Drones, Intelligence and Enhanced Interrogation

Many commentators have observed that the Obama administration’s drone campaign limits, if not eliminates the potential for intelligence gathering. This option is not, unfortunately, about intelligence gathering, it’s about politics and not facing the fundamental contradictions that exist within the President’s policy and intent.

If you’re not capturing bad guys, there are no new bad guys going to Gitmo, no need for black sites and no need to face the looming contradictions of what happens if you do catch a bad guy with critical information that he does not want to give up. The President upon taking office discovered just how bad the bad guys were. He also discovered that his position on the issues of ‘torture’ and Gitmo had no connection to harsh reality.

What’s the better option? Just kill them!

If you’ve been paying attention or even based your understand on nothing more than Zero Dark Thirty (early interrogation scenes, not accurate) you came to realize that the intelligence procured during those bad old days of water boarding actually DID lead to the capture of bin Laden and many, many others. Al Qaeda intelligence gathering started cooking in earnest in 2002 and resulted in the Obama administration’s success in 2012; ten years later!

Ramzi bin al-Shibh recommended to his interrogator that “all the brothers should be water boarded”. His context was a religious Fatwa that allowed detainees to talk after they had held out a reasonable amount of time in the face of enhanced interrogation. No lesser a light than Ayman al Zawahiri was the beneficiary of this interpretation when, after being tortured, he gave up a key associate during his time with Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Enhanced interrogation was far from the only technique being used. Khalid Sheik Mohammed was recorded at Gitmo telling other detainees not to talk about the couriers. This was the first bit of a lead that pointed to a possible path to bin Laden as the electronic noise had disappeared.

Michael Hayden former NSA and CIA Director describes the challenge of connecting the intelligence dots; “It’s like a puzzle with 10,000 pieces, no picture on the box and no pieces with flat edges.” Extending Mr. Hayden’s example; absent human intelligence gathering and interrogation of detainees throw in another 1,000 pieces that come from a totally different puzzle. The refusal to pursue capture will not impact Mr. Obama’s administration, but it will impact the next two Presidential terms. It makes killing the bad guys the only option for the foreseeable future. All sides of the issue agree on one thing; you can’t kill them all!

The highly respected John Rizzo, General Counsel to the CIA during the bad old days and the man who wrote or supervised the legal justifications for enhanced interrogation said during an AEI panel discussion; “I cannot understand logically or by way of common sense, people who deny that information procured by enhanced interrogation had no value.” That sentiment was shared by the other two men on the panel, also in the middle of the Issue; CIA Director Hayden and the Head of the National Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez.

Had the Bush administration adopted the same policy approach as the current administration bin Laden would still be out there with his couriers. It was President Bush’s policies and courage that allows the Obama administration to apply the policy currently in place. That policy is politically expedient in the moment, and creates the opportunity to continually ‘blame Bush’. The Obama policy is gutless. Intelligence gathering takes place over years and dozens of disciplines. To eliminate the ability to interrogate the bad guys, given the facts in hand is an abrogation of the President’s oath and a denial of facts and common sense.