Silver Medal Winner from the Military Writers Association of America’s
…A lightbulb hung from a cord in the center of the room…
A disheveled looking man wearing a yellow jumpsuit is pointed to a chair by the guards…
…The interrogator looks at the man…and the interrogation begins.
Have you ever wondered what really goes on in those interrogation rooms overseas?
Prepare yourself to travel down a dark path into a world few know of…and even fewer have ever talked about?
In 2006, when the Iraq war was all but lost, a new strategy was implemented—not only would America place combat troops in nearly every village and city across Iraq, the US would systematically hunt down every terrorist and insurgent group operating in the country. However, that strategy relied upon the success of a small interrogation unit within Task Force 134 to find, locate, and eliminate these threats to peace and stability within Iraq.
Interview with a Terrorist follows James Rosone’s true life story as he joined the interrogation team to try and make a difference in the conflict in Iraq. Learn what it was like to interrogate Al Qaeda prisoners and how he met the challenge of obtaining intelligence without the use of torture.
Experience what it’s like to sit across the table from some of the world’s most evil terrorists—men who just hours ago killed dozens of civilians or American soldiers. Experience the thrill of a capture mission that goes well and the sinking depression and anger of a mission that goes horribly wrong.
If you like insights into hidden worlds, conspiracies unraveled, and raw portrayals of American soldiers’ experiences, you’ll love Rosone’s frank and uncensored autobiography.
James Rosone has spent over 2,000 hours interrogating Al Qaeda terrorists, cracking their secrets to prevent attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces. He helped uncover terrorist cells operating in Europe, East Africa, and in the U.S. Homeland. All the while, he endured challenges few civilians could image.
Would you be willing to make the same sacrifice for your country?
Grab your copy and find out what goes on in one of the dirtiest jobs of any war.
Release date: November 5, 2016
Publisher: Front Line Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 266
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Interview with a Terrorist
The Monster that was 007
We were now about four months into our deployment—four months of twelve to sixteen hour days, every day, with no days off. It was at this point that the Special Forces Task Force came back to ask for ten more guys to add to their team. All of the guys who had previously volunteered were now burnt out, tired, disillusioned and maybe a little jaded—including myself. None of us wanted to go work even more hours at that point, for any reason. When no one put their hand up to volunteer this time around, Command was not very happy.
The task force decided they would take all of the previous volunteers and interview them to find the men to fill their holes. Some of the guys purposely answered questions wrong, just so that they wouldn’t be assigned to the Special Forces unit.
I overheard them ask one of the master sergeants, “What would you do to get a prisoner talking?”
You could tell he kind of leaned in before responding, “Whatever it takes.”
Another guy was asked, “Would you abuse a prisoner?” To which he replied, “Only if they had it coming.”
It was like watching a bunch of people trying to say something inappropriate in order to get out of jury duty.
When they got to me, they asked me a more direct question, so I was able to give a more direct answer. They asked, “Do you want to join the Special Forces Task Force?”
“No,” was my honest answer.
“Why not?” they queried.
“I’m already tired out of my mind working twelve-to-sixteen-hour days, and you want me to work eighteen hours a day? I’m stressed and I’m worn out. Plus, you can’t guarantee me that I’ll be able to take my midtour and go home to see my wife in a couple of months. Why in the world would I possibly want to work with you?”
They gave me some long, drawn-out explanation about being a part of a larger mission, serving a greater cause…I tuned it out, honestly. It made no difference.
“Look, no offense, but none of that matters to me now. Unless you can guarantee me a midtour and a schedule that’s at the very least no more strenuous than my current one, I’m not interested. I already feel that I’m making a difference and a contribution here—I feel no need to further drain myself.”
They did not fill their slots.
Within a week of concluding Majid’s case, I was handed another high-value detainee. I inherited this particular person because he had admitted to being an Ansar al Sunnah leader in the Diyala province—although later we would find out who he was truly working for. Since I was presently the Ansar al Sunnah expert, the case became mine, whether I wanted it or not. I later regretted it being handed to me…this assignment nearly cost me my job as an interrogator and caused me an immense amount of anguish and frustration. However, what he told me thrust me onto the national stage as an interrogator.
The last three digits in the detainee’s ID number were, of all things, 007. So I referred to him as 007 from then on. I wasn’t sure what to think of this guy the first time I met him. He was a man in his early forties with a medium build, short graying hair, and light brown eyes that appeared very disarming when he smiled. He was well educated, had several degrees, and came from an affluent family. 007 nonchalantly told me, “I was a captain in the former regime, and a member of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.”
