Get inside the secretive world of the CIA, as former agent Glenn Carle speaks out on rendition, detention and interrogation.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 21:28
Channel: 
SBS

Dateline goes inside the secretive world of the CIA in an interview with former Intelligence Officer Glenn Carle.

He spent 23 years working for the United States' intelligence service in four continents, primarily on the battle against terrorism.

But Carle tells Aaron Lewis that September 11th 2001 changed that battle forever, turning the CIA into the puppet of a US administration that felt it was above the law.

His candid views on rendition, detention and torture are the basis of his autobiography, The Interrogator, which was only published after heavy redaction by the CIA.

Ahead of his appearance at the Sydney Writers' Festival, Carle opens up about what was really going on behind the razor wire of Guantanamo Bay and how 9/11 has changed the face of the United States forever.

WATCH - Click to see Aaron's interview.

SYDNEY WRITERS' FESTIVAL - SBS is a major partner for the Sydney Writers' Festival, which runs from 14th to 20th May. Click here to find out more about it.

REPLAY: A SPY EXPOSED - Dateline has also interviewed former CIA agent Valerie Plame, who spoke out after being exposed as a spy. Watch Yalda Hakim's 2011 profile of her.

INSIGHT - Watch Insight's discussion on Afghanistan, with Afghan Australians talking about Australia's mission there and what they think will happen after the troops leave. Insight is shown before Dateline each Tuesday at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.

Photo (CIA): Getty


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Transcript

Now a rare glimpse inside the shadowy world inside the CIA's interrogation unit. A 23 year veteran of the agency Glenn Carle has just published a personal account of some of the CIA's most disturbing investigation methods. It's not surprising his former employers are not happy about this book. It's been a 12 month battle to get it published. Aaron Lewis caught up with Glenn Carle in Washington just before he left for Australia to make his appearance at this week's Sydney Writers' Festival.

REPORTER: Aaron Lewis

GLENN CARLE, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I was there. I was involved in the program. I saw what we did is - counts as torture.

For more than 20 years Glenn Carle had an inside view of how the United States went about playing the great game of international politics. In the decade since September 11th, he has watched the rules of that game change dramatically.

GLENN CARLE: I was a career operations officer in the clandestine services of the CIA. There are always troubling things. The job is to go to the edge of what is acceptable and maybe troubling but still acceptable - legally and morally and so on. I was involved in the early days of the CIA's interrogation programs or responsibilities.

Immediately after 9/11 the CIA set out to cripple Al-Qaeda by kidnapping those who may have had a link to the terrorist group's leadership. This clandestine kidnapping was called rendition and Glenn Carle was about to be asked by the leadership of the CIA to find out exactly what one of these rendered prisoners knew.

GLENN CARLE: So we rendered a man the CIA had been following for years figuratively and literally and considered one of the top, very top members of Al-Qaeda, not a fellow traveller Jihadist or a small guy, one of the central players. So we have rendered him - this is what the briefing to me was. Several days ago. The interrogation is not going well. We need you involved. He said to me like this standing arm's length from me. He said, "You will do whatever it takes to get this man to talk. Do you understand?" I could not believe that a CIA officer would be talking about what I considered torturing someone to obtain information. So I said, "We don't do that." His response was, "Well, we do now." So I said what about the Geneva Convention? At that point he became disdainful. He said, "Which flag do you serve?"

Carle was given no specific directive. Only that whatever damage that was done to a prisoner could not be too severe or lasting. In the Korean War American prisoners had been tortured using Soviet methods. While there was no real evidence that these methods were useful for anything other than extracting false confessions Carle said advisers in the CIA nonetheless turned to those methods as a guide.

Non-lethal physical abuse was combined with something more constant, assaults on the senses, barrages of light, extreme temperatures, painful escalations of sound and prisoners prevented from sleeping. It doesn't take long to drive a person to the edge of madness.

GLENN CARLE: You can lose your sense of self-within 36 hours - hours - it's really fast and it's really awful. The theory is that by doing that you make someone more malleable. That's all cockamamie. It was based on the assertions of two supposed experts who had never done interrogation, never done interrogation work. The psychological work that they did, claimed to have degrees in, and had nothing relevant to any work of interrogation or interpreting information or manipulating a human being. They were hacks.

There has been much media speculation that the man that Carle was interrogating was Pacha Wazir, a citizen of the Emirates who it's believed ran key financial operations for Al-Qaeda. For his whole career he had mastered one tool for convincing foreign men and women to betray their countries -conversations, words.

GLENN CARLE: I sat as you and I are sitting, about the same distance away, up to 6 or 7 feet. For up to 15 hours or more a day I looked him in the eye and I talked. I told the fellow, I said, "Look, if I were you I wouldn't trust a word that I say and I know you don't. You shouldn't, that a sane response to sit saying cross from a CIA officer who has kidnapped you." You know that I can do anything I want to you. You have disappeared from the face of the earth. There is a circle in which I have responsibility and can manoeuvre and you're in that. And I can do anything I want to you now. Outside of that circle I lose control. Outside of that circle there are people who are far more powerful and much, much nastier than I am and if they are not happy with me the circle gets smaller and smaller and then I'll be taken away and then you're fucked. He believed what I said.

