In this episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell offers personal reflections in Part Two of a two-part essay on the CIA’s strategic warnings before 9/11, the terror plots it helped foil in its aftermath, and its efforts on the ground in Afghanistan post-9/11. Morell offers new details about the CIA’s race to gather intelligence on secondary al Qaeda plots targeting the U.S. — including the agency’s behind-the-scenes engagements with leaders in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — and explains why he believes thousands of lives were saved in the immediate post-9/11 period. He also shares his perspective on the agency’s Detention and Interrogation program and how it affected CIA’s public standing.
- Subsequent plots and the feeling of a “ticking time bomb”: “We received in early 2003 intelligence that al Qaeda had been planning an attack on the New York City subway system but that Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s number two, had called off that attack because “We have something better in mind.” We asked ourselves: “Do they have a nuclear weapon inside the United States?” … Again, it is difficult to overstate hard the level of the threat we saw. Many days we asked ourselves: ‘Is this the day we get hit again?'”
- Fears of nuclear and biological weapons: “In the aftermath of 9/11, including during the initial fighting in Afghanistan, we were learning more and more about al Qaeda and what we were learning was deeply concerning. We learned that al Qaeda saw 9/11 as the first in a series of attacks on the us; 9/11 was only the beginning. We learned that al Qaeda, before 9/11, was experimenting with chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax, and was working to get its hands on Pakistani nuclear weapons. We even learned that prior to 9/11, some Pakistani nuclear scientists had shared crude nuclear weapons designs with al Qaeda.”
- Foiled terror plots post-9/11: “The public list of the plots foiled is long. It includes: an attack against our consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; the so-called second wave attack against the homeland, which included the crashing of planes into tall buildings on the West coast of the United States; an attack against several public targets in London; an attack on Heathrow airport; an attack on U.S. marines at a U.S. military base in Djibouti; a plot to attack apartment buildings in the U.S.; and on and on.”
INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – MICHAEL MORELL ON THE CIA, 9/11 AND AFGHANISTAN – transcript
PRODUCER: Olivia Gazis
MICHAEL MORELL: Last week, in chapter one of the 9/11 story, I looked at what CIA got right and what it got wrong in the pre-9/11 period — and I tried to put it in the broader context of the rest of the government. Today, we are going to do the same for the immediate post-9/11 period. This is chapter two of our story.
Last week, we started with what I saw as the key themes of the pre-9/11 period, and we will do the same again today for the post 9/11 period — which, in my mind, runs from 9/11 to the start of Iraq war.
I think there are three themes.
Theme one: Immediately after 9/11, CIA had a plan, at the ready, to go after al Qaeda, and that plan, when approved by the president and implemented, produced near-immediate results.
Theme two: CIA collected a significant amount of intelligence in this period — intelligence that led to the capture of senior al Qaeda leaders, which led to the prevention of attacks, including additional attacks in the homeland. No organization did more to prevent additional attacks on the homeland than CIA.
And theme three: CIA’s work came with a very steep price for the agency family.
Let’s walk through it all.
Let me start with motivation. I don’t think any organization in our government was more motivated than CIA to prevent another attack on the homeland. I don’t want to imply that others were not motivated; they absolutely were.
But CIA had a special level of motivation – for two reasons. Guilt and anger. The guilt came first. 9/11 happened on our watch, and we were not able to stop it. We knew intellectually that this was the national failure I talked about in chapter one, but we bore a psychological burden. We are the CIA, the best intelligence agency on the planet, and we were not able to prevent an attack that killed 3,000 of our citizens and injured many more.
The anger came just a bit later. It came when the political finger pointing started – by politicians, by other agencies, and by the media. And the fingers were pointed at CIA. Some critiques of us were accurate, but many more were not. Many were just wrong. Some of this finger pointing continues to this day. This made us mad, as we knew that politics was at play and that there were others who were just as responsible as we were for not stopping the attacks. We discussed all of that last week.
One of the best examples of this kind of behavior was when Tom Pickard, then the number two at the FBI, complained to the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11 that George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, had never informed him about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. CIA never informed the FBI? Moussaoui was in the FBI’s custody! How about Pickard’s own agents not informing him? A remarkable moment in the history of congressional testimony. And sadly, just one example of the many people throwing CIA under the bus.
So, we were highly motivated to do everything we could to stop another attack. And we were led by Tenet, who had natural and instinctive leadership skills. We, as individuals and as an agency, would have followed him anywhere.
