Hayden: CIA had fewer than 100 prisoners
By ADAM GOLDMAN, AP, Sept. 7, 2007
NEW YORK - CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden praised the U.S. government's much-criticized program of detaining and interrogating prisoners Friday, crediting it for most of the information in a July intelligence report on the terrorist threat to America.
He also said the CIA has detained fewer than 100 people at secret facilities abroad since the capture of Abu Zubaydah in 2002, and even fewer prisoners have been secretly transferred to or from foreign governments.
In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, Hayden defended the government's policy of extraordinary rendition, criticized the media for publishing stories about the government's intelligence activities, and warned that al-Qaida is trying to plant operatives in the United States.
Extraordinary rendition refers to the interrogation policy involving the secret transfer of prisoners from U.S. control into the hands of foreign governments, some of which have a history of torture. The U.S. government says it does so only after it is assured that transferred prisoners will not be subjected to torture.
The use of extraordinary rendition for terror suspects — some of whom were later released, apparently because they were innocent — was revealed by news media in 2005.
The renditions have been "conducted lawfully, responsibly, and with a clear and simple purpose: to get terrorists off the streets and gain intelligence on those still at large," Hayden said.
The CIA director said 70 percent of the information contained in the National Intelligence Estimate on the terrorist threat, which was released in July, came from the interrogation of detainees.
Hayden also said claims by the European Parliament that at least 1,245 CIA flights flew through European airspace or airports were misleading because they implied that most of those flights were so-called rendition flights. Many flights carried equipment, documents and people, including himself, and had nothing to do with the extraordinary rendition program, he said.
"The actual number of rendition flights ever flown by CIA is a tiny fraction of that. And the suggestion that even a substantial number of those 1,245 flights were carrying detainees is absurd on its face," he said.
He said media reports "cost us several promising counterterrorism and counterproliferation assets" because CIA sources stopped cooperating out of fear they would be exposed.
In one case, he said, news leaks gave a foreign government information that allowed it to prosecute and jail one of the CIA's sources.
In a 20-minute question-and-answer session with the audience, Hayden disputed assertions that the CIA has used mock drowning, stress positions, hypothermia and dogs to interrogate suspects — all techniques that have been broadly criticized.
"That's a pretty good example of taking something to the darkest corner of the room and not reflective of what my agency does," he told one person from a human rights organization.
Asked whether pulling out of Iraq would leave the country vulnerable to al-Qaida, Hayden said: "It cannot become a safe haven for those that would threaten the United States." Hayden said he didn't know if al-Qaida had operatives in the America but added that the terror group was trying to plant them here.
"We do see them working to train people whom you and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow about if they were getting off a plane with us at Kennedy," he said.
"People whose identity makes it easier, whose persona makes it easier for them to come into America and to blend into American society. That's going on. That's a reality."
Associated Press reporter Pamela Hess contributed to this story from Washington.