The CIA, whose interrogation of al Qaeda leaders has produced a flow of useful information, will take the lead in questioning Saddam Hussein, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
U.S. officials said that, as expected, the former Iraqi leader has been uncooperative during early questioning and has not provided truthful information about the Iraqi insurgency or weapons of mass destruction.
Rumsfeld, who described Hussein as "resigned," said he asked CIA Director George J. Tenet to take responsibility for the interrogation because the agency has "the people who have competence in that area; they have professionals in that area." The CIA, he said, "will be the regulator over the interrogations -- who will do it, the questions that'll get posed, the management of the information that flows from those interrogations."
The CIA team of operations officers, polygraphers and psychiatrists has put together a loose interrogation plan -- a playbook of sorts -- approved by headquarters that will help guide them in the months ahead, government sources said. It contains "what buttons to push," one U.S. official said, as well as a detailed, extensive list of questions, backed up with what is known to be true about each subject area. CIA interrogators will be joined by debriefers from the Defense Intelligence Agency and FBI agents who recently arrived in Iraq mainly to aid in bombing and other crime scene investigations.
The interrogation of Hussein offers the United States a tremendous opportunity and challenge. U.S. officials hope to extract information to help them defeat insurgents in Iraq. A document found when Hussein was captured has already proven useful, officials said.
The questioners will also focus on broader concerns. Some defense officials, in particular, believe Hussein has information on international terrorist organizations.
Complicating the interrogation is the prospect of a trial for Hussein. U.S. officials and others said pressure to begin legal proceedings could force interrogators to move more quickly than they think is prudent.
Experts on intelligence interrogations said giving the CIA the lead reflects the wide range of information the United States hopes to get from Hussein, and that it extends beyond information useful to the military in Iraq.
CIA experts, Rumsfeld said, "know the needs we have in terms of counterterrorism, they know the threads that have to come up through the needle head." He said turning the questioning over to the agency was "a three-minute decision, and the first two were for coffee."
John Rothrock, a former combat interrogator for the Air Force who later quizzed Soviet defectors for the CIA, said that the interrogation likely would follow a prescribed course that has been discussed and even practiced for months.
It would likely begin with a set of "control questions" for which -- unbeknownst to Hussein -- U.S. officials already have determined correct answers, he said. This would enable the interrogation team to begin to assess whether any apparent attempts at cooperation are genuine.
At the same time, a government psychiatrist would be brought in to update and refine the CIA's profile of Hussein. This would be based not only on observing his interactions with his captors but also on covert observations and even physiological data, such as sleep patterns, Rothrock said.
Over the course of the interrogation, two or three different questioners would likely employ different strategies, Rothrock said, including "good cop-bad cop" double teaming. Another approach would be to have someone appear to come from an entirely different background, probably acting as if he had higher rank and almost certainly an Arabic speaker, who would address Hussein directly and express disagreement with the U.S. position.
"It is essential to shake his confidence and make him dependent on at least one person," a former senior CIA official said.
It will be essential in the early sessions to establish for Hussein that his interrogators do not see him as the imprisoned president of Iraq, Rothrock added. "You're going to be playing his game if you treat him as a head of state," he said.
Part of the CIA's repertoire for disorienting a prisoner is known as a "false flag" operation that uses fake decor and disguises designed to deceive the captive into thinking he is in another country, or is reading a newspaper in which his top lieutenants are reported to have already betrayed him.
When CIA spy Aldrich H. Ames, who provided secrets to the Soviets for years, was captured, he was whisked to an FBI room filled with photographs of his house, his contacts, his code names, to make him believe authorities already knew the answers to his questions, so that lies would only hurt his chances to avoid the death penalty.
Jerrold M. Post, a former Hussein profiler for the CIA and now a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, said his advice is that "interrogators now should play to his swollen ego, and get him to boast about how he fooled the [United Nations] inspectors," Post said. Or, he said, they might try to get Hussein to talk about "how recently he fooled the whole world into thinking he had weapons while now they are wondering where they are."
The prospect of a trial, Post said, could provide Hussein with "a potential for graymail," or trying to gain leniency or some other edge by threatening to make public secret or embarrassing information.
With the United States having supported Hussein in the 1980s with seed strains for biological weapons and intelligence to help fight Iran, "he has plenty of dirty linen to wash in public, including beyond the U.S. -- the countries that were busy courting him such as France and Russia," Post said.
Staff writers Walter Pincus and Robin Wright contributed to this report.