Smoking with the Jackal
Developing an Interview Strategy for a Detainee
It could happen to any of us. In the course of our work in law
enforcement, we can be called upon to interview a terrorist. In
my case the terrorist was a self-declared Muslim convert and that
day came for me on February 27, 2014, in a prison in Poissy, a
distant suburb of Paris.
I had done my homework. I was prepared. The problem was that,
as we drove toward the prison, I was still not sure if I would
be allowed to conduct the interview. That's because in France,
as you would expect, the FBI has no jurisdiction. Our work there
is done through our liaison relationship with the French police
and intelligence services.
A formal request must be submitted in order to conduct an interview
of anyone other than a consenting U.S. citizen that might be used
for evidentiary purposes in the U.S. The request is based upon
a bilateral agreement between France and the U.S. and is commonly
referred to as a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request or an
MLAT. Such requests from the U.S. to France are typically carried
out by French authorities who would then share with us the written
report of their interview. The terrorist I wanted to interview
was a Venezuelan citizen, so there was no assurance that I would
be allowed to conduct the interview.
However, I made sure that the request, which was submitted by
the U.S. Department of Justice to the French Ministry of Justice,
included a request to have an FBI agent present during the interview.
That was how things stood as we drove from the offices of the
Brigade Criminelle in Versailles to the Maison Central prison
in Poissy. A French prosecutor was assigned to carry out the
MLAT, and had to choose someone to conduct the interview. Luckily
for me, of all the French police and security services and literally
thousands of French officers in those agencies, the prosecutor
happened to choose one that I knew. Her name was Adeline. Commissaire
Adeline had no problem with my request to be present during
the interview but was reluctant to allow an FBI agent to actually
conduct the interview.
I had made the request to personally conduct the interview during
a planning meeting a few weeks earlier and did not yet have an
answer as we drove to the prison. Adeline had delegated responsibility
for the interview to a Captain in the Brigade Criminelle in Versailles.
His name was Arnaud. As he drove us toward Poissy, he turned to
me and told me I could conduct the interview. Then he gave me
a warning. He had spoken to the warden at the prison. The warden
told Arnaud that it was not the warden who ran the prison in Poissy,
it was the terrorist inmate I was to interview: detainee number
11939C. His name was Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos
Because the MLAT process takes so long, I had plenty of time to
prepare and I took full advantage of that. In response to a
newspaper article published in the U.S., Carlos had written
a letter from jail in 2008 claiming to know who had killed Josef
Alon, an Israeli diplomat who was murdered on July 1, 1973 in
Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Alon grew up in Czechoslovakia where his father was murdered
by the invading Germans and his mother and sister were murdered
at Auschwitz. Alon emigrated to Israel and helped establish the
Israeli Air Force and fought against the Egyptians during the
Suez Crisis in 1956 and in 1967's Six-Day War. In 1970 Lt. Colonel
Alon was appointed to be a Military Attaché in Washington.
Alon was shot to death by an unknown assailant upon returning
home from an Israeli Embassy function. He collapsed and bled out
on his front lawn surrounded by his family. At 43 years old, he
had planned on retiring from the military just the next month
and returning to Israel.
In his letter Carlos claimed that Alon was killed in a secret
operation conducted in the U.S. by the terrorist group Black September.
Black September became known to the world after its attack against
Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Carlos wrote
that he would name names about Alon's murder in exchange for money
to be used for his legal defense in upcoming trials relating to
terrorist attacks in France that were attributed to Carlos. Carlos'
third wife, who also happened to be his French attorney, forwarded
the letter to the American journalist.
At the time of the murder, the FBI conducted an extensive investigation
along with its partner in local law enforcement: the Montgomery
County Police Department (MCPD). President Nixon authorized the
use of Air Force One to transport Alon's body and his family back
to Israel. Despite extraordinary efforts, nothing panned out in
the investigation and the case was closed unsolved. When this
new lead ended up on my desk in the U.S. Embassy in Paris where
I was assigned and where the FBI has had a representative since
1945, I reopened the cold case and requested to interview Carlos.
Interviewing is a critical skill for all FBI agents and police
officers. In the FBI our interviewing and interrogation skills
are something we pride ourselves on. Because there was no reason
to believe Carlos committed this crime, this would be an interview,
not an interrogation. So the goal was to obtain Carlos's cooperation
in my investigation, not a confession to a crime. An interview
strategy is simply your plan to achieve your goal of witness cooperation.
Crime victims and witnesses often want to help your investigation
and no interview strategy is necessary. Uncooperative witnesses
can sometimes be won over by explaining the easy way vs. the hard
way: talk to me now or I will come back with a subpoena to compel
your testimony at a time and place not of your choosing. Ignore
the subpoena and you risk facing arrest. That technique just doesn't
apply to an overseas detainee. Imagine you discover that an incarcerated
terrorist has information on your case and that terrorist has
spent his entire career fighting against everything the U.S. stands
for. What would be your strategy? How would you get that terrorist
to voluntarily help you with your investigation?
It should also go without saying that another important factor
to consider in developing your interview strategy is learning
as much as you possibly can about the witness you're about to
interview. Carlos was well known in Europe where his attacks took
place, but in America Carlos's real-life story had become distorted
and mythologized by wildly inaccurate portrayals from the pens
of Hollywood writers.
