Review: The Interrogator

The InterrogatorGlenn Carle has spent his whole professional life operating in the grey world of intelligence. As a case officer for the CIA for over two decades, he spent time in many of the Agency’s most critical outposts, from Nicaragua to Lebanon to Iraq. The world he operated in was complex and obscure, a world that lacks certainty.

Yet at the end of his career, when he was “surged” to direct the interrogation of a suspected high-level member of al-Qaeda, he was confronted with the policies of an administration that even in the grey world crossed a line that made him certain that he must stand up against what he knew to be wrong.

Through 300 pages of sometimes heavily redacted material, Carle recounts his intimate involvement in the interrogation of the High-Value Target, CAPTUS. Rendered from the streets of an unnamed Middle Eastern country and spirited to one of the dozens of appropriately termed CIA “black sites,” CAPTUS is thought to have detailed information regarding al-Qaeda, perhaps even the location of bin Laden and his closest associates, information that Carle has been instructed to extract by whatever means necessary.

After beginning his interrogation of CAPTUS, Carle begins to doubt that he is indeed an important cog in the machinery of al-Qaeda, that he in fact possesses any intimate knowledge of the organization at all. Indeed, the more he gets to know CAPTUS the more he is convinced that he has been the victim of a horrendous mistake.

Years of investigating and analysis had led to the capture of CAPTUS. Many men and women inside the Agency had been focused specifically on him, a supposed high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. It was nearly unthinkable that all they had all been wrong. That he had been rendered meant that he must be the man they wanted. As is the case with any bureaucratic organization, once it has set on a course of action, it is almost impossible to shift course. The Agency was not about to rethink its strategy simply because of the doubts of a single officer. CAPTUS’ refusal to talk therefore indicated that he was withholding information, which only warranted further pressure.

More than anything, this book details the internal problems that plague the Agency. Other insiders, such as Robert Jervis in his excellent book, Why Intelligence Fails, have dealt with similarly pervasive issues that arise from institutional groupthink, such as an unwillingness to respond to “radical” views or criticism, or from the political pressures exerted by the administration. Carle’s account reveals many of the same problems, however, his personal involvement in the case invites the reader inside to share in his considerable frustration and increasing outrage over the mistaken views and policies issued from on high.

The Agency and others might want to dismiss Carle as a malcontent airing sordid internal affairs. However this is clearly not the case. Carle’s book reveals the level to which the Agency has become corrupted or simply apathetic. What was the life of one man when balanced against the safety and security of the people the Agency was sworn to protect? By entering into this Faustian bargain in the hopes of securing itself from external threat, the Bush administration and the Agency were willing to compromise the core values and ideals they were meant to protect.

Greg Chaffin is a research assistant with Foreign Policy In Focus.