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CIA Demands Heavy Cuts in Former FBI Agent’s Memoir

August 26, 2011

The CIA is pushing for heavy redactions in the memoir of a former FBI agent, Ali Soufan, who was at the center of many of the war on terror’s biggest controversies. According to The New York Times, some of the cuts, which the agency has demanded on national security grounds, describe episodes already in the public record:

Among them, according to the people who have seen the correspondence, is a phrase from Mr. Soufan’s 2009 testimony at a Senate hearing, freely available both as video and transcript on the Web. Also chopped are references to the word “station” to describe the C.I.A.’s overseas offices, common parlance for decades.

The agency removed the pronouns “I” and “me” from a chapter in which Mr. Soufan describes his widely reported role in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an important terrorist facilitator and training camp boss. And agency officials took out references to the fact that a passport photo of one of the 9/11 hijackers who later lived in San Diego, Khalid al-Midhar, had been sent to the CIA in January 2000 — an episode described both in the 9/11 commission report and Mr. Tenet’s book.

As one of only eight Arabic-speaking FBI agents, Soufan was involved in the interrogations of several Al Qaeda leaders, as well as Zubaydah. According to the Times, Soufan gives “a detailed firsthand account of the CIA’s move toward brutal treatment in its interrogations, saying the harsh methods used on [Zubaydah] were unnecessary and counterproductive” — the same words he used in a 2009 op-ed in which he said that “enhanced interrogation techniques” failed to stop “even a single imminent threat of terrorism.”

Known as one of the FBI’s top experts on Al Qaeda, Soufan also was deeply involved in the investigations of the 1998 East African embassy bombings and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. He was a protege of former FBI Agent John O’Neill, the maverick FBI agent who was the subject of our 2002 film The Man Who Knew. O’Neill warned for years of Al Qaeda’s threat before leaving the FBI in the summer of 2001 to become head of security at the World Trade Center, where he died on 9/11.

Soufan’s book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, is scheduled to come out on Sept. 12.

FRONTLINE will have a rare televised interview with Soufan airing on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

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