Editor’s Note: Although the practice of reviewing books that are nearly two years old is atypical, the author has legal and ethical obligations to submit articles for publication to the Department of Defense for classification review. This article was submitted for review shortly after the book’s release in November 2017. It was approved for release in September 2019. It required no redactions and appears as originally written.
Mark Fallon’s first book is Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture. In addition to promising an “insider’s story” of how the U.S. government “conspired” to torture, he makes sure you understand the government “does not want you to read this book.” Fallon’s facts are incomplete, his analysis is flawed, and his conclusions are wrong.
Fallon spends a great deal of time establishing his own bona fides, so I will admit to my own credentials in the world of detainee matters. I worked for Mark Fallon as an intelligence analyst on active duty with the U.S. Army, and as a contractor, at the Criminal Investigation Task Force, from February 2003 until he left in May 2004. I remained a part of the CITF until 2010, although I continued to supervise contractors at CITF until 2014.
While at the CITF, I worked on CITF’s “Saudi” squad, and later at the Planners and Financiers Unit, where I studied how Al Qaeda made decisions and raised money through the abuse of Islamic charities. I worked in the CITF Intelligence Division, helping coordinate and facilitate information sharing between CITF, Federal Law Enforcement, and other parts of the DOD.
I was one of the first intelligence analysts loaned to the Office of the Chief Prosecutor, and eventually I ran the CITF intelligence team that worked with the FBI and intelligence community on the 9/11 trial. During that time, I was “read on” to the CIA’s Rendition and Enhanced Interrogation Program. Fallon’s 2.5 years were come and gone before CITF personnel were ever working closely with CIA. I know, because I was specifically chosen to be one of the first, due to my expertise.
A Story We Have Heard Before
I remember Fallon fondly as a leader and investigator, although his role was managerial at CITF. He was fair to the people who worked for him, and he seemed to sincerely care for us and take care of us. He was honest with us, and I remember him smoking a cigar and telling stories about his work in Yemen during the USS Cole investigation outside CITF HQs. To the best of my recollection, he never spoke to a single GTMO detainee, but he worked for NCIS for a long time. After CITF, he took over the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
He has been critical of other people within DOD about Guantanamo in the past, so I expected his book would not paint a pleasant picture of GTMO. As it turns out, Fallon is critical of nearly everyone he ever met while working on detainee issues.
The inconsistency of Fallon’s anecdotes and narrative make it difficult to understand what really went wrong, if anything, at GTMO. What is clear is that Fallon isn’t happy about it, and he’s bravely coming forward 15 years after he left.
The primary story arc of Fallon’s “insider’s” tale is that he warned people at GTMO that interrogation techniques such as air conditioning, noise, shouting, and interrupted sleep were a problem for him. He recommended law enforcement standards for all interrogations, which are typically report based.
Fallon then conflates various things that he believes are all the same:
- Pressure on military interrogators to generate useful reporting, which prompted a tougher, more aggressive approach with detainees.
- Instances of detainee abuse, which were reported, investigated, and punished, although not to Fallon’s satisfaction.
- Detainee suicides and other deaths while in U.S. custody. Fallon seems to believe that no one ever dies in prison unless tortured to death and that coordinated suicide acts are the act of desperate pals, not a martyrdom mission designed to try and embarrass the U.S.
- The CIA rendition and interrogation program.
As an intelligence analyst with experience in human intelligence collection and law enforcement interviews, I never considered the coercive techniques used by the DOD or CIA to raise to the level of torture. Instances of abuse crossed the line, and Abu Gharaib’s humiliation of detainees was not following with DOD detention policies and procedures designed to keep detainees confused and uncomfortable during phases of interrogation.
But let’s be very clear. What Fallon describes is detainees who are uncomfortable, unhappy, confused, and tired. There wasn’t any treatment that couldn’t be fixed with 6 hours of sleep and a sandwich. To call this “torture” is as intellectually honest as missing breakfast and saying that you are starving. Fallon’s timing of the book gives the impression it’s also politically motivated. A federal law enforcement member who doesn’t like the president is a story we have heard before.
Fallon keeps mentioning that enhanced interrogation techniques are all based on SERE Training, and that the training was designed to help people withstand torture, ergo we accidentally trained the detainees to be tougher. This is as silly as it is false. The lesson to be learned by understanding that these techniques were based on SERE training is that they had been administered to thousands of people over the last 25 years, and that the techniques were no more harmful than other training to which subject our own military personnel.
I saw what happened to people who were captured by the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. We weren’t even in the same ballpark at those monsters. Fallon throws the word “torture” around a lot, and again he conflates two things that are not necessarily the same. Just because an interrogation technique goes past what the police can use does not mean it’s torture.
Fallon also used examples of abuse as evidence of a conspiracy to abuse detainees, which is a logical non-starter. Abuse, while regrettable and intolerable, was and is not the policy of the DOD, CIA, or any other group. Abuse of prisoners happens in jails and prisons all over the world, and is a side effect of the stark conflict and harsh conditions that are inherent in a detention environment. It is also clearly forbidden. According to Fallon’s logic, murder is the policy of the city of Baltimore because murders happen there.
Who Should Be In Charge?