I was intrigued by his past in the Iraqi equivalent of the CIA, but there was just something about this man that bothered me. Although I had just met him, he seemed devious, conniving, and evil. Yet there was a mystery about him that caused me to want to learn more. I was fascinated by him, but he was also perhaps the most deranged and sick-minded person I had ever had the displeasure of meeting. This man admitted to killing numerous Americans, shooting down a Blackhawk helicopter, and orchestrating suicide bombings all across the Diyala province. He told me a story about how he had kidnapped a Jaysh al Mahdi leader’s son and held him for ransom. Once he had received the ransom, he killed the man’s son and had the boy cut up into pieces and sent them back to his father in the trunk of a car. He was a true terrorist in every sense of the word.
During my initial assessment of 007, I just sat back and let him talk. He loved to converse at length about numerous different topics. I immediately remembered what my instructor told me about a prisoner who is ready and willing to talk. I let the man chatter for about half an hour before I told him my initial assessment of him. Then I bluntly jumped in, “—I think you’re a liar. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t believe a word you’re telling me.”
It was priceless. At that moment he just sat back and looked surprised, almost hurt. Then he smiled and asked, “Why did you come to that conclusion?”
I told him, “The information you’re telling me about Ansar al Sunnah is false.”
He looked perplexed and asked, “How do you know that I am lying?”
I replied, “I’m friends with a senior leader in the organization, and he’s working as a source for me.” Then I proceeded to tell 007 exactly what was wrong with the information he was telling me.
This tactic was a dangerous one in that I risked seriously offending him. This approach was called the “we know all” approach, which is where you essentially lay all your cards on the table, informing the detainee that you know everything about him or the subject he’s talking about. It’s highly discouraged as it’s nearly impossible to pull off. I was taking a calculated risk that my information was correct. Since I knew that he would have had at least some interrogation resistance training in the Iraqi Intelligence Service, I had to test 007 to see if he truly knew any information of value or if he was just wasting my time. I needed to go out on this limb so I could determine what approaches he might be susceptible to next, and so I could figure out exactly how I was going to exploit him while still getting him to want to cooperate.
Realizing that he had been caught, he smirked and then admitted, “OK, I did feed you some false information…but I was just testing your knowledge to see if I could work with you.”
“I am not amused,” I replied. I quietly let out a big sigh of relief, trying to hide my satisfaction that this risky approach had worked.
He insisted, “I needed to know I was talking with the right person—a person who could make things happen for me.”
So I assured him, “If you provide valuable, verifiable information, there’s a great deal that I can do for you. You can ask about me in the camp. Many detainees trust me and know that I am a man of my word.” It was true—I could even refer him to the CIA to possibly be used as an outside source if they thought his placement and access was good enough and they felt they could flip him.
He nodded in acknowledgement. Due to time constraints, this was the end of our first of many meetings.
During the second interrogation, 007 and I came to an understanding of sorts, and he agreed to answer my questions in exchange for my efforts to help him obtain a reduced sentence or early release. One of the many ruses that I employed as an interrogator was the use of false memorandums or legal documents. I would routinely sit down with our JAG officers and draft these papers for immunity or reduced sentences in exchange for cooperation and complete disclosure of any and all terrorist activities that the detainee had participated in or knew of. This technique was perfectly allowable under our new Army interrogation manual, and it was one that I used with extreme prejudice. It had also helped me develop a reputation in the camp as a man who could make deals happen if you cooperated with me. I began the conversation with my coined phrase, “So why are you here?”
He told me, “I had been the battalion commander of an Ansar al Sunnah group in the Diyala province. Recently my battalion changed sides. Now I am working with the Al Qaeda group operating in the area.”
I was surprised at the change and confronted him about it. He stated very clearly, “Over the last six months, Ansar al Sunnah had a problem with funding. They did not have any money. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is willing to pay good money for well-trained former military members.”
007 proceeded to tell me, “I was a former member of Unit 999 during the mid-1990s. I have many contacts from the organization.” I later learned that the battalion he commanded was almost exclusively former military and, of all things, littered with former Republican Guard members such as Saddam Fedayeen, as well as members of the Iraqi Black Ops Unit 999. This was an eye opener. We had very few opportunities to interrogate former Unit 999 members, let alone a cooperative one. My head was swimming with questions. Unit 999 was an extremely secretive Iraqi unit during the Saddam era—it was equivalent to the US Delta Force or some of our CIA black ops teams that “don’t exist” or you never hear of. They did a lot of foreign operations and mostly black ops work for Saddam, which meant 007 would have had some exceptional placement and access to some very sensitive former regime information.
