Against the agency's wishes, the Times named a C.I.A. interrogator who extracted valuable information from 9-11 terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (pictured) , marring intelligence reporter Scott Shane's Sunday lead story, "Inside the Interrogation Of a 9/11 Mastermind - After Harsh Tactics, Gentler Methods Elicited Details About Al Qaeda."
Shane's main subject is the C.I.A. interrogator who extracted valuable information from 9-11 terrorist master-mind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a secret C.I.A. prison in Poland (which turns out to be quite a valuable ally). Shane talked to current and former intelligence officials about the long road that led to KSM's capture in Pakistan, but not to the interrogator himself, who declined to be interviewed and asked that the Times not release his name.
Shane's subject began his C.I.A. career tracking drug lords and later joined the search for Al-Qaeda. He performed a sort of "good cop" service, and extracted good information, apparently after the terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was softened up by waterboarding - sort of a good-cop, bad-cop routine. One gets the idea, not explicitly stated in the Times and always fiercely denied by the editorial page, that harsh interrogation methods like waterboarding actually worked to extract reliable information from KSM.
But why did the Times have to mar its story by publishing the interrogator's name, against his wishes and the C.I.A's?
The disclosure adds nothing to the story (and it's not as if the Times has been perfect in its promises to limit the appearance of anonymous sources in the paper).
Shane wrote for Sunday's lead:
In a makeshift prison in the north of Poland, Al Qaeda's engineer of mass murder faced off against his Central Intelligence Agency interrogator. It was 18 months after the 9/11 attacks, and the invasion of Iraq was giving Muslim extremists new motives for havoc. If anyone knew about the next plot, it was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
The interrogator...a soft-spoken analyst who spoke no Arabic, had turned down a C.I.A. offer to be trained in waterboarding. He chose to leave the infliction of pain and panic to others, the gung-ho paramilitary types whom the more cerebral interrogators called "knuckledraggers."
[The interrogator] came in after the rough stuff, the ultimate good cop with the classic skills: an unimposing presence, inexhaustible patience and a willingness to listen to the gripes and musings of a pitiless killer in rambling, imperfect English. He
The story of [the interrogator's] role in the C.I.A.'s interrogation program, including his contribution to the first capture of a major figure in Al Qaeda, provides the closest look to date beneath the blanket of secrecy that hides the program from terrorists and from critics who accuse the agency of torture....[the interrogator's] success at building a rapport with the most ruthless of terrorists goes to the heart of the interrogation debate. Did it suggest that traditional methods alone might have obtained the same information or more? Or did Mr. Mohammed talk so expansively because he feared more of the brutal treatment he had already endured?
The interrogator has come full circle and now works for a consulting company advising the CIA "on the use of harsh tactics in the secret program."
Shane concluded his long expose:
For now, the unlikely interrogator of the man perhaps most responsible for the horrors of 9/11 teaches other C.I.A. analysts the arcane art of tracking terrorists.
In an editor's note (which Times Watch was unable to find in the print edition), the Times explained why it revealed the interrogator's name:
After discussion with agency officials and a lawyer for [the interrogator], the newspaper declined the request, noting that [the interrogator] had never worked under cover and that others involved in the campaign against Al Qaeda have been named in news stories and books. The editors judged that the name was necessary for the credibility and completeness of the article.
What's changed at the paper? After all, keeping secret the name of C.I.A. employees was quite a vital issue for the Times when it could be used against the Bush administration figures Karl Rove and Lewis Libby. The Times prodded Democrats in Congress to track down just who leaked the name of C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame to conservative columnist Robert Novak and lashed out at an administration it believed leaked Plame's name in retribution for her husband Joe Wilson's now-discredited anti-war activism. But apparently it's no longer much concern to hide C.I.A. names. (The name of KSM's interrogator is not classified information.)
...an otherwise fascinating story about the scramble to build a counterterror apparatus after 9/11, the merits of coercive vs. non-coercive interrogation, and the stings that nailed Abu Zubaydah and KSM is going to be submerged in a debate over their decision to publish the lead interrogator's name against his wishes and those of CIA chief Michael Hayden.