CIA Director Michael V. Hayden revealed last week, in defending agency interrogations of terrorists, that more than 70 percent of the intelligence used in a recent national estimate came from questioning captured terrorists.
“The last six years have shown us that the best sources of information on terrorists and their plans are the terrorists themselves,” Mr. Hayden said in a speech Oct. 30 in Chicago.
Calling the intelligence “simply irreplaceable,” he also noted that the elicited information “is the sole reason we have rendition, detention and interrogation programs.”
Fewer than 100 of the most hardened captured terrorists have been put through interrogation since 2002. “Of those, less than a third have required any special methods of questioning,” Mr. Hayden said.
The CIA director said the National Intelligence Estimate confirmed that the danger of another major al Qaeda attack against the U.S. is real. Al Qaeda aims “to execute a spectacular attack that would cause mass casualties, massive destruction and economic harm,” he said.
Mr. Hayden noted that the estimate was less certain about one key element of al Qaeda plans: the presence of group operatives inside the U.S.
The CIA director’s comments are a tacit admission that the agency continues to have a difficult time planting spies inside or close to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.