The following day when I was interrogating 007, he asked me about his charges, which had been delivered to him earlier in the day. Unfortunately, the Iraqi government would often deliver the formal charges to the prisoners in the camp days or weeks after they had arrived. Sometimes this would cause serious problems because cooperative detainees would suddenly become uncooperative once they learned of the charges they were facing. I had to make sure that didn’t happen in this case.
I tried to use the situation to my advantage, assuring him, “I could go to your trial and speak to the prosecutor and judge about the tremendous work you have done for the Coalition Forces, and help convince them to give you a reduced sentence or an early release.” Because we were a part of an elite interrogation unit, my overall assessment of a detainee as an interrogator did carry some weight in the Iraqi Criminal Court. In some cases, an interrogator’s comments could get a detainee a much shorter sentence, even if he had killed a fellow Iraqi.
Deciding to work with me, 007 said, “I want to confess something to you. I am a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda, higher than I have led you to believe. Would it be possible to get my charges dropped if I provide information of ‘high value’?”
“You’d have to know the location of bin Laden for that kind of request,” I told him.
He smiled and said, “I have one better.”
I replied, “We’ll have to see…but if you’re lying to me, all bets are off.”
He told me, “I was at an Al Qaeda training camp in ****** the previous year.”
With the ball in my court, I said, “OK. This is of interest, so let’s discuss it.”
Then he proceeded to provide me with the location of the camp and what he was doing at the camp…but I sensed he was holding something back. More importantly, I saw that he was beginning to get nervous and uncomfortable. His right hand shook a little bit while he was holding his cigarette. This could mean one of two things: either he was nervous about the information he was giving because he was afraid of something, or he was lying.
007 asked me point-blank, “If I tell you something, will you be able to protect my family?”
“Why would your family need protection?” I countered.
He said, “If anyone found out I had told you about what went on at the camp, Al Qaeda would kill my entire family to make an example of me.”
I assured 007, “Everything you say will be strictly confidential, and the only ones who would know what we talked about are the four of us in the room: my analyst, the interpreter, me, and you.”
At this point, he finally agreed to tell us about the information he had heard at the training camp. He nonchalantly stated, “Ahmed al-Zawahiri was at the camp.” Now this name got my complete attention. I knew exactly who this was—the brother of Aymen al-Zawahiri, who was the right-hand man to bin Laden. I immediately knew that if this character was really at the camp, then we might have stumbled onto some valuable information.
I casually responded, “OK, so tell me about the meeting.”
He informed me, “I was at the camp to receive some additional training in sniper operations, bomb building and to attempt to gain further access to Al Qaeda outside of Iraq.”
“Why would the greater Al Qaeda organization even allow you into their group?” I asked.
007 responded, “My AQI group has had previous contact with Al Qaeda in Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. My being at this training camp and meeting was part of a greater plan. I had also already proven myself to them with my service in Iraq. I am also a former Iraqi Intelligence Service and a Unit 999 operative.”
He continued, “There were four men of **** and **** ****** descent who were at the camp discussing a plan they were going to carry out against the US in the not-too-far-off future.”
“Tell me more about the plan,” I probed. “Who is going to be involved, and how many of them are there? Who are the targets? What is the means of carrying out the attack?”
007 explained, “There are eight men and three women who are going to be running the operation on the ground. Three are *xxxx* citizens and the other eight are from ****** and *******.. However, the overall plan of the attack came directly from Aymen al-Zawahiri. The attack is a rather complex assault involving many different factors.”
He adjusted to get more comfortable in his chair and then continued, “The attack will be directed against two major cities. It is going to involve several different delivery methods across several targets, hitting them all simultaneously. It will make use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.”
This was something we had not yet seen on US soil. My first impression after hearing this information was that it had to be a joke. No one could pull off an attack like this in our own country—but this was the very type of thinking that had allowed the September 11 attacks to happen.
One of the most incredible parts about the attack preparation was how the terrorists planned to bring the weapons into the US to be used. 007 explained, “There is a *** ******** in another Arab country that will purchase several high-end vehicles, which will then be used as a means of transporting the weapons.
“The ********* will be taken off, and then explosives will be placed into airtight bags, formed to fit into the *******. Then the vehicles will be shipped into a port in North America where they will be driven to a predetermined location and disassembled. The explosives will then be re-formed to fit their intended purpose.”
I couldn’t help but think, This is a rather clever way of moving explosives into the US by taking advantage of the weaknesses in our border and port security.