Substantively, the post-9/11 period starts with a diplomatic effort, the purpose of which was to avoid war. The United States asked the Taliban to turn bin Laden over to the United States.
CIA played a significant role in this diplomatic effort, one that is not well known. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our senior officer in Pakistan, Bob Grenier, sent to Washington a series of cables that were shared with President Bush advocating an outreach to the Taliban in the hope that they would turn over Osama bin Laden. The president approved the outreach.
Grenier’s interlocutor was a man named Mullah Osmani, one of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s closest advisors, arguably the second most powerful man in the Taliban, and someone whom Afghan president Karzai called the most dangerous leader of the Taliban, a hardened killer. The two met clandestinely in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan.
Grenier made the American offer. In order to avoid the wrath of the United States, the Taliban had three choices – one, turn over bin Laden, two, stand aside as a U.S. special forces team went into Afghanistan to get him, or three, bring bin Laden to justice themselves, in a way that removed him from a future in terrorism – that is, execute him in a way consistent with Islamic justice.
In a follow up meeting, also in Pakistan, Osmani brought Mullah Omar’s answer – no. Grenier, then, demonstrating real intestinal fortitude, proposed helping Osmani overthrow Mullah Omar if Osmani would publicly break with al Qaeda and turn bin Laden over. It was a gutsy move by Grenier, but the answer was still no.
The die was cast for war. But Bush wanted to do much more than just fire cruise missiles at empty al Qaeda training camps. He wanted to hit back hard, and he wanted to significantly degrade the organization so that it could not attack us again.
So, he turned to his national security team for a plan. Only CIA had one. No one else, including DoD, had a plan. The president was deeply disappointed to learn that DoD did not have a plan to remove the Taliban from power. DoD has a plan for everything, but they did not have one for this.
Why did CIA have a plan? Because we had done work at the end of the Clinton administration to think through what a “taking-off-the-gloves” strategy would look like. This was the Blue Sky Memo that we had produced at the request of President Clinton’s national security advisor Sandy Berger in late 2000 and that we discussed in chapter one.
The Blue Sky Memo became the template for CIA’s war plan.
So, the setting is Camp David. The date is September 15th, the Saturday after 9/11. The meeting is a full session of Bush’s national security council.
Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, and the head of CIA’s counterterrorist center Cofer Black were there.
Tenet kicked off CIA’s briefing, then turned to Black for the details. The title of Black’s briefing was “Destroying international terrorism” and the heading on the first page read: “The initial hook: Destroying al-Qaeda and closing the safe haven.”
The president said he wanted to think about the plan on Sunday, and he approved it the following day, Monday September 17th.
Bush ordered CIA to be the point of the spear in the American response to 9/11.
CIA was on the ground in Afghanistan on September 27th – just ten days after Bush’s approval and just 16 days after 9/11. The CIA teams — there would eventually be five — were joined by Special Forces in mid-October.
I think this was the greatest example of CIA’s agility that I have ever seen. Agility, the ability to move quickly and adapt on the fly, is one of the defining characteristics of CIA.
Let me give you an example of this agility that I saw up close and personal. Just after David Petraeus arrived at CIA as the director, he ordered a team of our officers to go to a particularly dangerous spot on the planet to secure weapons that could have been deadly for Americans if they got into the wrong hands. A couple of days after he gave his order, he asked me (I was serving as his deputy at the time) when he would see a plan for the deployment of the team. I told him “Sir, the team left the night you gave the order. They are there. They are at the target site. They will secure the weapons by tomorrow. I will get you a briefing.” Petraeus was surprised by how fast we had moved. He was used to the much more bureaucratic DoD culture.
So, what was our plan in Afghanistan? It was not to be a large army that the Taliban and al Qaeda could attack from the shadows. Rather, it was that we were going to do something that the Taliban would never expect.
We would – just as the Taliban had done after the Soviet withdrawal and just as they would do for much of the last 20 years – be the insurgents. We would conduct an insurgency. We were going to lead the forces of the Northern Alliance, who lived in the only part of the country that the Taliban had not conquered, south toward Kabul, calling in U.S. air strikes to clear their way, and we were going to work with tribal elements in other parts of the country to turn against the Taliban, to rise up against them.
CIA’s overall commander for the program was a legendary CIA operations officer named Hank Crumpton. Crumpton, who first applied to CIA when he was 10 years old, would meet regularly with Bush to give him updates on our progress.
