The first and only time I met Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., he was still undercover and in charge of the Central Intelligence Agency’s all-powerful operations directorate. The agency had summoned me to its Langley headquarters and his mission was to talk me out of running an article I had just finished reporting about CIA secret prisons — the “black sites” abroad where the agency put al-Qaeda terrorists so they could be interrogated in isolation, beyond the reach and protections of U.S. law.
The scene I walked into in November 2005 struck me as incongruous. The man sitting in the middle of the navy blue colonial-style sofa looked like a big-city police detective stuffed uncomfortably into a tailored suit. His face was pockmarked, his dark mustache too big to be stylish. He was not one of the polished career bureaucrats who populate the halls of power in Washington.
(AP/CIA) - This undated photo provided by the CIA shows Jose Rodriguez.
In fact, he fit perfectly the description given by my sources: hardworking but not smooth, loyal to the institution and now, probably, beyond his depth. He was as surprised as anyone that he had risen so quickly to the senior ranks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the account of his decades-long spy career in “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives.” The book is due out Monday, after an exclusive interview Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The Washington Post obtained a copy this week.
Shortly after the 2001 attacks, the CIA set up the secret prisons in Afghanistan, Thailand and several Eastern European countries for the explicit purpose of keeping detainees picked up on the battlefield or in other countries away from the U.S. justice system, which would grant them some protections against, among other things, torture or otherwise harsh treatment. In an effort to force these detainees to give their handlers information about terrorist plots, CIA interrogators subjected some of them to sleep and food deprivation, incessant loud noise and waterboarding.
By the time we met, those techniques were no longer in use. Rodriguez had not dealt with American reporters, he writes, but then-CIA Director Porter J. Goss had asked him to meet with me “to see if I could convince her that such a story would harm U.S. national security, put some of our allies around the world in a very difficult position, and potentially disrupt a program that was providing intelligence that was producing real results and helping to keep the country safe.”
What Rodriguez remembers from our conversation, according to his book, is that I brought him a copy of a book I had written about the U.S. military in an effort to butter him up. “That failed to soften my stance on the lack of wisdom of her proceeding with her article as planned,” he wrote, and “I could see I was not winning her over.” I remember bringing the book because I figured he didn’t know one reporter from the next, and I wanted him to know that I did in-depth work and didn’t want to just hear the talking points.
A blunt explanation
It became clear immediately that Rodriguez never even got the talking points, which was refreshing and surprising. Right away he began divulging awkward truths that other senior officers had tried to obfuscate in our conversations about the secret prisons: “In many cases they are violating their own laws by helping us,” he offered, according to notes I took at the time.