How Torture Undermines National Security
A second and arguably more important goal of the FBI is to persuade some of these people, or “targets,” to change sides and share the information they have about their own governments and countries with us. It’s the real-life James Bond scenario: developing “double agents” and obtaining critical foreign intelligence in the interest of national security. The FBI uses the fact that it operates on American soil to its advantage. FBI agents, unlike their CIA counterparts, can operate openly, rather than covertly. FBI agents also do not have to worry about hostile host governments discovering their activities and disrupting their intelligence networks. This means that the FBI is in a relatively strong position to produce a steady stream of valuable intelligence that is difficult to obtain abroad.
But getting people to flip is primarily a psychological game rather than a material one. After all, the FBI is asking its targets to commit the ultimate act of disloyalty to their country—treason. Few people are willing to make this leap quickly, even in exchange for the most lucrative or attractive offer. It’s an FBI agent’s job to slowly win the target’s trust and help him rationalize his decision to switch his allegiance. In my experience as a former FBI agent who both participated in and observed successful recruitments, it’s much easier to do this when a target has, at some level, a sense of admiration and respect for the United States. A nugget of goodwill toward America offers an agent the chance to step in, gain the target’s confidence, and convince him that playing for Team USA is worth the risk.
Policies like the use of torture make it more difficult for the FBI to develop relationships based on trust. Even when torture is used on a few people and in another country, and by a different agency, it casts doubts on the U.S. government’s overall willingness to act in good faith. Targets often project the skepticism about the United States that torture fosters onto individual FBI agents, who are often the only face of the government they see. In short, torture is fundamentally at odds with the image of the United States as a country that will play by the rules, and that is how the FBI must be perceived in order to do its job.
Considering that we’ve obtained virtually no useful evidence from the use of torture, even against high value targets like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the security/morality tradeoff here doesn’t even exist: On both moral and utilitarian calculations, there’s simply no justification for the use of torture.