*After speaking at an event at the New America Foundation Tuesday, former FBI agent Ali Soufan weighed in on former Vice President Dick Cheney’s call for President Barack Obama to apologize for its past criticism of Bush-era practices. Soufan thought it should be the other way around. “I think if Mr. Cheney wanted to apologize for not getting [Osama] bin Laden, for not getting the top leadership of al Qaeda, for the enhanced interrogation techniques that have caused more problems than anything else, the address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said.
Soufan, who is promoting his new book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, was one of only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers in the FBI when the 9/11 attacks occurred. He became a high profile critic of the Bush administration’s use of torturous interrogation techniques after leaving the bureau.
In The Black Banners, Soufan recalls an incident in which FBI Director Robert Mueller refers to Soufan as “the future of the FBI,” implying that native Arabic speakers will be crucial to the fight against terrorism. Yet Soufan reiterated that the bureau, which has recently faced criticism from Muslim groups over its use of Anti-Muslim counterterrorism training materials, was still struggling with finding recruits in the American Muslim community.
Asked why that was the case, Soufan said, “I wish I could tell you, I have no idea. I think many Arab Americans today when they go to the FBI, they think of them as subjects not as [potential] agents, I think that’s a big problem that we have to work on and we have to fix.”
Although initially opposed to a “torture commission,” Soufan said that he’d come around to the idea that torture should be re-examined. “We need to tell the American people once and for all, was this effective?”
*Clarification: Soufan offered the answer in response to a question from me, not during his speech.