Guide for interrogators tells how FBI agent turned suspect into informant

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2010; 7:33 PM

FBI Special Agent Stephen Gaudin "reached into his pocket and handed out butterscotch candy to everyone in the truck, including the detainee."

It was Aug. 11, 1998, four days after a bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, killed 218 people - including 12 Americans - and wounded thousands. Gaudin was part of an FBI-run team that had flown to Nairobi three days earlier to help authorities investigate.

With two Kenyan military police officers and a New York police detective, he was following up on a tip that a "man who didn't fit in" was staying at a hotel in a Nairobi suburb inhabited primarily by Somalis. The Kenyans had gone into the hotel and returned with the cleanly dressed suspect who had stitches on his forehead, bandages on his hands, $32 in Kenyan money and eight new $100 U.S. bills.

He said he was Yemeni, spoke Arabic - with minimal English and no Swahili - and said all his belongings had been lost in the blast. He had a card from a Nairobi hospital - dated the day of the attack - that had been given to those who were treated for wounds. The Kenyans had taken him into custody for questioning because he had no identification or passport. They put him, without handcuffs, in the back of the truck with Gaudin.

Reading like the plot of a television crime show, the details of the encounter come from a newly disclosed 2009 teaching guide for government interrogators by the director of national intelligence's Intelligence Science Board. The guide provides previously undisclosed daily accountings of how Gaudin and his colleagues turned that suspect, a trained Saudi jihadist named Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, from a resisting witness with an alias and a cover story to a confessed participant in the bombing and, over time, a cooperative informant who eventually provided actionable intelligence.

The board's study, disclosed last week by Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News Web site, teaches that "there also are no guarantees that non-coercive intelligence interviewing will obtain the necessary information. However, the United States has important recent examples of effective, non-coercive intelligence interviewing with high value detainees."

Gaudin's use of the candy "affirmed, even if very briefly, a shared 'human' identity with the detainee" and "may have begun to set the stage for reducing resistances and for creating opportunities to persuade," the study says.

Nonetheless, during the first day of questioning, conducted for an hour in broken English, the suspect gave his cover story: He was a salesman from Yemen visiting a friend. He was near the embassy at the time of the explosion. He was wounded and lost his briefcase in the chaos. He was transferred from a clinic to a hospital, where he was treated and then returned to his hotel. He said he was wearing the same clothes he wore on the day of the blast.

The story did not sound right, so officials sought an Arab interpreter to try to get a clearer picture. That afternoon, when the interpreter turned out to be a woman, they set up a curtain between her and the suspect.

The study noted that Gaudin was respecting a "demonstrated appreciation" for the Muslim beliefs of the suspect and the interpreter.

After the suspect said one sentence, the interpreter told the Americans that he was speaking a classical Arabic, indicating that he was well-educated. During the three-hour interview, the suspect gave more personal details and agreed to have his wounds photographed. A bandage was found on his back.

Gaudin shared meals with the suspect, including a concoction familiar to soldiers. The suspect's reaction led Gaudin, a former Army Ranger, to conclude that he had a military background. The next day, having checked out details and found inconsistencies, Gaudin's partner began questioning with an accusatory tone.

The "good cop/bad cop" approach had not been planned but "appeared authentic," the study found.

When Gaudin took over, he did not confront the suspect about his lies. Rather, he said that the suspect failed as a soldier to successfully follow his counter-interrogation training. During the questioning, Gaudin confronted the suspect about his inconsistencies, finally getting him to admit that his clean clothes were not the ones he wore the day he was injured. They brought in another FBI agent, one who had broad knowledge of al-Qaeda from having interrogated the terrorists responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing. He gave the suspect a sense of status by asking about Osama bin Laden.

The suspect's "eyes narrowed and he stopped talking. A small smile appeared on his face," according to the study. Immediately asked for the first phone number he called after the bombing, the suspect - apparently caught off guard - gave the number of an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen and then remained silent. Over the next two days, the interrogators determined that the suspect "was emotionally affected by the attack and cared enough to defend his position and group's cause," the study said.

Within two more days, they realized that the suspect spoke and read English. An older Lebanese American FBI interpreter was brought in. With information from the Yemen phone number, the FBI team on Aug. 22 made the suspect listen as it demolished his cover story. At that point, Owhali dropped his alias and developed a new fallback position, based, he told Gaudin, on an expectation that he eventually would be released in a prisoner swap: "If you promise I'll be tried in the United States, I'll tell you everything. America is my enemy, not Kenya. I will tell you all about involvement with the bombings, bin Laden and al-Qaeda."

He did. He warned about future attacks, including one on the United States and another on a Navy ship refueling in the port of Aden. On May 29, 2001, Owhali was among four co-defendants convicted of the Kenya bombing. He was in prison on Sept. 11, 2001, just six blocks from the World Trade Center. He is now in the maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colo., sentenced to life without parole.


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