The program worked, and it worked quickly. By December, in only three months, our counterterrorism objectives had been achieved. All major Afghan cities had fallen. Only 110 CIA officers, 441 DoD special operators, and the U.S. Air Force and Navy had destroyed the Taliban regime, killing or capturing 25 percent of its leaders. There was no us commanding general on the ground, and no U.S. military staging base in the country.
As for al Qaeda, its operatives had either been killed, captured, or had escaped Afghanistan. Unfortunately, those who escaped included bin Laden and his top lieutenants. The Pakistanis did not do a sufficient job sealing the border, and the U.S. military could not get troops to the border fast enough to do the job right.
Where did these al Qaeda operatives go? All over. Some of the most senior went to Iran, where the Iranians would put them under house arrest (that is, not turn them over to the west but not let them operate either), a number went to Yemen, a number to southeast Asia, as well as to other places. But, by far, most went to pre-arranged safe houses in the settled areas, the cities, of Pakistan.
With the exception of those in Iran, all the al Qaeda operatives who had escaped continued their attack plotting. But they no longer had their Afghan safe haven; they no longer had their most important asset.
What were the keys to CIA’s success in Afghanistan? Our agility for sure, but also our deep understanding of Afghanistan’s tribal society and our development and maintenance of relationships with individuals and groups in the country that would eventually fight for us. CIA undertook multiple trips into Afghanistan before 9/11 to establish, nurture, and maintain these relationships.
The victory in Afghanistan was also accomplished in the face of resistance within the U.S. government. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld tried to subordinate CIA officers to U.S. military command. Tenet said, ‘No, not going to happen.’ We were concerned that the military, if it were in charge of the Afghan operation, would make it a more conventional war that would have played into the hands of the Taliban.
Rumsfeld was also a deep skeptic of the likelihood of our success, probably because he saw it as a key point in his argument for DoD control. At one White House meeting, Rumsfeld put on the table analysis from the Defense Intelligence Agency that said
‘No viable alternative exists to the Taliban’ and that the Northern Alliance would not secure any major gains for quite some time. Hank Crumpton, sitting behind Tenet at the meeting, spoke up and told president Bush that Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan’s second most important city, would fall in the next 24-48 hours. The city fell on that timeline, and Kabul fell not long after it. Crumpton was right; Rumsfeld was wrong.
Sadly, these early days also saw the first American killed in action in Afghanistan, a CIA officer named Mike Spann. You can listen to the story of what happened to Mike in an Intelligence Matters episode that ran on November 25th, 2020. The story was told to us by Mike’s partner on the ground that day – David Tyson. It is a must-listen episode.
Mike would be the first of many CIA officers who would give their lives for their country in the aftermath of 9/11, the vast majority working to prevent another attack on the homeland.
Today, there are 137 stars on CIA’s memorial wall, one for each officer who gave their life in the line of duty over the agency’s 74-year history. Over 40 percent of those stars were added after 9/11. These included the seven CIA officers who were killed in late 2009 in a suicide attack on a remote CIA base in Afghanistan, a full eight years into the war on terror.
CIA’s losses over the past 20 years have been the highest in any 20-year period in CIA’s history.
As acting director and deputy director, it was part of my job to meet with the families of the fallen. It was the hardest part of my job, but the most important. I learned that three things tend to help a grieving family member – to know that the work their loved one did was important, to know that they were good at ttheir work, and to know that they were liked by their colleagues.
If the initial months in Afghanistan were CIA’s first part of the post 9/11 story, the second part was the agency’s collection of intelligence that prevented further attacks on the homeland.
In the aftermath of 9/11, including during the initial fighting in Afghanistan, we were learning more and more about al Qaeda and what we were learning was deeply concerning. We learned that al Qaeda saw 9/11 as the first in a series of attacks on the us; 9/11 was only the beginning. We learned that al Qaeda, before 9/11, was experimenting with chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax, and was working to get its hands on Pakistani nuclear weapons. We even learned that prior to 9/11, some Pakistani nuclear scientists had shared crude nuclear weapons designs with al Qaeda.
It was hard to describe the level of threat that both CIA and president Bush felt during these early months and years.
The weapons of mass destruction issue was the most important to Tenet. It took an already high sense of urgency and put it in the stratosphere. What added to this concern even more is that Russian president Putin was not able to assure president Bush that the Russians knew where all the Soviet Union’s fissile material was.
