Last week, John Rizzo, the former acting General Counsel for the CIA, spoke at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School about his new book, Company Man. Rizzo spent most of the time addressing the widespread perception that the 9/11 attacks occurred as a result of failures within the CIA and other intelligence agencies within the U.S. government.
Rizzo admitted that the CIA was partially to blame for the attacks, but also pointed to the FBI and public transportation security agencies were also to blame. According to Rizzo, there was a strong sense of remorse within the CIA during his time there for its failure to act on tips and warnings given to the Agency in the lead-up to the attacks.
Rizzo also addressed the so-called “Torture Memos” that were delivered to him in the aftermath of 9/11. The Memos outlined proposed interrogation techniques that the CIA wanted to use on detainees to extract actionable intelligence on both the planners of 9/11 and possible forthcoming attacks. Rizzo claimed that the Memos frightened him and that he was concerned at the outset by the possible illegality of the proposed methods, which included water boarding.
Rizzo also seemed to partially justify the CIA’s eventually implementation of the torture methods outlined in the Memos. Although he conceded that the intelligence gathered through these methods probably could have been obtained through less controversial methods, he did argue that they were largely effective and that, given the circumstances and suspicions of another impending attack, the CIA simply did not believe it had the time to explore those other methods.
However, only a few minutes later, Rizzo explained that later documents and discussions revealed that the interrogation programs proved to be worthless, and that they had taken a serious toll on America’s image in the realm of human rights. Although the documents containing these statements are still classified (meaning he has not read them since he is no longer employed by the CIA), Rizzo called for the government to release them and admit its alleged mistakes.
All in all, Rizzo’s interview did not reveal much that anyone following the intelligence communities does not already know. Some of the discussion was limited as Rizzo is likely restricted from discussing some of the information he gained during his time at the CIA. However, it was refreshing to hear someone on the inside discuss some of the alleged mistakes that the Agency has been accused of making in the days before and after 9/11.
Video of the interview is available here.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research