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Interviews Offer Look at Roles of CIA Contractors During Interrogations

On the agents' first night in Thailand, Abu Zubaida went into septic shock because of his wounds and was rushed to a local hospital. Gaudin and Soufan dabbed his lips with ice, told him to ask God for strength and cleaned him up after he soiled himself, according to official documents and interviews.

At his bedside, Gaudin asked Soufan to show Abu Zubaida a photograph of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, an Egyptian suspect in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. The two agents had photos of terrorism suspects on a handheld computer, and Gaudin accidentally displayed the wrong photo.

Abu Zubaida said: "This is Mukhtar. This is the mastermind of 9/11."

The agents did not know that Mukhtar, a name that had surfaced in some raw intelligence and an Osama bin Laden video, was a nickname for Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Nor did they know that Mohammed was an al-Qaeda member.

Abu Zubaida had given the agents the first positive link to the man who would later be charged as the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks.

'Creating the Atmosphere'

With the FBI's breakthrough, the CIA recognized that the captured man was indeed Abu Zubaida and began assembling a team to send to Thailand. Agency officials had no firm notion of what a post-Sept. 11 interrogation of a terrorism suspect should look like.

"It was not a job we sought out," said one former senior intelligence official involved in early decisions on interrogation. "The generals didn't want to do it. The FBI said no. It fell to the agency because we had the [legal] authorities and could operate overseas."

In Mitchell, the CIA found an authoritative professional who had answers, despite an absence of practical experience in interrogating terrorism suspects or data showing that harsh tactics work.

"Here was a guy with a title and a shingle," recalled the participant in the Langley meeting, "and he was saying things that others in the room already believed to be true."

Mitchell boarded a CIA plane for Bangkok with R. Scott Shumate, a CIA psychologist; two agency officers who worked undercover; and a small team of analysts and support staff, including security personnel to control Abu Zubaida.

Among those on the plane was an agency expert on interrogation and debriefing, an officer who was part of a training program intended to help the agency detect double agents and assess recruits for foreign espionage. The trainers taught strategies for extracting sensitive information but prohibited coercive tactics.

When Mitchell and the CIA team arrived in Thailand, Abu Zubaida was still in the hospital. The two FBI agents, Soufan and Gaudin, met the CIA officers at a nearby hotel for a debriefing.

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