“A combination spy-bureaucrat, Glenn L. Carle tells the story of his responsibility for interrogating a high value detainee, an agent of al-Qa’ida. The Interrogator tries to be many things: a personal memoir, a testimony of witness to detainee abuse, and an institutional analysis of an apparently dysfunctional CIA. . . . As a first time author, Mr. Carle makes many beginner mistakes of stiffness, awkwardness and cliché, but given the seriousness of the topic, he should be forgiven.”
The life of an undercover agent is a complicated one. A spy has to act convincingly and be one of the bad guys yet remain separate. He must have the ability to think and act in ambiguity and make decisions that can contradict his values and obligations.
Until 2002 and the Global War on Terror, Mr. Carle was able to do this with without hesitation, without any consideration that the orders he was given could be, in certain circumstances, wrong. A combination spy-bureaucrat, Glenn L. Carle tells the story of his responsibility for interrogating a high value detainee, an agent of al-Qa’ida. The Interrogator tries to be many things: a personal memoir, a testimony of witness to detainee abuse, and an institutional analysis of an apparently dysfunctional CIA.
There are two serious detractions that prevent this from being a great book. First, Mr. Carle is not a skilled author, and second, the integrity of the book has been severely compromised by CIA redactions. As a first time author, Mr. Carle makes many beginner mistakes of stiffness, awkwardness and cliché, but given the seriousness of the topic, he should be forgiven.
In regard to redaction, at first Mr. Carle writes in an elliptical fashion but then makes a wise decision and changes style, leaving the censorship visible rather than working around it. Redactions are left in place as blocks of blackened-out text. If readers start out in this book unaware, they may wonder what the heck is going on. Readers will be best served starting at the afterword, which provides valuable context.
Many of the redactions are footnoted and here the author provides more general (or legally acceptable) explanation and sometimes adds why a passage was redacted. After one redaction the footnotes states, “. . . This is the only reason I can see it was redacted, for it reveals no source or method other than contempt of institutional incompetence.” The reader may be tempted to play Mad Libs, guessing the noun, verb, phrase, paragraph, or page. For example this is the author’s description of a coworker, “Jack was a young first-tour officer, strongly built
The author entered into the CIA as a trainee during the period of Iran-Contra and avoids the fallout of that scandal. Between then and 2002 Mr. Carle was in many locations over the world, mentioned only obliquely. He describes himself as a spy/bureaucrat or perhaps bureaucrat/spy, pushing papers and involved in office politics. He describes the CIA as bureaucratically dysfunctional. At the CIA Mr. Carle was referred to as “the professor,” having graduated from Harvard with an advanced degree from Johns Hopkins.
His department is mostly filled with military trained, ex-Navy Seals or ex-Special Forces, who look down on intellectuals, and the author unashamedly displays a stereotypical intellectual arrogance toward his compatriots in return. His comment that “No one is anyone’s friend in intelligence” perhaps unintentionally applies to those inside the agency as well as out.
The author was, on 9/11, arguing with the CIA finance department over not being paid for the eight weeks previous. He is forced to evacuate his building after the Pentagon is hit. His home life takes a downward spiral, his wife having a physical and emotional collapse fueled by previously hidden alcoholism. The author takes a less demanding role at work to be able to provide her greater care.
In telling this painful part of his life, he is courageous in detail but does so in an emotionally flattened manner. In the CIA, promotions are made by being where the bombs go off, and rewards go to the officers who fill the more dangerous posts. In 2002, he is offered a dangerous position somewhere in the Mideast. With his wife’s recovery and subsequent stability, he accepts the position.
He is chosen for this mission because he is a language expert. Which language? It’s redacted, though a reader will eventually figure out that he also speaks Arabic. (The word “Arabic” is not used in the text. To get the most out of The Interrogator, the reader must become a spy, searching for clues in the text, in the redactions of text, figuring out what is going on in the mind of the author, the mind of the censor, the mind of the CIA, and the U.S. government.) Where in the Mideast? That’s redacted, too. The CIA has no trained interrogators in 2002, and the purpose of his language skills is to support interrogation of a prisoner, a high level target who was kidnapped off the street in one country and rendered to a prison in another. The detainee is called “CAPTUS,” and described as being a senior al-Qa’ida member. Almost all names in the book are pseudonyms, and all conversations with the prisoner are redacted.
The “ownership” of the prisoner is not by the CIA, but by another unnamed organization. This organization is a service of an unnamed foreign country. The CIA is allowed to perform the interrogation under their oversight. The author states, “The service I was going to work with had a reputation for
Later he learns the letter was not an official presidential “finding” but the controversial letter drafted by John Yoo. The CIA claims to not be a rogue agency that everything they do is done with approval from above. The CIA follows Executive Order (EO) 12333, an order that outlaws assassination, espionage against Americans, and establishes the need for Congressional oversight and FISA warrants before starting surveillance of US citizens. The Yoo letter was the signal from the top that it was legally okay to bypass EO-12333. The author states, “We [at the CIA] do not do policy.” but then adds the point that how instructions are carried out inevitably make policy.
