Special Group Quietly Assists in Terrorist Interrogations Under Obama

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The Obama administration has quietly deployed a small group of specialized intelligence officials to assist in the interrogation of terror suspects captured at home and abroad. The so-called High Value Interrogation Group, housed at the FBI and reporting to the National Security Council, has been repeatedly dispatched to assist in the interrogation of captured suspects.

HIG officials helped interrogators debrief Pakistan-born Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and traveled to Uganda to help pry loose information from suspects involved in the simultaneous bombings of World Cup parties in July 2010. It remains unclear if HIG officials were among the team of interrogators waiting with the Carl Vinson Strike Group in the event that Osama bin Laden was captured rather than killed, but law enforcement officials suspect that HIG staff were likely there.

Soon after he was elected, President Obama banned CIA torture and closed the agency’s “black site” prisons. That decision raised questions about the handling of future terror suspects.

To fill that role, the Justice Department announced the formation of the HIG back in August of 2009, but the group has kept a particularly low profile since then. A department press release back then announced the formation of “a specialized interrogation group to bring together officials from law enforcement, the US. Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense to conduct interrogations in a manner that will strengthen national security consistent with the rule of law.”

HIG officials did not want to talk about their work. Law enforcement officials who have worked with the HIG, however, mostly give the group high marks.

One former law enforcement official who has worked repeatedly with the HIG explained that rather than a team of crack interrogators, HIG staff had taken on more of a supportive role, assisting law enforcement or intelligence officials who do most of the actual interrogating. “The HIG did not have a bull pen full of interrogators waiting around for the phone to ring,” explained the former law enforcement official. Instead, the HIG provides subject matter experts that help support interrogators from the FBI or the intelligence community.

“The HIG comes in and supports the interviewers with all these subject analysts,” the official said. “You as the interviewer have the subject matter experts behind you to help feed the questions.” Sometimes trained interrogators with the HIG do directly interview suspects.

Interrogators say the intelligence community has discarded Bush-era torture and gone back to the proven rapport-building techniques interrogators have employed successfully for decades.