In a March 2001 file photo, then President George W. Bush and then-CIA director George Tenet pose at the CIA seal in the main entrance of agency headquarters in Langley, Va.

In a March 2001 file photo, then President George W. Bush and then-CIA director George Tenet pose at the CIA seal in the main entrance of agency headquarters in Langley, Va. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

When Interrogations Began: A View From Inside the CIA

I remember what it was like at Langley on 9/11. This is what it felt like. By Joseph R. DeTrani

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I welcomed a few visiting senior U.S. military officers to a conference room at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for a 9 a.m. meeting to discuss security threats to the homeland emanating from state and non-state actors in East Asia. As chief of East Asia, I was responsible for ensuring that the agency was aware of any threats to the Homeland from East Asia and insure  that any and all intelligence dealing with such threats were shared promptly with all relevant U.S. agencies.

Early in the meeting, a colleague entered and said an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. We turned on the television and saw a second airplane smash into the South Tower of the Center. We realized that what we first thought was a tragic accident was a terrorist attack. 

Employees were instructed to secure their systems and vacate the building and premises, with reports that two other airplanes appeared destined for targets in Washington, possibly targeted at CIA Headquarters, the Pentagon, the White House and Congress. We soon discovered that American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93, destined for Washington, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, due to the courageous efforts of the passengers who diverted the flight from Washington.

The impact of these deadly and horrific terrorist attacks on all Americans, and certainly those officers at CIA responsible for working the terrorist target, was devastating. At the agency, we asked: How could this have happened? What did we miss? Over 3,000 people were killed at the World Trade Center and significant casualties at the Pentagon and Shanksville. A few hours after the media reported these events, a close relative living in California got me on my cell phone and asked: “Why couldn’t the CIA prevent such a tragedy – isn’t that your job?” I didn’t have a good answer. To this day, I remember that brief but poignant conversation.

The sense of many of my colleagues was that the agency failed the American people; that this must never happen again. But for many of us, 9/11 was a wake-up call that international terrorism will continue to require our diligence and undivided attention. It brought our memories back to the U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut in 1983, with 63 dead and 120 injured; the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, with 19 U.S. servicemen killed and 500 wounded; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, with six killed and 1000 injured; the USS Cole bombing in 2000, with 17 crew members killed and 39 wounded; and the numerous reports detailing threats to the U.S. and allies from al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden; from Hezbollah; from East Asian terrorist groups like Jemaah Islameyah, Abu Sayyaf and others, dating back to 1991 and earlier.

Reliable reporting prior to and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks indicated that al-Qaeda, at war with the U.S., was interested in acquiring nuclear weapons and nuclear materials to attack the U.S. and interested in acquiring and using biological weapons against the U.S., in line with Osama Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa to kill American civilians. The agency and its officers were and are determined to ensure that this never happens; that the agency would have the intelligence necessary to prevent any attack against the homeland and its allies; that there would never be another 9/11 attack and that WMD would never be acquired by these terrorist groups and thus never used against the U.S. and its allies.

This was the impetus for the establishment of terrorist detention facilities – to take terrorists off the streets and with a coercive interrogation program obtain the intelligence necessary to prevent another terrorist attack against the homeland. Indeed, these detention facilities and interrogation programs were approved by the White House and the Justice Department and routinely briefed to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

The terrorist threat is still with us and these terrorists are still determined to attack the homeland. They continue to seek nuclear and biological weapons so as to cause the U.S. and its allies great harm. This must never happen. Indeed, our nation’s first line of defense is having the best intelligence possible to prevent another attack against the homeland; to prevent these terrorist groups from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.  That’s what the country expects from its leaders and from the CIA and the other intelligence agencies in the Intelligence Community, or IC. The CIA, its officers and their colleagues in the IC deserve the nation’s support and appreciation for the work they do to protect our great country. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.