The Interrogator

Ali Soufan, one of the FBI's secret weapons in its fight against al Qaeda, talks about the tactics he used against Osama bin Laden's men in an interview with Lara Logan

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On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, "60 Minutes" brings you the story of someone who has never shown his face on television before - and for good reason. Ali Soufan was one of the FBI's secret weapons in its fight against al Qaeda. A Lebanese-American, fluent in Arabic, he interrogated al Qaeda prisoners at secret locations all over the world. Soufan was known for his ability to outwit terrorists and he's telling his story in a new book called "The Black Banners." Parts of the book have been blacked out because the CIA says they contain classified information.

On the day of the September 11 attacks, Ali Soufan was thousands of miles away from Ground Zero, but in a unique position to help find those responsible.

"What was your first thought?" correspondent Lara Logan asked.

"It was al Qaeda," Soufan replied. "I had no doubt in my mind."

On 9/11, FBI agent Ali Soufan was in Yemen, where his New York-based team had been investigating the deadly al Qaeda attack a year earlier on the USS Cole. Soufan and his team were preparing to fly back to New York when FBI headquarters ordered him and his partner to stay put.

Soufan told Logan that he was desperate to return to New York and wanted to investigate the Cole at another time. He wondered whether he and his team had missed some hint of the 9/11 plot as they investigated the earlier attack on the Cole, but Soufan quickly learned that his mission in Yemen now took on a new urgency.

There were already a number of al Qaeda operatives in custody in Yemen and, for the FBI, Soufan was the right man to question them about 9/11. He had been investigating al Qaeda for four years and knew a lot about its operatives and its ideology. He was fluent in Arabic, a Muslim himself and, at 30-years-old, he was starting to make a name for himself as one of the bureau's best interrogators of Islamic extremists.

When asked what makes a good interviewer or interrogator, Soufan replied, "Knowledge and empathy."

"You need to connect with people on a human level - regardless," he added.

"Is it hard to have empathy with someone who's just killed, or helped to kill, thousands of Americans?" Logan asked.

"Oh, absolutely," Soufan said, as he recounted an experience in which a man threatened to slaughter Soufan like a sheep.

"What did you say to him?" Logan asked.

"I kind of, like, politely put him in his place." Soufan said.

"We had a fruit next to us and there's a knife to cut the fruit. I gave him the knife," Soufan continued. "I said, 'Go ahead and do it now.' He looked at me. I said, 'I thought so. So sit down and shut your mouth and let's talk.'"

The tactic was effective because it was unexpected from an American interrogator, Soufan explained. He said al Qaeda detainees don't expect an American to offer them tea or coffee and to sit down, talk and try to develop a rapport.

"That scares them. That shakes them because they were trained that we are so evil and we torture and we kill. And that is the reason of the rage against us," Soufan said. "So they tell you a lot of stuff to piss you off and then they can say, 'See? He is evil.' So in my case, I try to deprive them from that."

"Do you think the fact that you were a Muslim gave you an advantage in some cases and in some ways?" Logan asked.

"No," Soufan said. "But the fact that maybe I understood the culture, the fact that I genuinely, as a person, have an interest in these kind of things, that probably helped me."

Andy Court and Michael Radutzky are the producers