To mark the upcoming 13th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I’ve chosen to share an excerpt from my second nonfiction book, The Clapper Memo. Appearing below and slightly modified for stand-alone publication, it reveals never-before-published details about what took place at Guantanamo Bay during the early years of the so-called “Global War On Terror” that followed:
Within hours of the attacks that left thousands of Americans dead and injured and exposed vulnerabilities in our nation’s defenses, President George W. Bush tried to calm fears and assure Americans – including many who wanted to exact some form of retaliation against those they believed were responsible for the attacks — that everything was under control September 11, 2001.
“America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,” he told Americans during a nationally televised speech the night of the attacks. “And no one will keep that light from shining.”
He used a more-ominous tone to end his remarks.
“The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts,” he said. “I’ve directed the full resources for our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
Two days later, President Bush spoke again — this time before a joint session of Congress.
Among other things, he thanked lawmakers for “delivering $40 billion to rebuild our communities and meet the needs of our military.”
It went without saying that our nation was about to enter a new era of warfare unlike any Americans had seen before. For nearly nine years, it would be referred to as the “Global War On Terror.”
On October 7, 2001, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the United States and Great Britain began using air, land, and sea assets to launch bombs and cruise missiles against Taliban positions across Afghanistan. The first official GWOT campaign, Operation Enduring Freedom, had begun, and Americans were now fighting in unfamiliar territory — in places with names like Bagram, Jalalabad, and Kandahar.
Three months into the war and thousands of miles from the rugged, mountainous terrain where Soviet forces had fought unsuccessfully against Afghan resistance forces (a.k.a., “Mujahideen”) a quarter-century earlier, the first 20 of more than 700 detainees (a.k.a., “enemy combatants” or “prisoners of war”) arrived at the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo (a.k.a., “GITMO”).
At the little-talked-about facility where the United States has maintained a military presence since 1903, the detainees would be subjected to a variety of interrogation methods employed by U.S. military and intelligence officials seeking information that might help the U.S.-led war effort succeed.
News reports about those interrogation methods — both real and imagined — would make the name of the U.S. outpost on the southeast tip of Cuba familiar to people worldwide.
One man with more than a passing interest in what detainees might reveal to interrogators was Army Major General Geoffrey D. Miller. Ten months after the first detainee arrived at GITMO, he assumed command of Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO).
As head of the joint (a.k.a., “purple suit”) organization comprised of people from a variety of military agencies, he was responsible for everything having to do with the detainees, including the arduous task of interrogating each of them.
Despite the seemingly urgent mission of learning as much as possible from the detainees, General Miller found it difficult during his first year on island to obtain polygraph support for his mission, according to “Charlie.”
Not his real name, which I’m withholding for security reasons, Charlie served as operations officer (i.e., second in charge) of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Interrogation Control Element (ICE) at GITMO from early 2003 to mid-2004, longer than any officer preceding him in that post.
Well after his departure from Cuba, Charlie explained in a “To Whom It May Concern” letter, dated October 5, 2005, that polygraphers had repeatedly cited “numerous worldwide commitments” in their negative responses to General Miller’s requests for assistance. In addition, he wrote, “We were not a priority.” NOTE: I was able to obtain a copy of Charlie’s letter on the condition I not reveal his real name or the name of the person who provided me the copy. Though the author listed several individuals by name in his letter, I opted to remove most of those names due to concerns about their personal safety. Only the general’s name remains due to the fact that his position as commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo received much publicity.
Charlie went on to explain how polygraphers began to show interest — but only after his proposal to move forward with Computer Voice Stress Analyzer® Proof of Principle (PoP) testing at GITMO received approval from the ICE chief, a colonel.
In addition, he wrote about some of the problems GITMO interrogators had experienced with the polygraph. His words revealed he did not appear to be constrained by the boundaries of official Army thinking as he shared details about his 16-month stay on island, which included being there “when the polygraph was first employed on a more permanent basis.”
“We had to close a couple of our interrogation booths so that they could be dedicated to polygraphers and their equipment,” Charlie wrote before adding a bit about what he knew about both polygraph and CVSA® from previous observation and training.
“The primary goal of any polygraph or CVSA examination is to facilitate voluntary admissions and confessions from the subject,” he explained before noting, “Voluntary admissions and confessions are most likely to be truthful.”
Charlie continued his letter by explaining that a conversation takes place during the pre-test phase to convince the subject “if he is deceptive in his answers, he will be found out” and “he must clear his mind of anything that may be bothering him that would cause a response to appear deceptive during the examination” in order to successfully “pass” the examination.