007 then asked for a piece of paper and said he had to draw something to prove that what he was about to say next was true—that we would only believe him if he drew us a schematic. He handed the paper back to me and my analyst after twenty minutes of drawing and writing engineering and physics symbols that I recognized from previous physics classes in college. Then he said, “This is the trigger mechanism that will be used in two of the VBIEDs. Do you understand what kind of trigger this is?”
I responded, “I don’t, though I recognize some of the scientific symbols from college and know they’re not good.” I was afraid that he was about to tell me something that I wasn’t going to want to hear.
“This is the trigger design for two radioactive dirty bombs that are going to be used. The first one is going to target XXXX XXXXXX on the East Coast and the other is also going to target XXX XXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXX East Coast. Then suicide bombers will hit multiple random targets: police stations, a shopping mall, a movie theater, a bus and subway. The goal of the suicide bombers is to kill or maim as many people as possible and to cause Americans to fear doing normal daily activities,” he said.
As he responded to all of these questions, I could see his hand shake again, which made me nervous. I wasn’t sure what to make of this tic—normally, I might think the detainee was lying to me, but I also knew the gravity of information he was providing. Frankly, I was nervous just writing the report.
In my head, I was asking myself all kinds of questions like, Is what this guy is telling me plausible? Is it believable? I also wanted to know, What is this man’s real motivation for talking? Further, I was worried that this information would be difficult to validate. HUMINT intelligence can be difficult to confirm sometimes because it involves taking someone, usually a very dislikable someone, at their word. It’s no wonder that the process can be arduous, time-consuming, and frustrating.
My interrogation was scheduled for two hours and I had three other interrogations planned that night—I cancelled those other interrogations and continued on with 007 throughout the night and into the morning. We had been talking for nearly nine hours straight without a break. My analyst and I had taken nearly a dozen pages of notes, and it was clear 007 was exhausted and stressed from this marathon interrogation. We ended the interview with a guarantee that we would be talking again that evening.
The NCO in charge of monitoring the interrogations couldn’t believe what he was hearing in our booth, so he had quickly called others to come online and watch and listen in so that there would be more people to validate what we were all being told. By the time the interrogation ended, we walked out to find individuals from our behavioral psychologist’s office, two JAGs, and several other interrogators listening to the story as it was unfolding.
No one wants to believe the impossible, especially from an admitted terrorist. When the rumors about Al Qaeda flying planes into skyscrapers had surfaced, they had been ignored because the whole story seemed too crazy, too wild, and too unbelievable. But this is the type of enemy we are dealing with: insane, unpredictable, and totally dedicated to their cause.
It was an amazing and unbelievable plan. I was basically interrogating the equivalent of Mohammed Atta eighteen months prior to the September 11 attacks. The problem was the information itself. My senior leadership at the JIDC didn’t believe what 007 was saying, and even worse, they were insisting that we bury this guy and forget about what we had just found.
So to add some validity to what 007 had provided us, I had him take a polygraph that evening, so we could attempt to corroborate his information. He was asked very specific questions by our three-letter agency polygrapher to determine his placement and access to the camp, and then they added some pointed questions about the plans he had told us about. To our great dismay and surprise, he passed the polygraph. This signified that he was more than likely telling us the truth, indicating that we had a real threat on our hands, no matter how bizarre it might have sounded.
After 007 passed his polygraph, we still wanted to further verify his story due to the extreme nature of his information. We wanted to test him, and so during the next interrogation, I asked him, “OK, we need you to provide us with some verifiable proof to show that you are telling the truth.”
007 responded, “I can provide you with the location of a large weapon cache north of Al Khalis, not far from Baqubah.”
“All right, let me get a map and you can show me where,” I replied.
I procured the appropriate map, and then he proceeded to show me the specific spot, tracing the routes leading to the location with his finger and describing the contents of the weapon cache in great detail.
“There are several man-portable air-defense systems, which are the Russian version of a Stinger missile. Those are fantastic for shooting down helicopters and low-flying planes. There are also a lot of explosives being stored there; it’s a way station for the materials needed to make all the IEDs and VBIEDs that are being used in the area.
“The site is a small building, well hidden under the trees and away from the main road. It’s surrounded by several other buildings toward the outskirts of the city, which is an optimal location,” he continued.
“When you approach the site, you need to avoid two of the roads because my old unit has spotters there, along with IEDs and VBIEDs placed at several locations along the way there. This other route here has been neglected and would be clear for you to advance.”
