CIA Director Porter J. Goss defended the agency's "debriefings" of terrorist suspects, saying in an interview broadcast today that they yield "good results" but do not involve torture.
In the rare interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" program, Goss expressed some frustration about the Central Intelligence Agency's inability to penetrate terrorist sanctuaries in remote areas or cities abroad, and he said terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi are going to great lengths to avoid detection. But he said the CIA knows more about the men than it is able to say.
Goss did not deny the existence -- reported earlier this month by The Washington Post -- of a secret CIA prison system overseas that has included sites in Eastern Europe. Asked why the United States needed secret prisons, Goss said: "We're fighting a war on terror. We're doing quite well in it. Inevitably, we are going to have to capture some terrorists, and inevitably, they are going to have to have some due process, and inevitably, that is going to happen, and it's going to be done lawfully and under all of the law and order and protections of due process that this country affords."
The comments came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepared for a trip to Europe next week in which concerns about the reported prison system are expected to come up. Yesterday, the European Union's justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, warned that he would call on the organization to suspend the voting rights of any EU member state found to have hosted a secret CIA prison in violation of EU human rights principles.
Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based advocacy group, has reported that Poland and Romania appeared to be among the countries that have allowed the CIA to run covert detention centers on their territory. Officials from both countries have denied the allegations.
Poland is an EU member, while Romania has applied to join and hopes to be accepted in 2007.
Rice plans to visit Romania on her European trip, which also includes stops in Germany, Ukraine and Belgium, where she is scheduled to hold talks at the EU headquarters in Brussels.
In an interview published today in USA Today, Rice indicated she intends to remind Europeans that "we are fighting a war on terror" and that the United States must take certain actions "in order to protect not just ourselves but to protect others."
She added: "We haven't ever fought a war like this before. We've never fought a war before . . . where you can't allow somebody to commit the crime before you detain them, because if they commit the crime, then thousands of innocent people die."
In his interview with ABC, Goss said he was working to create "a leaner headquarters" with "a little less regulation" and "less red tape." The agency is "doing innovative things and putting people overseas in different ways than we've ever done before," he said. "It's a new game."
In response to a question from interviewer Charles Gibson, Goss said: "What I wish I knew more about now was how to penetrate into some of the sanctuary areas. They can be in harsh terrain that is hard to manage, or they can be in the heart of a city, in a ghetto or a slum area, where people don't regularly go and things can be going wrong. Knowing how to find those places and get in and penetrate them I think is going to be the hardest part of this business."
As for why the agency has not been able to find bin Laden or Zarqawi, Goss said: "Well, primarily because they don't want us to find them, and they're going to great lengths to make sure we don't find them. And I assure you we're employing a lot of efforts to find out where they are. And I don't want to get into the depth and the details, but we know a good deal more about bin Laden and Zarqawi and [top al Qaeda deputy Ayman] Zawahiri than we're able to say publicly."
Regarding torture, the CIA director said: "What we do does not come close because torture, in terms of inflicting pain or something like that, physical pain or causing a disability, those kinds of things that probably would be a common definition for most Americans, sort of, you know it when you see it, we don't do that because it doesn't get what you want."
He added: "We do debriefings because . . . the nature of our business is to get information. And we do all that. And we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive."
Goss refused to discuss specific interrogation techniques. "What we do, as I said many times, is professional, is lawful, it yields good results, and it is not torture," he said.