Profile: Thomas J. Harrington
Positions that Thomas J. Harrington has held:
- FBI assistant director for counterterrorism
Thomas J. Harrington was a participant or observer in the following events:
The FBI extracts a full confession from L’Houssaine Kherchtou, also known as “Joe the Moroccan,” a member of the cell that bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, in contrast with methods used on al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11, he is not tortured and the FBI is at pains to treat him well.
Relaxing Surroundings, Respectful Treatment - FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say of the initial interrogation, which took place in Morocco, “The setting was beautiful, it was this grand house with stables out back, gazelles bouncing in the background, palm trees, three-course meals.” Kherchtou had a relationship with the British intelligence service MI6 (see Mid-Summer 1998 and Shortly After August 7, 1998), but had broken off contact with it and has to be lured to Morocco, where his debriefing is headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Cloonan will later describe the questioning: “We advised [Kherchtou] of his rights. We told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded.… The Moroccans said he’d never talk. He never shut up for 10 days.” Fitzgerald denies Kherchtou a plea bargaining agreement, and says he must plead guilty to conspiracy to murder, for which he may receive a life sentence, though Fitzgerald promises to ask the judge for leniency. However, Cloonan will later say, “His wife needed money for medical treatment in Khartoum, and al-Qaeda had failed to provide it.” It is Cloonan’s “in” with Kherchtou, who is also sure that the US will not torture him. When Kherchtou wavers, Cloonan steps in. As he recalls: “I said, ‘Joe, you understand English, so I’d like you to go out and pray on this with your two Moroccan brothers.’ I thought Fitzy was going to give birth. Joe went out and prayed and came back and said yes.” He provides the FBI with details of the plot and becoming a star witness at the trial (see September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Invaluable Information - Kherchtou’s information, provided at a time when the US knows comparatively little about al-Qaeda, is, in Cloonan’s assessment, invaluable. “He told us about a lot of things,” Cloonan later says. “We learned how they recruited people, their front organizations, how they used NGOs [non-governmental organizations], false passports, what they thought about kidnapping, how they developed targets, did their surveillance, a day in the life of Osama bin Laden, what weapons they used, what vehicles they drove, who was the principal liaison with the Sudanese government, that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, how they did their training exercises, their finances, and their membership.” After the trial, he enters the witness protection program in the US. Four of his onetime associates will receive life sentences as a direct result of his information. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
FBI Use Kherchtou as Example of Successful Interrogation Tacticss - FBI officials will later compare this outcome favorably to procedures used by other US agencies after 9/11. For example, following the detainee abuse scandals after 9/11, FBI manager Tom Harrington will write that the FBI has “been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” Cloonan will later contrast Kherchtou’s treatment with that of al-Qaeda training manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in December 2001, when the US sent al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, but some of the information he provided there turned out to be false (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
A team of FBI investigators headed by the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, Thomas J. Harrington, visits Guantanamo prison. As he will later report to Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army’s provost marshal general, in a letter dated July 14, 2004 (see July 14, 2004), he and his team witness at least three cases of “highly aggressive interrogation techniques being used against detainees.” Abuse includes the use of a dog to intimidate a prisoner (who later shows symptoms of “extreme” psychological trauma); binding most of a detainee’s head in duct tape because he continued quoting from the Koran; and a female interrogator who bent back the thumbs of a prisoner and then grabbed his genitals. In one case, a prisoner was “curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain.” [Financial Times, 12/7/2004] Torin Nelson, an interrogator stationed at Guantanamo from August 2002 to February 2003, similarly notices an increase in the aggressiveness of interrogation methods in the weeks before he leaves. “When I first got there, things were much more above board. But there was a lot of pressure coming from above in the administration,” he later recalls. “They were very keen on getting results from the interrogations.” It is at this point that, according to him, techniques begin to enter “the grey area of abuse.” [Guardian, 12/1/2004] Criticism, vented within the FBI by a few of the federal agents who have been questioning prisoners at Guantanamo, also begins to arrive at the Pentagon. A senior intelligence official tells reporter Hersh: “I was told that the military guards were slapping prisoners, stripping them, pouring cold water over them, and making them stand until they got hypothermia. The agents were outraged. It was wrong and also dysfunctional.” The agents’ written complaints are sent to officials at the Pentagon, including Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes. [Guardian, 9/13/2004] “In late 2002 and continuing into mid-2003,” according to a report by the FBI, “the [FBI’s] Behavioral Analysis Unit raised concerns over interrogation tactics being employed by the US Military” at Guantanamo. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/6/2004 ]
The FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Thomas J. Harrington, informs Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army’s Provost Marshal General, of incidents of abuse that a team of FBI investigators under his command witnessed at Guantanamo at the end of 2002 (see End of 2002). Harrington urges Ryder to take “appropriate action.”
[Financial Times, 12/7/2004]
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