snatched out of an unnamed Middle Eastern country in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and taken to a secret prison facility for interrogation.

Let me begin with Glenn L. Carle. Suffice to say that the man does not suffer a lack of self-esteem. His ego is as large as Harvard Yard (he repeatedly reminds us where he was educated) and he takes pains to point out that his intellect is vastly superior to that of CIA colleagues - or most anyone else, for that matter. Female co-workers are “fat middle-aged women in stretch pants.” Most men we meet are dirt-dumb oafs who reflexively spew obscenities. A superior was “a slightly pompous lightweight … playing the tough guy to demonstrate he was a leader.”

By his own admission, Mr. Carle’s career was a shambles in 2002, when this account begins. He made a “career-harming mistake in the field” and was recalled to headquarters. Then came a string of security glitches, including leaving a briefcase behind after meeting foreign intelligence officers in the Washington area. His wife endured disabling mental problems; “her descent … into what appeared increasingly like madness” required hospitalization at one point.

When Mr. Carle “began overlooking occasional minor details at work,” he laughed it off, saying, “Absent-mindedness is a sign of genius, you know.” In due course, he was shunted into a non-job that essentially was a holding position. Thus, he viewed the CAPTUS assignment as a chance to rehabilitate himself and get his career back on track.

Why was he chosen? Mr. Carle had considerable experience in counterterrorism, and his linguistic skills included the language (unspecified) that CAPTUS spoke. He had no training as an interrogator, however. Further, even before confronting CAPTUS, he had grave misgivings about the harsh interrogation techniques approved by the administration of President George W. Bush, including what Mr. Carle says were torture. He also was uneasy about what could happen to CAPTUS at the hands of security officers in the unnamed country where he was first held. (I have heard “Morocco” whispered in this context.) A superior suggested he should just leave the room if such happened.

Here is where CIA reviewers - oh, call them what they are, censors - wielded a very heavy editing pen. Just what Mr. Carle did while attempting to interrogate CAPTUS is excised, as are the alternate techniques he tried on the captive. Some pages have more blacked-out lines than text. Strain though one may, it is impossible to make much sense of Mr. Carle’s truncated account.

But very quickly, Mr. Carle came to believe that CAPTUS “was not the al Qaeda operative we had taken him to be. I had become convinced that CAPTUS … was more like a train conductor who sells a criminal a ticket; to me, this does not make him complicit or part of the al Qaeda network.” The initial questioning being fruitless, headquarters officials ordered CAPTUS sent to a harsher camp, “Hotel California,” as Mr. Carle called it. (Afghanistan, perhaps?) Even tougher techniques (again, censored from the book) failed to move CAPTUS. Mr. Carle returned to the United States.

One can sympathize with a CIA officer called upon to do - or witness - things he considers morally repugnant. And given that Mr. Carle and his wife knew personally some of the people killed in the World Trade Center attacks, he wanted terrorists brought to justice. In his opening pages, Mr. Carle declares that he was proud to be an intelligence officer because “I made it possible for American children to sleep safe at night.”

But the repeated snarky remarks about his colleagues and his prolonged discourses about CIA immorality eventually turn tedious, especially when overlaid by Mr. Carle’s attitude of superiority. By midbook, I lost any confidence in his credibility. Read at your own risk.

Joseph C. Goulden’s revised edition of “Spy-Speak: The Dictionary of Intelligence” will be published by Dover Books in the fall.

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