Hard Measures: Ex-CIA head defends post-9/11 tactics

Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service, defends the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on high-level al Qaeda detainees and says he has no regrets

Jose Rodriguez has no regrets about the CIA using "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- methods that some consider torture - on suspected al Qaeda members detained and questioned after 9/11. Lesley Stahl interviews the former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service about waterboarding and other methods he says were essential to getting information from suspected terrorists, and he denies claims that these harsh measures caused detainees to provide false or unreliable information that misled the CIA. In fact, Rodriguez says that high-level detainees Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah provided their best information only after harsh treatment, a claim that the CIA's own investigator general has challenged.


The following script is from "Hard Measures" which originally aired on April 29, 2012. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Richard Bonin, producer.

After the attacks of 9/11, the CIA sought and was granted unprecedented authority to capture al Qaeda suspects, whisk them off to secret sites and interrogate them with harsh techniques, including waterboarding.

The man who ran the interrogation program was Jose Rodriguez, a CIA spy in Latin America, who rose to become head of the Clandestine Service, the CIA's dark side.

When the agency's secret program was revealed, it was widely criticized but the blunt-spoken, Puerto Rican-born Rodriguez is fighting back. He's written a book, a defense of the interrogations, called "Hard Measures" -- and tonight you will hear his side of the story.

It's the first time someone this close to the program, this accountable has gone public explaining why techniques that had long been condemned by the U.S. as torture were employed.

Jose Rodriguez: For the first time in our history, we had an enemy come into our homeland and kill 3,000 people. I mean, that was a huge deal. People jumping from the towers to their death. The people running away from the cloud of dust, terrified out of their mind. This was a threat. And we had to throw everything at it.

Which is why Jose Rodriguez says that when he ran the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, he came up with the idea of employing harsh interrogation techniques. And10 years later, he feels he still has to justify their use.

Lesley Stahl: You had no qualms? We used to consider some of them war crimes.

Jose Rodriguez: We made some al Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days. But we did the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the homeland and to protect American lives. So yes, I had no qualms.

Rodriguez spent 31 years in the CIA's Clandestine Service where spies are revered as "fighter jocks". He rose thru the ranks, eventually running covert operations as head of the Latin America division. When al Qaeda struck on 9/11, he'd had no experience in counterterrorism or the Middle East. But he wanted "in" on the war on terror, and went to the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, where the main objective was to stop another attack on the U.S. homeland.

Jose Rodriguez: We were flooded with intelligence about an imminent attack. That al Qaeda had an anthrax program, and that they were planning to use it against us. And that they were seeking nuclear materials to use in some type of nuclear weapon. So we were facing a ticking, time bomb situation and we were very concerned.

Lesley Stahl: So you were getting pressure from Congress and the White House to take the gloves off. Did you go to the dark side?

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