I had him show me the specific positions of the IEDs and circled them on the map as he talked. I quickly wrote up a report that contained all this information, which was then sent to FOB Warhorse with instructions to action it immediately.
Later that day, a battalion of soldiers, several hundred of them in all, rolled out of the FOB in their Stryker vehicles and up-armored Humvees and headed to the location.
Then complete chaos broke out. The battalion commander, or someone in their group, didn’t heed our warnings about approaching the enemy location from the route that 007 described and instead proceeded down one of the roads we had told them to avoid. This would be a disaster of epic proportions.
One of the Humvees was blown up by an IED, instantly killing two of the five soldiers riding inside. Then a firefight broke out and the soldiers quickly came under attack. It took them close to half an hour to secure the scene and kill or capture the men who had been shooting at them. The rest of the battalion pushed on toward the weapons cache, continuing to use the same route that we had warned them about.
The battalion got about five miles down the road when a VBIED exploded, nearly destroying one of the Stryker vehicles. Four more soldiers were killed, and everyone else in the vehicle was wounded. The same scene played out again: a firefight ensued, and then the battalion fought it out with the attackers. After securing this new scene and the evacuating the wounded, the battalion pushed on the rest of the way to the location of the weapons cache.
It took the battalion nearly four hours to get to their destination, when it should have taken them no more than thirty minutes. Upon arriving at the location, what they found was an empty building with no weapons.
Needless to say, the battalion commander was furious. He reported back to our unit that he had lost six soldiers and that nearly twenty more had been injured, all for what he considered to be a wild goose chase that we had sent him on. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the boiling anger he spewed on my command rolled downhill.
My analyst and I asked what route they had taken and confirmed that it was the route we had told them to avoid. We showed them in the report that we had warned them of the danger and requested that they approach via a different route. I don’t know who was responsible for making sure they used the correct route, but we had given them the right intelligence, and they had failed to use it.
Jeremy and I were devastated to know that six US soldiers had died on the mission and more than twenty others had been injured. Even worse, we still had no weapon cache to show for it. It was hard for us to say if 007 had given us the correct information or not about the location of the weapons. Chances were, the stash was quickly moved while the battalion was trying to push through the battles to the destination. The two ambushes had slowed them down significantly and they had lost the element of surprise. What did prove to be correct was the exact locations of where the IEDs and VBIEDs were located. There was little solace in proving that point, but it did validate 007’s truthfulness in our eyes, even if it resulted in the death of several Americans.
Despite the ambush, this case still posed some nearly insurmountable problems. One of the more significant snags I ran into was that during these interrogations, we were also collecting intelligence on US citizens, which was slightly outside of my charter. We were allowed to collect intelligence on US persons, but only if it was within the scope of our mission, and only if we informed the FBI and obtained their blessing. My direct commander had ordered me not to inform the FBI of my discovery until we had validated 007’s identity and information to some extent. However, this presented a very real moral and legal problem. Because I had collected information regarding US persons and, more importantly, a direct threat to the US and its political leaders, it had to be reported to the FBI immediately.
I understand why our leadership at the JIDC wanted us to verify the information as much as possible—we were, after all, sitting on an incredible hot potato. But by sitting on this information, we were going to be breaking the law as well as violating numerous military regulations. Essentially, I was being asked to commit a crime. I had serious problems with this, and obviously I was not at all pleased with my superiors.
Fortunately for me, Red worked in a section that oversaw outside agency interrogations. He had personal contact with several FBI agents on a daily basis and informed one of them that they needed to request to speak to me and ask me directly what I had found. Their excuse for requesting to see me was under the guise that they had received a tip that I had found something or was withholding information from them. This was a ruse we as interrogators sometimes used with our detainees, and in this case, it worked. It allowed me to divulge much-needed information to the FBI without openly breaking a direct order from my superiors to temporarily withhold the information from the FBI.
Once I was asked directly by the FBI about the information, I was able to provide them with what I knew. They demanded that I conduct an immediate interrogation of 007 with them present so they could hear it for themselves and determine how and what to report back to their own headquarters. At this point, my leadership found out that the FBI knew about the information but was powerless in stopping the FBI from conducting the interrogation. Red was asked to insert a bug in the holding cell with 007, which he did. The FBI wasn’t allowed to place bugs, but we could. This was done with the proviso that all information would be shared immediately after the report was filed if any info was discovered.
007 repeated the same information that he had told me to the FBI investigators. They spent six hours with him, asking copious questions and writing wildly. I can distinctly remember when the lead FBI agent said to my detainee, “I think you’re making this up. There’s no way Al Qaeda could carry this type of attack out.”
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