One moment was particularly chilling. We received in early 2003 intelligence that al Qaeda had been planning an attack on the New York City subway system but that Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s number two, had called off that attack because “we have something better in mind.” We asked ourselves: “Do they have a nuclear weapon inside the United States?”
The horrific damage and loss of life from the terrorist use of a nuclear weapon are obvious. Less obvious was anthrax. But just a small amount – say a tablespoon – of highly refined anthrax released in a subway system could kill tens of thousands.
Again, it is difficult to overstate hard the level of the threat we saw. Many days we asked ourselves: “Is this the day we get hit again.”
Two decisions by leaders of other countries played a critical role in capturing al Qaeda operatives, collecting intelligence from them, and disrupting further attacks. The first was Pakistani president Musharraf’s decision to join the us in its fight against al Qaeda. This was not a foregone conclusion. Our analysts at CIA even thought Musharraf, for his own politics, would go the other way and not support the us. Luckily, we were wrong in that assessment, and Musharaff did the right thing. It was a critically important decision. Pakistan, often using our intelligence, arrested hundreds of al Qaeda operatives.
I’m fully aware that our relationship with the Pakistanis on counterterrorism was complicated. Yes, they gave the Afghan Taliban safe haven on the Pak side of the border and yes, they permitted, encouraged, and even supported terrorism against India. But, when it came to al Qaeda, they were fully on our side. They took more al Qaeda operatives off the battlefield than every other country in the world combined.
The Pakistani willingness to work with us had some very significant payoffs – the arrest in March 2002 in of Abu Zubaydah, someone who ran a Qaeda training camps and someone who we thought at the time was a senior al Qaeda leader; the arrest in September 2002 of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key facilitator of the 9/11 attacks, and the arrest in March 2003 of the biggest fish, the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. These arrests led to arrests outside of Pakistan, including the capture of Hambali, the Bali bomber, in Thailand in 2003. And on and on and on.
Perhaps the most important implication of the Pakistani decision to work with the United States was related to al Qaeda’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. At the request of president Bush, Tenet went to Pakistan to confront the Paks about their scientists who were working with al Qaeda The result was a series of joint operations with the Paks that unraveled the Pak network that was working with al Qaeda on the most dangerous of weapons.
The other decision by a foreign leader to fully come to our side of the fight was that of the Saudis. In the aftermath of bombings in Riyadh in 2003, Tenet flew to Saudi, again at the president’s direction, to meet with then Crown Prince Abdullah, the country’s top decisionmaker.
Tenet’s opening line, forcefully delivered, in his briefing for Abdullah on al Qaeda was, “They are coming to kill you!” When one of the Saudi officials said “We are prepared,” Tenet raised his voice even more, pointed at the Crown Prince and said “No, they are coming to kill – you.”
Abdullah, who had great trust in Tenet, got the message and the conversation led to a Saudi decision to join us, with significant operational assistance both in Saudi Arabia and in the region. I consider this, and I know tenet does as well, one of his most important meetings as director.
All of this work – all over the world – but mostly in Pakistan led to the uncovering and disruption of attack plotting. The public list of the plots foiled is long. It includes: an attack against our consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; the so-called second wave attack against the homeland, which included the crashing of planes into tall buildings on the West coast of the United States; an attack against several public targets in London; an attack on Heathrow airport; an attack on U.S. marines at a U.S. military base in Djibouti; a plot to attack apartment buildings in the U.S.; and on and on.
Some critics of CIA have tried to argue that these attack plots were not real, that CIA overstated the threat. That is just wrong. They were real, and if we had not collected the intelligence we did, many, if not all of them, would have become reality. Prior to 9/11, some in the Bush Defense Department thought the threat reporting in the spring and summer of 2001 was not real, that it was al Qaeda propaganda designed to get us to spend precious resources. Nonsense. That threat reporting was real, and the threat reporting post 9/11 that accompanied the potential attacks I just talked about was real as well.
The bottom line: the U.S. government, led by CIA, prevented another major attack on the homeland, despite efforts by al Qaeda to do just that.
I don’t believe CIA gets enough public credit for the lives it saved for stopping these attacks.
By 2003, al Qaeda’s capabilities to conduct attacks had been significantly degraded by CIA’s work. But two developments would eventually lead to al Qaeda’s resurgence.
