The agents had a role in debriefing Jamal Ahmed Al Fadl, a Sudanese citizen who is "arguably the United States' most valuable informant on Al Qaeda," according to author Jane Mayer writing in the September 11th issue of The New Yorker magazine.
"[Michael] Anticev, [Jack] Cloonan, and [Dan] Coleman - three men who have spent countless hours debriefing Al Qaeda operatives - all take issue with the kinds of rough interrogations that have characterized the [George W.] Bush administration's approach since September 11th," Mayer writes.
"Just building a relationship with a person, and knowing your subject matter, is what works," says Anticev, an FBI special agent on the New York-based Joint Terrorism Task Force. Anticev said he spoke in great detail to Fadl, who walked into the US Embassy in Eritrea in 1996 and identified himself as Al Qaeda, "and everything that he told us panned out."
Coleman, a senior consultant at Harbinger Technologies Group who was the FBI's top specialist on Al Qaeda until his retirement in 2004, said brutality may yield a timely scrap of information but in the long-term fight against terrorism that approach is "completely insufficient," adding, "You need to talk to people for weeks. Years."
Now in his 40s, Fadl joined Al Qaeda in 1989 to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then moved back to Sudan, where he helped Bin Laden set up front companies. Three years later, in Khartoum, Fadl had access to Bin Laden's payroll and knew of his global banking networks, secret membership lists and paramilitary training camps, according to author Mayer.
Fadl admitted he broke with Al Qaeda after he skimmed a large sum of money from Bin Laden's business ventures, said to be in excess of $100,000, and he knew that Bin Laden would not forgive him, Coleman, the former Al Qaeda specialist, told Mayer. Fadl told the FBI agents he complained "bitterly" to Bin Laden when jihadis from Egypt were paid better and given more responsibility than those from other countries.
Eight months before the September 11, 2001 attacks Fadl was a state's witness who gave critical testimony that led to the conviction of four Al Qaeda associates on trial for their roles in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. He also played a role in identifying several prisoners captured in Afghanistan and transferred to Guantanamo prison, Cuba.
Fadl has lived in half a dozen American towns in a secret government protection program with his wife and family, who were brought to the United States to be with him, The New Yorker said. Fadl reportedly has received "nearly a million dollars from the US government, in the form of housing, food, medical care, and other subsidies," the magazine said, and must live with FBI agents in his "safe houses."
Cloonan, a former FBI special agent who now heads a crisis-management firm, says reports of torture of captives in US custody discourages other Al Qaeda operatives from changing sides. "You think all of this stuff about torture is going to make people want to come to us?" Cloonan asked. "That's why I get upset when I hear people talking about stress positions, loud music, and dogs."
Reporter Mayer noted the Bush administration has characterized criminal law-enforcement approaches to fighting terrorism as inadequate and obsolete and assigned prime responsibility for fighting Al Qaeda to the military.
However, "Fadl's role in convicting terrorists and bolstering indictments suggests, to some experts, that the government needs to devote more resources to law-enforcement efforts that yield solid eyewitness testimony," Mayer wrote.