Carle began to suspect that the detainee was in fact innocent, that the CIA had made a mistake and that he did not have the answers that Carle as his interrogator was trying to get from him.

GLENN CARLE: There were questions that he could not answer. So I would write my telegrams that my assessment as the officer leading the interrogation is that he cannot answer the question. The response from headquarters was: the fact that he is not answering proves that he is withholding information. And I thought - I really did think, "I'm dealing with an imbecile." Cause that's stupid, that make no sense whatsoever. I only learned two years later after there was a leak that the formal procedures, the standing orders for the director of operations in the conducting of interrogations were the absence of an answer is proof of guilt requiring harsher measures. It's crazy but that's a fact.

This directive meant a detainee would be forced to either invent answers just to avoid being further tortured or risk being held indefinitely, even if they did not know the answers to the questions being asked. Pacha Wazir, the man who best fit the details of Carle's story, was freed in 2010 after being held for almost 10 years.

GLENN CARLE: I heard that he had been released with a supposedly muted apology from the US government and told, "Go and lead your life but don't say anything." Everything I argued 10 years before when I was involved in it was substantiated, which is he wasn't a member of Al-Qaeda, he had not sworn to bin Ladin, he wasn't a Jihadist, he had been cooperative. But my recommendation to let him go was not accepted and it took 10 years.

Having tortured terror suspects on the premise that Al-Qaeda had posed an existential threat, the Bush Administration was committed to proving the severity of that threat. A narrative was pushed by Washington of an over-simplified clash of civilisations and Muslim groups everywhere were reduced to one simple classic enemy.

GLENN CARLE: The Bush Administration conflated Hezbollah, a Shia organisation, with Al-Qaeda. And Saddam, who was a secular Muslim - if such a thing exists - a secular Arab, with Al-Qaeda. It makes no sense intellectually or substantively or factually. They were all viewed as the same problem. The statement was that Al Qaeda was present in 80 countries, that was testified by George Tenant, we were even told that by the CIA. That's wrong. Al Qaeda was present in six countries.

And so a man who had been sworn to secrecy by the US government and who vowed to do all to protect it has turned, doing what CIA agents are never meant to do, pulling back the curtain. Like many Americans, Carle now harbours a cynicism about his government's real motives after 9/11 and he feels betrayed.

GLENN CARLE: Unbelievably but literally, a 6th to a dozen people sufficed to usurp all of the laws and checks and balances of the executive branch - more than that - of the US government. Torture pails compares to the fact that my government was no longer what any of us believed it to be. Worse still are the consequences of what happened, and they are the effects on the American culture and American citizens.

When you poll Americans who are over 35, should the CIA be allowed to torture to protect us - this is the question - a strong majority of Americans 35 and above say absolutely not, the CIA exists to stop this sort of thing, that that's not American, no.

Americans 35 and be blow, you ask them the same question and the majority of them answer, guys like Carle, CIA officers, they have to do what they have to do, it's OK. The fact that our political culture has shifted in a way that honourable, decent people now can coolly discuss whether American officials should torture is I think worse - the worst thing of all, because we have become something other than ourselves.

Carle told Pacha Wazir that the only sane response is to not trust the interrogator. It is hard to believe a man who spent a lifetime dealing in secrets and lies and then turned on the CIA itself. What is interesting is that no-one has refuted his tale publicly and indeed it lines up accurately with what is known about Pacha Wazir's experience. Behind closed doors Carle says the reaction of former colleagues to his whistle blowing has ranged from supportive to savaging.

GLENN CARLE: A couple said to me, 'Glenn you shouldn't do this, you're aiding and abetting the enemy and why do you want to air our dirty laundry?' and I disagree with them on that. Someone has to tell the truth to the American public, the people, about what we have done. I think more people, more colleagues feel that way than the former way.

Now, what has happened, though, is frankly the friends of Vice-President Cheney, Neocons have been quite active behind the scenes, and if you don't like the message you kill the messenger of course. It's not direct accusations, it's much more subtle. So they have approached many of the producers on different programs, for the major programs, and they say the following things - and I have heard this from a number of different sources - they say, "Hey, Bill, hey, Mary, how you doing? Now you have to understand Glenn is an unemployed malcontent a guy on the make, he has a drunken wife, he can't even handle his home life, who sort of fell apart really, not very trust worthy. Bye." That's had a real effect.

REPORTER: Is any of that true?

GLENN CARLE: None of it is true. None of it is true. Every word in the book is true.

There are only two sources who could verify the accuracy of Carle's claims, the CIA which Carle fought for over a year in court to publish his book and in the end the CIA's publications review board redacted or blacked out half of what he wrote. The second is of course Pacha Wazir but Pacha Wazir is understandably done talking.

Reporter/Camera/Editor
AARON LEWIS

Researcher
MELANIE MORRISON

Original Music Composed by VICKI HANSEN

15th May 2012