The first was that in the summer of 2003, al Qaeda, under great pressure from the Pakistanis and from CIA, moved from the settled areas in Pakistan to the tribal areas of Pakistan. It was tough to get at them there from both an intelligence perspective and an action perspective. The Pakistanis could not even go there. It was no man’s land. It took us time to figure out how to get at them.
The second was the Iraq war. There are differences of opinion on this, but my view was that the war in Iraq had a negative impact on our efforts against al Qaeda. The Iraq war was a huge resource drain on CIA and it diluted our singular focus on al Qaeda.
The consequence was that, by late 2004, al Qaeda was rebounding and it was rebuilding its homeland attack capability – so much so that by July 2005, it successfully conducted multiple simultaneous attacks in London and, just a year later, came close to taking down 10-15 airliners flying from London to the United States. This required another round of degradation, which the Bush administration began and the Obama administration continued. But that’s all a story for another day.
But, what about CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, what many people call torture? Wasn’t that a stain on America’s response to 9/11? It has been covered in many of the documentaries about 9/11, almost always with an editorial bias against the program. It’s just assumed by many to have been the wrong thing to have done, the darkest moment in America’s response to 9/11.
The truth is that there are strongly different views about the program. There are those who believe it played an indispensable role in acquiring information that led to the capture of terrorists and the stopping of attacks, including many of the attacks I just mentioned, and there are those that think it did not do those things.
Moreover, there are many who consider it to have been immoral and inconsistent with American values and still others who think that anything that is deemed legal goes when it comes to saving the lives of Americans.
I’ve written about this at length in my book, ‘The Great War of our Time,’ and I don’t want to repeat the same points again. I personally – and I was not involved in the conception or approval of the program – struggle with it, both seeing the significant value in the program as well as seeing the brutality — carried out by the country in the world that more than any other stands for human dignity.
But, let me add a couple of thoughts to what I said in my book:
The Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a lone Republican approved a Democractic committee staff report in 2014 that said several things – it said that the enhanced techniques were not necessary because we already had the information that we said the techniques produced, that the program was ineffective in producing new information, and, perhaps most important, that CIA knew both of these things at the time and therefore systematically misled – that is lied – to the White House, Congress, and the American people about both the necessity and effectiveness of the program.
I am open to history debating and ultimately judging the necessity and effectiveness of the program, and historians should be allowed to dig into that question. All the documents, cables, papers, briefings for the White House and Congress, all of it should be declassified. Let historians at it.
What I can tell you with certainty is that the CIA leadership at the time, the officers involved in the program, and the officers who wrote CIA’s response to the SSCI report believed that it was both necessary and effective, that it resulted in intelligence that led to the unravelling of many of plots that I outlined earlier, that it saved lives. CIA, as an institution, believes this.
One of the only pieces of academic work on this issue is the work of the highly respected Columbia University professor Robert Jervis, who dug into the declassified versions of the Senate report, the Republican rebuttal, and CIA’s response. He concluded that the Senate report had real flaws and that the CIA response was probably closer to the truth. But I would love to someday see many trained, objective historians be given all the data and let them come to conclusions about the program.
I am also open to a public debate about the morality of the program. The SSCI did not even open that debate. It did not have to. Because if the program was not necessary or effective, there is no reason to even discuss its morality.
But I simply do not accept that CIA, for ten years, systematically and intentionally lied about the program. That’s just not the CIA I know, and it’s just not possible. If that were the case, the media would have discovered it years before the SSCI did. It would have leaked, guaranteed. You simply can’t keep something like that secret.
And, it seems to me, that had the special prosecutor who looked into the entire program during the Obama administration discovered that CIA had intentionally misled Congress, we all would have heard about that – most likely in the form of indictments. Neither of these things happened.
Four final things to say about the program. First, I spend a lot of time with college students. They almost always ask me about the program. What I tell them is that I am willing to talk about the program at length and that I am willing to answer any of their questions if they accept a simple proposition.
What is that proposition? That this was not just CIA’s program of enhanced interrogation techniques, but rather that it was America’s program. How do I get there? Yes, it was CIA’s idea and CIA carried it out, but it was approved by president Bush, approved by Bush’s national security team, approved by the Justice Department at multiple times as being legal, as not being torture, and briefed to members of Congress, none of whom opposed the program. Only one raised an issue: Representative Jane Harmon, then a member of the House Intelligence Committee, just wanted to make sure that we had policy approval. We did. It is all of this that makes this America’s program, not just CIA’s. With the students, I say, with all that, let’s now talk about it.
