There are a lot of interesting -- and troubling -- observations in this Boston Globe article describing "what happens when you get a bunch of spooks, lawmakers, gadget geeks, and military interrogators together in a hotel conference room and ask them to talk -- on the record":
The greatest frustration was evident in rank and file intelligence and law enforcement officers. After explaining his various psychological tactics to the audience, interrogator Bill Tierney (a private contractor working with the Army) said, ''I tried to be nuanced and culturally aware. But the suspects didn't break.''Stuart Buck
Suddenly Tierney's temper rose. ''They did not break!'' he shouted. ''I'm here to win. I'm here so our civilization beats theirs! Now what are you willing to do to win?'' he asked, pointing to a woman in the front row. ''You are the interrogators, you are the ones who have to get the information from the Iraqis. What do you do? That word 'torture'. You immediately think, 'That's not me.' But are we litigating this war or fighting it?''
Some listeners murmured in assent; others sat in rapt attention. In all the recent debates about the Bush administration's stance on torture, this voice, the voice of the interrogators themselves, has been almost entirely absent.
Asked about Abu Ghraib, Tierney said that for an interrogator, ''sadism is always right over the hill. You have to admit it. Don't fool yourself - there is a part of you that will say, 'This is fun.'''
It is that part, he continued, that a successful interrogator has to learn to identify and control. ''Right now the Army wants to get interrogators right out of high school,'' he said. ''A high school grad does not have the maturity to handle this job. There was a 19-year-old with me in Baghdad. What's going on in her head is what kind of fingernail polish she's going to wear. And she's sitting across from a guy from Yemen....'' His voice trailed off.
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This notion was given starker expression by a former Marine Corps officer on a panel about military intelligence collection within the United States. When queried about interrogation techniques, he replied simply, ''I'm a fan of 220 volts,'' and was greeted with scattered applause.
The Marine Corps officer was joined on that panel by a barrel-chested former CIA operative, whose conference bio says he ''ate, slept, and drank with narco-terrorists and smugglers.'' This man said that earlier in his career he had been ''called on to do things that are pretty nasty in some instances, things we don't want anyone to know we do.'' By way of elaboration he said, ''If my job was to take you down and I showed up on your doorstep, it was gonna be a bad day. Now, does that mean I break the American laws? No.''
He paused, then added, ''I hope not.''
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On one panel, Rebecca Givner-Forbes, a recent graduate of Georgetown who studied Arabic in college, explained that the Arabic taught in most American universities is a little like Latin or Shakespearean English. ''You can't learn Modern Standard Arabic and just drop into a country and know what people are saying,'' she said.
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Givner-Forbes did not pursue a job at the NSA or CIA, preferring instead to work for a private company specializing in intelligence. She explained that the agencies often scare away precisely the linguists they should be attracting. She mentioned a friend who wanted to work for NSA but had smoked pot in the past year, and was therefore ineligible, and pointed to the 20 Arabic linguists who have been fired by defense and intelligence agencies since Sept. 11 for being gay: "You're not going to find the perfect translator who fits all your lifestyle requirements."
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At a panel on intelligence reform, Michael Scheuer -- the formerly anonymous author of ''Imperial Hubris,'' a blistering critique of US policy on terrorism, and until several months ago a CIA counterterrorism officer -- questioned the conclusion, put forward by the 9/11 Commission and others, that the Al Qaeda attacks were the result of institutional failures
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Scheuer contended that 9/11 commissioners and politicians were driven by the families of the dead to pass a hasty piece of legislation that will not make Americans safer. ''With all due respect to the widows,'' he said, ''they don't know jack about running intelligence.''
The other panelists hastened to agree.