Sunday, November 20, 2016

Return to the Citizen's Academy

George Piro
I was fortunate to be able to return to the FBI Citizen's Academy as part of my participation in the Academy's Alumni Association. The night I visited, George Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami office, spoke to the  class about the eight months he spent interrogating Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He was the only person Hussein spoke with, and they met for five to seven hours a day. Piro spent additional hours every day researching Hussein and looking for ways to establish rapport with him and identify his vulnerabilities.

“You figure out what really matters to the subject during the rapport-building phase,” Piro explained. Hussein was most concerned with his place in history, as the third great leader of his people – after the prophet Mohammed and Saladin, who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Piro reminded us that Iraq was the cradle of civilization, and that it was the place where the first laws were developed – the Code of Hammurabi – as well as many other institutions we take for granted, such as the first police force.
And as the child of a single mother, Hussein had a particularly strong bond with his mother, who was the only person he really loved and trusted. Piro used his own relationship with his mother to establish a bond and connection with Hussein.

One of Hussein's favorite photos of himself.
The good guys always ride the white horse, right?
“It’s important to establish the subject’s truth-telling style,” Piro said. He explained that Hussein was also a published novelist, and he read Hussein’s first book, and used questions about that to identify how Hussein looked and acted when he was telling the truth. During this phase of the interrogation, Piro had to already know the answers to all the questions he asked. It wasn’t about the answers themselves, he explained, but about identifying eye contact, mannerisms, etc. that Hussein displayed when telling the truth.

When asked whether his conversations with Hussein were recorded, Piro was cleverly evasive, stating that it was not common policy at that point to record conversations, though today it is.

In a very Miami twist, Piro discovered that Hussein had a great fondness for Cuban cigars, and at their final meeting, he brought Hussein’s favorite Montecristos and they smoked them together. He reminded us that it’s okay for an FBI agent to buy Cuban cigars outside the US – he just couldn’t bring them home.


He ended his presentation with a quote that exemplified his attitude toward the assignment. “Successes belong to the organization; failure belongs to the individual.” He was determined to succeed because he didn’t want to let the Bureau down.

The second part of our evening was a presentation by an agent in charge of the Evidence Recovery Teams – ERT. I'll cover that in another post. As always, any errors here are my own and this blog is not intended to represent official views of the FBI.

If you like this, I hope you'll check out THE NEXT ONE WILL KILL YOU, the first in my new series of FBI thrillers. 

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