Fallon weaves through all of these, usually on the surface, but he is able, due to his personal involvement, to go into more detail on developments at GTMO in 2002-2004. The problem for Fallon is that these things are not all the same, and some have absolutely nothing to do with others. He is looking back in hindsight and drawing conclusions that were not, and are not, justifiable.
Fallon’s stories of the early days of GTMO are interesting, and give the reader a sense of how “new” all of this was. Fallon’s own recollections are telling, as he contradicts himself over the course of the first few chapters. “There aren’t any Arabs at GTMO!” he claims, as he’s realizing there are plenty of Afghans being captured as well, but suddenly there are enough Arabs to start noticing patterns in how Saudis are responding differently from Egyptians.
Fallon is sure the FBI will NEVER work for the Army, only to find a robust FBI presence at GTMO working with both DOD and CITF. Fallon is convinced from the inception of CITF that it will fail, but two chapters later CITF is the only thing working at GTMO.
Fallon is right about some things about the early days of the war. The Army CID was new to counterterrorism when CITF was created. I agree with Fallon, NCIS should have been in charge of CITF, as they had more practical experience in international terrorism investigations. Leadership and culture at GTMO were odd, after a lot of people had to learn HUMINT in a hurry, or got dusted off from the basement where they kept the old interrogators.
What Fallon doesn’t mention is that CITF’s concerns about interrogation techniques were primarily a matter of admissibility in Military Commissions. He tries to make it all about “ethics” and “America” and “honor.” That’s a very glowing recollection. I remember it differently. This was a similar to turf battle the CIA and FBI had been fighting for years, and still lies at the core of our national security debate about terrorism: Who should be in charge of responding to terrorism? Police, Intelligence, or the Military?
Fallon doesn’t mention that CITF’s attempts to ensure “independent” investigations meant we fought against any guidance or recommendations from prosecutors, and that we tried to be a single point of collection on all things GTMO, offering access to our databases and fielding requests for information from a wide variety of organization not part of the criminal investigation mission. CITF spent a lot of time acting like an intelligence organization, creating a massive database of reporting on detainees at GTMO and elsewhere, while spending less and less time on gathering evidence.
CITF didn’t have a clear precedent on how we would use military intelligence interrogation reports, which is why our agents were doing our own interviews. There was enough difference between the DOD intelligence interrogation rules, which Fallon notes were evolving and changing, and what federal agents typically do that we needed to not mix the two. Each abuse allegation and story of strange behavior from interrogators were closer to making our cases into a complicated mess.
And, like many federal agents, the fundamental rules Fallon was used to didn’t always apply. Foreigners don’t get the protections of the U.S. Constitution, and Geneva Convention protections typically have to be earned. At least that was the thinking until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.
Fallon’s analysis remains biased to his own priorities. His claims his input is noted, and ignored by the rest of the organizations dealing with detainees, but he never seems to understand why. Fallon never understood that the criminal investigation mission was not the primary priority. Criminal investigations, by their very nature, are looking at the past. The intelligence mission was looking at now and, when most successful, at the future. At GTMO and other detention facilities, the other priority was the detention mission itself, which made the police work a distant third priority at best.
Fallon also, clumsily in my opinion, leaves in all the redactions from the various agencies that had to review his manuscript. What becomes clear is that most of those are just names of law enforcement or military personnel, likely those who refused to be associated with Fallon’s book and wish to remain private. Other larger blocks of redaction tell us that Fallon doesn’t understand, or care, much about what he knows that is still classified.
One is left the impression that Fallon never understood why he was not the most important person in the room and that he felt slighted. The concluding chapters of the book are a list of all the people who let Fallon down: lawyers, soldiers, sailors, intelligence professionals, politicians, Don Rumsfeld, President Bush, and I suppose I’m going on the list now, too. Fallon has a lot of sympathy for himself, and for Al Qaeda members, Baath party thugs, and Iranian-backed Iraqi assassins. He seems to be less sympathetic to Americans.
Fallon falls for all the same logical and analytical failures he recognizes in everyone but himself. He rolls out the old cliché that the DOD was ready for the LAST war, not the NEXT war. Fallon, as it turns out, was ready for the last criminal investigation, not the next one.
Soldiers, we warn during extended occupations, make for bad police. Fallon’s misunderstanding of priorities shows us that police make for bad soldiers and spies. In his attempt to conflate his law enforcement mission with the totality of American national security strategy and policy, he is understandably disappointed. In the end, Fallon’s unrealistic expectations are the real villain of this book, not some grand scheme to pointlessly torture nobodies from fall flung lands.
His lack of perspective is clear from a slogan he brings up a few times in the book. It’s a phrase I remember hearing from him and our old commander, Britt Mallow. “There are no secrets,” they would say, “only delayed disclosures!” This was all said with a good laugh, but the intelligence professionals in the room, like myself, would smile and say nothing. There are secrets, Mr. Fallon. Some of us are still keeping them.
Which is to say there are people in the counterterrorism community who understand the EIT [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] program, and its value, because they have been authorized to read its reports, talk to the men and women who participated, and analyzed the results. Then there are others who have not, and have only their imaginations to fill in the gaps of what has been leaked, and what has been disclosed. Fallon is the latter.