How the FBI Broke Saddam

James Gordon Meek has a very interesting two-part story on how FBI Special Agent George Piro successfully interrogated Saddam Hussein.  Shockingly, it does not involve waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, nudity, or German shephards.

The FBI prides itself on “rapport-based” interrogations that have a high success rate for yielding confessions from the likes of 1993 World trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and CIA headquarters killer Mir Aimal Kasi. There was no “ticking bomb” scenario with Saddam – just inherent political pressure – so the interrogation proceeded carefully and cautiously over months.

The strategy involved executing a subtle emotional attack, digging out Saddam’s soft spots and exploiting them. Prick his ego.

Saddam had revealed little, so far – and neither had Piro – other than stating he remained in Baghdad until the day before his capital fell to American-led forces in April 2003. He said he instructed his henchmen in a final meeting, “We will struggle in secret.” After fleeing Baghdad, he gradually dispersed his bodyguards one by one to avoid drawing Coalition forces’ attention. Saddam had evaded capture for nine months, until U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer made his famous exultation in December 2003: “Ladies and gentleman, we got him!”

Piro asked if Saddam ever used body doubles, as was widely believed. “No, of course not,” he scoffed. “This is movie magic, not reality.”

But as the fourth interrogation began on Feb. 13, Saddam wanted answers from Piro.

“Let me ask a direct question. I want to ask where … has the information been going? For our relationship to remain clear, I want to know,” he demanded. Piro replied that he was a “representative of the U.S. Government” and told Saddam many U.S. officials saw his reports, and that readership “may include the President of the United States.” Saddam seemed pleased, commenting that he did “not mind” if the interviews were published.

Much more of Part 2 at the link. See Part 1 here.

Via Meek’s Counterterrorism Blog post.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Strangely, the series provides no examples of new information, much less useful information, provided by Saddam. Based solely on the articles one might conclude it was Piro and not Saddam who was interrogated. I assume this is an incorrect representation of the record.

    Given the starting premise that this is an example that extreme interrogation techniques were not needed, James Gordon Meek failed to support his thesis. Nor did he explore the facts that Saddam Hussein was not a hardened terrorist trained in resisting interrogation, that heads of state even deposed ones are treated differently, or that a narcissistic political personality is a prime candidate for “repport-based” interrogation. Someone concerned about what people say and think about them in 500 or a thousand years is already primed to talk to the interrogator and once they are talking, useful information can be gleaned.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    Am I the only one that thinks Saddam would be easy to get to talk, with the egotism, the self-certainty and the absence of anybody to answer to for decades.

  3. Eric Florack says:

    Shockingly, it does not involve waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, nudity, or German shephards.

    Am I the only one that thinks Saddam would be easy to get to talk, with the egotism, the self-certainty and the absence of anybody to answer to for decade

    Quite so, PD. His motivations are far different than say, a KSM. Altogether different tactics would be required for each of these. This of itself doesn’t diminish the validity of the tactics used on KSM. Rather, it demonstrates the restraint used by those doing the questioning in both cases.

    And I wonder how many will be willing to acknowledge that point?

  4. anjin-san says:

    Quite so, PD. His motivations are far different than say, a KSM. Altogether different tactics would be required for each of these.

    No doubt your years of expertise with interrogations give you great insight into the tactical requirements of each case. Oh wait, you are just blowing some pompous smoke. You should include words like “portent” and phrases like “does not bode well”.

    What we have here are 2 desperate men being held in cages by people who hate them, with no hope of ever being freed. Pretty easy to argue they have very strong common motivation, IE, the desire to somehow make the best of a situation where they are essentially screwed.

  5. davod says:

    “What we have here are 2 desperate men being held in cages by people who hate them, with no hope of ever being freed. Pretty easy to argue they have very strong common motivation, IE, the desire to somehow make the best of a situation where they are essentially screwed.”

    And you know this how?

  6. anjin-san says:

    And you know this how?

    Because it is patently obvious. Please feel free to dispute anything I said.

  7. Mark E says:

    I also wrote about this story at http://www.regimeofterror.com and was a little disappointed in how little it revealed that was new. I also agree with those who just can’t take anything Saddam at face value. Sadly, I think some at the FBI actually did.

    It is interesting that he initially denied, before admitting, meeting with members of al Qaeda though he said they didn’t cooperate.

  8. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    angin, Saddam did not see himself as a martyr. KSM does. Secondly, anyone and dispute and refute not only anything you have to say, but everything you have to say. Even a simpleton such as yourself should be able to see the difference in situations. Saddam was held in a country he had ruled. Familiar surroundings, to some degree. KSM is being held in a place he only heard of. Distant from his homeland and totally unfamiliar. Hussein was a totalitarian dictator in the vein of Hitler whereas KSM is an underling to a cult leader who leads based upon religious principles, twisted though they may be. The only things Saddam had to hide were money and WMD. KSM held time sensitive information, useful in defense of our nation.

  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    What we have here are 2 desperate men being held in cages by people who hate them, with no hope of ever being freed. Pretty easy to argue they have very strong common motivation, IE, the desire to somehow make the best of a situation where they are essentially screwed.

    You should include words such as maniacs, terrorists,
    and sworn enemy leaders of the U.S.A who were actively seeking our destruction., and how you can feel bad for anything beyond where their pitiful souls are going or have gone is amazing…..

  10. An Interested Party says:

    The only things Saddam had to hide were money and WMD.

    Oh really? And where is said WMD now? Perhaps in Syria?

    KSM held time sensitive information, useful in defense of our nation.

    And, uh, that information would be…

  11. anjin-san says:

    how you can feel bad for anything beyond where their pitiful souls are going or have gone is amazing…..

    Where did I say I felt bad for them? Nowhere. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    Where did I say I felt bad for them? Nowhere. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

    What we have here are 2 desperate men being held in cages by people who hate them, with no hope of ever being freed.

    Soory, but it just sounds very sympathetic… maybe I’m reading to much into your wording…

  13. Mark E says:

    After watching the History channel special on how Saddam rose to power it is pretty hard to feel bad about anything that happened to him.

  14. Eric Florack says:

    Because it is patently obvious

    No doubt your years of expertise with interrogations give you great insight into the tactical requirements of each case. Oh wait, you are just blowing some pompous smoke. You should include words like “portent” and phrases like “does not bode well”.

  15. anjin-san says:

    No doubt your years of expertise with interrogations give you great insight into the tactical requirements of each case. Oh wait, you are just blowing some pompous smoke. You should include words like “portent” and phrases like “does not bode well”.

    Why is it that the only time your comebacks have any pop is when they are plagiarized?

    “What we have here are 2 desperate men being held in cages by people who hate them, with no hope of ever being freed.

    Can you refute any part of this statement?