Page 1 of 2 INTERVIEW A matter of intelligence Dr Richard Saccone served for a year with the United States Army as a senior
counter-intelligence officer in Iraq. Saccone has returned to St Vincent
College, Pennsylvania, as a political science professor. He recounts his
eyeball-to-eyeball encounters with his enemy and defends coercive
interrogations in this interview with Victor Fic.
Victor Fic: What challenge does a counter-intelligence or CI
officer face in general?
Richard Saccone: A CI agent works to counter espionage and other
penetrations of our national security. In the US, this is the FBI's [Federal
Bureau of Investigation] responsibility. In a war zone, one can face life or
death situations. A good example is the suicide bomber who walked into our
dining hall in Mosul in 2004 and blew himself up, killing and wounding scores
of soldiers. If we could have detected and caught that man, we could have
prevented that crime and averted a tragedy.
VF: Let's return to that. What skills are called for and what is
RS: Interview skills are necessary and many law-enforcement
training courses improve these. Specific interrogation training courses are
usually provided by the military or other agencies. Knowledge of human nature,
psychology, local culture and language are also very helpful.
VF: Where did you serve or visit as part of your duties?
RS: I participated in the CI/counter-terror effort for the 1984
[Summer] Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 [Summer] Olympics in Seoul. I
operated in South Korea for 13 years, where North Korean commandos and
espionage agents were always a threat. Also, I served in Baghdad, Abu Ghraib
Prison and Mosul, all in Iraq for one year from December 2004 to 2005.
To date, I have now been to 67 countries on every continent except Antarctica -
which I do plan to visit. These include Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary,
Austria and the Czech Republic, Turkey, Israel, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt,
South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and
North Korea to name a few.
VF: What was your chief objective in Iraq?
RS: Overall, I was in charge of a CI unit where our job was to
screen the thousands of foreign national employees working on base and develop
information to identify possible penetrations of our bases or military units.
My career as a CI officer prepared me. I recall my experiences in my book Unseen
War in Iraq: Insurgents in the Shadows. 
Let me stress that in my book and here, I omit or disguise some classified
details, names and techniques because I feel personally and professionally
obligated to protect my allies and colleagues still facing danger.
Dr Saccone receiving a suspected insurgent from security forces, 2005, Mosul,
VF: As for the Mosul bomber, how did he get through?
RS: He was dressed as an Iraqi soldier and we shared the dining
hall at forward operating base Marez with Iraqi forces to show solidarity. The
bomber was a 24-year-old who had worked at the base for two months. He killed
14 US soldiers, four Iraqi troops, four American civilians and wounded over 60
people. It was the single-worst suicide strike against us.
VF: What was your defensive policy?
RS: I went to Mosul afterward to establish a strong CI unit to
ensure the security of over 10,000 people at Marez alone. Then add in the
surrounding forward operating bases or FOBS who needed our support. We
instituted a full CI program on that base screening every foreign person and
breaking out investigations on anything suspicious.
VF: Did it work?
RS: Yes, the US Army found that we went from last place in Iraq
for security just after the bombing to first place just before I left. We
completely turned the base around - no deaths when I was there. Of course, I
was not the only one responsible. Our entire unit was outstanding in weeding
VF: Recall the mortar attacks that you suffered.
RS: At Abu Ghraib prison, we were mortared almost every day by
forces loyal to al-Qaeda. That complex is over 260 acres [105 hectares] large
with dozens of buildings. The insurgents aimed to hit us and not the prisoners.
We noticed each time, their aim improved, as if they had a forward controller
inside our compound. In fact, prisoners inside were feeding information on
where their shells landed and which way to move to hit the correct targets. How
did they get the information out from the prison? That was for us to find out
as I explain in my book.
VF: Was the danger constant?
RS: Everyone in a war zone is in danger. Working in a prison can
be hazardous. There are attempted riots or assaults against the captors. For
example, prisoners made homemade weapons or smuggled them in to use against
other prisoners or against the guards or us.
VF: Americans were not the only targets, you found. What is the
kidnapping of Fatih incident?