At the detainee site the author witnesses incompetent interrogation of CAPTUS by a CIA operative. He calls this “interrogation by denunciation.” He maneuvers to replace the interrogator in a deft way such that it isn’t seen as a demotion. There are more redactions and the author then quotes directly from the official (and presumably unclassified) interrogation manual KUBARK, written during the Korean war. “The assumption of hostility, or the use of pressure tactics at first encounter, may make a subject resistant who would have responded to . . . initial assumption of good will.” The author states that the point of interrogation is to establish rapport and motivation, to induce cooperation not through terror but in order to lead the detainee to reason their own way towards cooperation.
The author runs into conflict on the best way of getting information from the detainee. From headquarters the author feels pressure to collect intelligence quickly, irrespective of methods used. The details of this conflict are redacted.
Glenn L. Carle’s thoughts on CAPTUS are redacted.
The politics of interrogation evolve. A cable arrives stating that the word interrogation is no longer to be used; now the proper word is interview.
The author prevents his prisoner from being “roughed up.” The details are redacted.
Between intervals of interrogations the detainee is taken elsewhere. Mr. Carle’s attempts at finding out where and what for are redacted.
Glenn L. Carle is involved in interrogating another high value detainee whom he is certain it mentally deficient, the reason for this belief is redacted.
During interrogation CAPTUS indicates that documents taken from him when the he was captured provide the information his interrogators want. Due to bureaucratic issues the author finds it impossible to transfer the documents to his location. The prisoner says the documents have the answers. “He would be able to answer my questions, if only I would show him the documents he knew I had.” The author tells us that the headquarters does have the documents but that it refuses to provide them because it doesn’t have the resources to do so. Headquarters also responds that it wants increased pressure on the prisoner to answer the questions.
Mr. Carle has doubts as to the value of CAPTUS. Prior to rendition, the CIA, FBI, and other agencies compiled a huge amount of information and concluded that CAPTUS was a senior member of al-Qaida. The author initially assumed their assessment was correct but the closer he looks the less he sees, that the facts were used to fit the premises. He says as much to headquarters but headquarters thinks otherwise.
Not providing information is proof that there is information to provide.
“Once the institution settles on a perspective, it interprets other views as proofs of error.” “CAPTUS was more like a train conductor who sells a criminal a ticket . . . this did not make him complicit or part of the al-Qa’ida network.” At one point the author muses about what CAPTUS is thinking about the interrogations, “I know he thinks we are idiots, as well as kidnappers and torturers, which, of course, we are.”
Headquarters plans to move CAPTUS to a different location, “Hotel California,” where harsher treatment is normal regimen. To the author’s point of view, “I could see he was doomed not matter what he did or what I reported.” If he challenges the case he knows he will be removed from it, which he is not yet ready to do. The move is handed off at an undisclosed airport.
For this second rendition, “black ops” arrive in transport aircraft wearing ninja outfits with balaclavas over their faces, brandishing weapons. Meeting the black ops are Americans in mufti. The detainee is in chains. The author proclaims his upset as he expressly stated to headquarters that the rendering be kept low key, to keep observers from noticing anything not routine. On top of this, one of the ninjas is a doctor who gives the prisoner a proctologic exam, a by-the-book procedure for transferring captives.
The conditions at Hotel California that aren’t redacted indicate that it is kept cold, and filled with loud noise and music. Detainees aren’t given blankets. Although CAPTUS is held at Hotel California, the author stays at Point Zero, a base in the “middle of a brown moonscape” where it was “not good to look like an American.” There are posters along the route from the airport to Point Zero offering bounties on dead Americans. The trip between Hotel California and Point Zero requires a security detail. On his first trip, the author is forced to turn back because he wasn’t issued the proper pass, even though a member of the security detail is known to and outranks the guard at the gate. When the author does meet with CAPTUS, CAPTUS’ physical condition has noticeably degraded, but detail of this is redacted. CAPTUS provides no new information under these harsher conditions, and the author, having done all he could, heads back to the U.S. Prior to leaving though he writes two scathing reports. These cables, supposedly sent through official channels never arrive, (perhaps not forwarded by his superiors, or if forwarded never acknowledged as received). The absence of these reports is never questioned.
Did the author witness torture? He isn’t allowed to say.
What of the fate of CAPTUS? The author doesn’t know.
Would Kafka have been amused? Possibly.