Let me just add some details here to underscore that this was not just CIA’s program:
At one senior policy meeting where the program was discussed, attended by Tenet, CIA’s general counsel at the time, Scott Mueller, pointed out that “there was an arguable inconsistency between what CIA was authorized to do and what at least some in the international community might expect in light of the administration’s public statements about humane treatment of detainees.” Everyone in the room evinced understanding of the issue. CIA’s past and ongoing use of enhanced techniques was reaffirmed and in no way drawn into question. This was Bush’s most senior advisors saying “Do it.”
When the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed, one senator, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, then one of the senior members of the committee – who would later become a critic of the program – said, “Is that all you’re doing? My constituents would expect you to do more to keep them safe.”
I’m not sharing this to pick on Senator Rockefeller. I’m sharing it because everyone either supported the program at the time or did not oppose it. Why? Because of the context of the times. There was a strong sense by all those reading the intelligence that we were going to get hit again and get hit as hard, if not harder, than 9/11 — second wave attacks, possible al Qaeda acquisition of nuclear weapons, and on and on.
Yes, this was America’s program. We were all in this together. This was not CIA being a rogue agency. If we have changed our mind about the program with 20/20 hindsight, then we all need to accept our roles in it. The current speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, was one of those members of Congress briefed, one of the people who was briefed and did not oppose the program. I do not see the critics of the program saying she is a torturer, a defender of torture, or not fit to lead the House of Representatives because of her acquiescence of the program.
Second, it is not well known, nor hardly ever discussed, that the Department of Defense had its own enhanced interrogation program, approved by Secretary Rumsfeld. There was only one report written about it by the Senate Armed Services Committee. There was little media attention, and no officer involved in the program ever faced tough questioning during a confirmation hearing or during the congressional process to approve officers for promotion. Why the difference between the way Congress and the media have approached the two programs? I don’t know. I just don’t know.
Third, the SSCI report never took on a very important question. What should the United States do when we have in our custody a terrorist that we believe has information about an imminent attack, when there is no time for rapport building? This is the ticking time bomb scenario – the nuclear weapon somewhere in New York City and you have the guy who knows where it is and he will not tell you. What do you do?
The SSCI could have interviewed psychologists, police interrogators, other security services around the world and offered some guidance on this question, but they did not. They just assumed that there is always time for rapport-building to acquire information. What if there’s not?
In the CBS/Showtime documentary “Spymasters,” Leon Panetta, a terrific director of CIA, said he was against the EIT program, that America should not have done it. But when asked what he would do in a ticking time bomb scenario, he said everything would be on the table. Well, for Bush and Tenet, the immediate aftermath of 9/11 felt that the United States was in just such a scenario.
And fourth, and this is the most important piece to me, if someone wants to criticize the program today, even in the face of the intelligence it produced, okay. I understand that. But don’t criticize the working level officers who undertook the program. Don’t call them torturers. They don’t deserve that. They were simply following the direction of the President of the United States to conduct a program that had been briefed to Congress and approved by the Department of Justice as being legal. Again, they were told by the United States Department of Justice that what they were doing was not torture.
Just after several senators came out against me as a potential candidate for a position in the Biden administration – for my public criticism of the SSCI report – I ran into someone as I was leaving a restaurant in McLean, Virginia. This person said to me “Sir, you don’t know me, but I was involved in the EIT program. I just want to thank you for defending us. We were doing what we thought we were told to do and what we thought was right. What you’ve done with regard to talking about the program, at great cost to yourself, is true leadership. Thank you.” I will take that former officer’s comments over the public comments of any politician any day of the week.
One final thought, not about EITs. One interesting question I think is to ask why was CIA so successful in collecting intelligence and stopping plot after plot after 9/11 — but not before 9/11. Three reasons, I think – one, al Qaeda had safe haven before 9/11; they did not after. As I said earlier, safe haven is the most significant asset a terrorist organization could have; two, CIA’s covert action authorities to go after al Qaeda were expanded significantly after 9/11, and three, our resources were boosted significantly. The CIA’s budget quadrupled after 9/11. Too bad we did not have those things before 9/11.
There is no doubt in my mind that CIA saved thousands of lives in the immediate post-9/11 period.
Thanks for listening. Join us again next week for a regular episode of Intelligence Matters.