RS: The name is pronounced fa tee. He was a Turkish worker
who operated a small business on the base. The insurgents wanted to kidnap him.
He was taken under the guise of a taxi ride. We searched for Fatih - futile.
Only after he was ransomed did we learn that he was alive.
His family paid US$15,000. Fatih was released and initially returned to Turkey.
Then he came back to Iraq where we debriefed him. Fatih described the screams
and anguish he heard in adjacent rooms to where he was held and scheduled to be
beheaded, and Fatih was a Muslim. He gave us valuable intel about his captors
and what happened to the others - many were murdered.
VF: Who was the so called Rasputin of Interpreters? How did you
RS: He was an educated Iraqi who found work with US forces as an
interpreter. At one point he was denied access to various bases because of
irregularities in his background and stories. Due to the inefficiency in our
system, he moved to other bases and gained employment unknown to the military
But he eventually returned to the most important base of two bases in Mosul and
was caught. He tripped himself up in subsequent interviews. So he was banned
from service for the Americans but the company that hired interpreters sent him
to the British. They gladly hired him not knowing his background. Yes, another
bureaucratic loophole! In my time there, I documented several of these and
recommended corrections to the Inspector General.
Dr Saccone at the entrance of his security compound, Mosul, 2005.
VF: But some opponents escaped you, correct?
RS: He identified a spy among us who through bureaucratic
incompetency was actually released. We never could dam up the bureaucracy, to
our great frustration. The story is long and complicated, but the book spells
out how bureaucracy can inhibit fast or decisive action or clear and timely
communication. CI requires sober analysis, but often also the reflexes of a
VF: You were important enough to be at Abu Ghraib as a CI ...
RS: I was working in the CI human intelligence detachment
protecting the facility against penetration by insurgents who attempted to
overrun the facility or contact their comrade captives. Many terrorists held
there communicated with their outside network through family members or "mules"
who carried messages in and out.
Also, local guards could be bribed or insurgents could arrange for their people
to be hired as guards or prison workers. We detected and neutralized that. It
meant being on constant alert, understanding the various techniques used
against us and being very thorough in checking and filtering of people.
VF: What abuses did your adversaries perpetrate?
RS: The al-Qaeda insurgency and its supporters perpetrated the
worst crimes possible. They sawed people's heads off through the skin, muscle
and bone which is far more gruesome than chopping them off. [Iraqi president]
Saddam [Hussein] himself was a master torturer, clipping peoples tongues and
ears, lowering them into boiling oil and shredders, or even throwing them off
Our side would never do such things. Many of these tortures occurred at Abu
Ghraib before we took over, but no one protested back then. If anyone from the
US would have perpetrated these atrocities and were caught they would be
prosecuted. I served at Abu Ghraib after the scandal, but I remind your readers
that those responsible for wrong doing were prosecuted.
VF: But your side is accused of torture such as water-boarding,
RS: Basically, torture is an act intentionally intended to
inflict severe and long-lasting physical and mental pain, including amputation,
scarring, burning, maiming, mutilation. Coercion means a much lower threshold
of pain or discomfort such as stress positions, pushing, temperature change,
meal manipulation, loud music, exploiting phobias, trickery, yelling, etc.
If done skillfully and in the right circumstances, water-boarding or WB is very
effective and causes no long-lasting damage. It is used to train our special
forces so I don't consider it torture. The untrained should not try it.
Appendectomies are simple procedures for a doctor but I do not want my neighbor
performing one on me. In fact, the 911 Commission documented we have only used
WB three times in Iraq and those are spelled out in the book for those who want
VF: Can you cite examples of it working?
RS: One famous case in general is Khalid Sheik Mohammed at Gitmo,
the mastermind for 9/11. Of course, I was not involved there but the method
worked because he revealed vital information about methods and the names of
other terrorists. It facilitated additional culprits being apprehended and is
reported to even have helped in eventually locating Osama bin Laden.
VF: So its part of your craft to know what to do to whom?
RS: Yes, to be effective, an interrogator must apply the proper
interrogation technique applicable for the person being questioned. For a
summary, see my newspaper commentary in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette meant to
educate the public and combat the media hype.