In other words, Charlie explained, “He must ‘come clean’ with the examiner.”
“During the pretest phase, the examiner can also gather information and ‘tailor’ questions designed to gather additional information from the subject at the conclusion of the examination,” Charlie wrote.
Deeper into his letter, Charlie highlighted several distinct advantages CVSA® has over the polygraph.
He explained that CVSA® technology is more portable, less intrusive (microphone as opposed to galvanic, heart, blood pressure, and breathing monitors) and requires less training on the part of the examiners.
Further, he wrote, the CVSA® test is easier to explain to the subject before it is administered, test results are easier to explain to the subject, and charts for both control questions and relevant questions can be shown and explained. That, in turn, makes post-test questioning much easier.
Charlie pointed out that there are no “inconclusive” test results with CVSA® and that examiners can identify the questions to which the subject’s answers appeared to show deception — an aspect that helps to focus additional questions and subsequent interrogations.
Conversely, Charlie noted that polygraphers would not identify the questions about which interrogation subjects appeared to be deceptive. Instead, they would only say the test showed “no deception indicated,” “deception indicated” or “inconclusive.”
Charlie used some pointed language to close his letter:
“My opinion based upon my observation is that CVSA is superior to the polygraph when used as a tool in the interrogation process. Consequently, I conclude that those who wish to remove CVSA from the ‘interrogator’s tool box’ are more interested in protecting their turf than they are in gathering intelligence that protects the American people.”
Beyond Charlie’s letter, the content of an After Action Review (AAR) written by another senior interrogation official at GITMO — a man I’ll call “Hank” — paints a clear picture of the CVSA® PoP testing results. As was the case with Charlie’s letter, I was able to obtain a copy of the AAR written by Hank from a confidential source promised anonymity.
Corroborating timelines and other details from Charlie’s letter, Hank explained that CVSA® PoP testing began August 18, 2003, with seven GITMO interrogators being trained for six days in how to conduct exams using CVSA®. Equipment and training were provided by NITV.
Eight days after the training began, GITMO interrogators began using CVSA® as a tool to assist in targeting future interrogation efforts, he continued. Their efforts at the facility — then home to more than 600 detainees from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as several other Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian countries — continued for 30 days, through September 26, 2003.
Hank explained that it became obvious during the test period that CVSA® “would become an invaluable tool for focusing the efforts of intelligence collection.”
By virtue of using CVSA®, he continued, “interrogations could be focused on areas where deception is indicated, versus wasting time and energy on avenues of exploitation that would have little to no value. The outcome of the 30 day test period has shown outstanding results, and has generated a high degree of interest and satisfaction among the intelligence community.”
In the remainder of the document, Hank explained that the seven trained interrogators conducted 45 separate examinations on 33 different examinees. The examinations were conducted in English, Arabic, Pashtu, and Spanish on examinees — all male — who ranged in age from 17 to 65. Language was not a barrier.
Interestingly, Hank noted that, while the majority of the exams were conducted overtly, nine were conducted covertly (i.e., recorded for later analysis or having the computer located in an area not visible to examinee).
Six examinations were scored as “No Deception Indicated”; 38 as “Deception Indicated”; and one as “unable to be scored due to recording difficulties experienced with the recording media” — a non-CVSA® technical glitch, Hank explained. When it became obvious that CVSA® PoP testing had yielded stellar results, GITMO officials stopped the testing halfway into the planned 60-day test period. They had seen enough.
Early the next year, National Institute for Truth Verification officials were contacted by DIA’s chief interrogator on island — a man I’ll call “Ronald” — who proposed the company enter into a two-year contract to provide the agency a subject-matter expert for the purpose of training additional interrogators at GITMO and providing other expertise as needed. A contract was signed and, by mid-2004, the company had one of its senior instructors working on the island.
During the next 12 months, according to NITV officials, CVSA® was used at GITMO more than 90 times and achieved a success rate — defined as developing new, previously- unknown intelligence which was independently confirmed or confirmed existing information that otherwise could not be verified — of 92 percent despite the fact most exams were conducted using interpreters.
That level of success stood in stark contrast to the “inconclusive” findings that had resulted from 20 percent of the polygraph exams administered previously at GITMO.
Despite the apparent effectiveness of CVSA vs. polygraph, CVSA was effectively “killed” at GITMO while only halfway through with the two-year contract with the DIA. Likewise, the DIA’s man in charge of the ICE at GITMO was reassigned elsewhere, and the polygraph became the only tool interrogators were allowed to use at the detention facility.