After being expelled from Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow,
Carlos turned up in Jordan, fighting alongside the Palestinians
and joining the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
(PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist and revolutionary socialist terrorist
organization aligned with the PLO. In Jordan he was given the
nom de guerre of Salem Salim Mohammed. In 1973, at the age of
23 he became the European Operational Deputy Commander for the
PFLP. His codename was Carlos. His first solo attack came that
same year in London when he was ordered to kill Joseph Sieff,
the CEO of Marks & Spencer.
The CEO was the Vice President of the British Zionist Federation.
Carlos used a Soviet Tokarev pistol, forced his way into the CEO's
home and shot the CEO in the face. The gun jammed and failed to
fire a second shot. Carlos escaped, the CEO miraculously survived,
but the police found the apartment where Carlos had been staying.
Near his bed was a copy of Frederick Forsyth's popular novel about
a lone assassin The Day of the Jackal. The British media subsequently
referred to him as Carlos the Jackal.
But Carlos really became perhaps the first celebrity terrorist
with his brazen attack on an OPEC oil ministers' meeting in Vienna
in 1975. Three people were killed and 66 hostages were taken.
Carlos demanded a plane and subsequently flew a group of hostages
to Algeria. Huge ransoms were paid for the release of certain
oil ministers and Carlos became a media sensation.
In Paris, Carlos was already notorious for a triple murder:
two DST agents (the DST is the internal French intelligence
service, now known as the DGSI) and Michel Moukharbal, the European
Operational Commander for the PFLP who had begun cooperating
with the DST. The DST is the agency in France responsible for
counterterrorism and the one most like the FBI. Carlos shot
them all at close range and seriously wounded a third DST officer.
His notoriety increased with several other attacks including
a grenade attack in a shopping mall in Paris, an RPG attack at
Orly airport, and the bombing of a high-speed train targeting
then Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac. Carlos was also believed to
be responsible for several bomb attacks on pro-Israeli newspapers
and a car bomb attack targeting the Al-Watan al-Arabi newspaper
office in Paris, attacks that some believe may have helped inspire
the Kouachi brothers' attack against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper
in 2015. During that attack I happened to be visiting my counterparts
at DGSI headquarters.
Despite his exploits, Carlos's true identity remained hidden
for years. Both the media and Western law enforcement and intelligence
agencies became obsessed with getting a current photo of Carlos.
For more than 20 years Carlos was the subject of a world-wide
manhunt. Carlos was an elusive fugitive who operated on both sides
of the Iron Curtain in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
He seemed to be everywhere and nowhere: Paris, London, Budapest,
Beirut, The Hague, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Prague, Berlin,
Tripoli, Damascus, Aden and Amman.
His frequent contact with the media to issue demands, to take
credit for attacks and to grant interviews, presaged a trend in
He knew how to use the media and sought publicity for his exploits.
Even from prison Carlos writes and is published, most recently
in a Turkish newspaper. Current terror groups such as ISIS have
multiple media/propaganda departments in their organizations.
Carlos saw himself as a secular socialist revolutionary fighting
for the Palestinian cause against Zionism and the West. While
a member of the PFLP, he was unique in conducting joint operations
with other like-minded terrorist groups or individuals. Carlos
worked with the German Revolutionary Cells (GRC), also known as
the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Black September and the Japanese Red
Army. Carlos eventually formed his own group, perhaps due to having
a difficult-to-control personality. As a freelancer, Carlos' group
worked for Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Romania's
Nicolae Ceausescu, and the Syrians.
Because of all that Carlos "accomplished" in his career
as a terrorist, some consider him the inventor of modern terrorism
and/or the world's first celebrity terrorist. He was eclipsed
as the world's most famous terrorist when Osama bin Laden became
the face of modern terrorism in 2001.
Carlos's long career as a terrorist and a fugitive ended in
1994 when the CIA located him in Khartoum, Sudan. The CIA checked
with the FBI about his status, but Carlos had no outstanding
indictment or arrest warrant in the U.S. because his victims
were not American. The CIA then notified French authorities
of Carlos's location. According to CIA contractor Billy Waugh's
account in Hunting the Jackal, Carlos was living just across
runway 340 of the Khartoum airport from where Osama bin Laden
was living. After more than 20 years on the run, Carlos was
apprehended and transported to Paris where he was given a life
sentence in 1997 for the murder of the two DST agents. After
his conviction Carlos told the media that he had carried out
over 100 attacks killing 1,500 to 2,000 people.
My homework began with the normal research expected of any investigator;
however, there were challenges. To begin with, the FBI case
file on Josef Alon's murder from the 1970's was not computerized
and not easily located. By the time it was located and scanned
and a link provided to me in Paris, I didn't have time to read
all of the over 7,000 pages in the original file. The FBI has
a cadre of analysts who are subject matter experts in a multitude
of various terrorist groups. However, I couldn't find any who
knew about Black September. I would have to educate myself.
Portions of 1970's FBI case files on Black September are linked
to the FBI's public website.
For more information on Colonel Alon I read Fred Burton's comprehensive
book Chasing Shadows. I ordered Carlos' book L'Islam Revolutionnaire
(Revolutionary Islam) from Librarie Galignani on the rue de Rivoli.
Carlos published this book from prison in 2003. It contained his
response to al Qa'ida's 9/11 attack and a critical glimpse into
his ideology. Carlos proclaimed "every lover of justice hates
the American imperialists, the worst tyrants in the history of
humanity." In the book Carlos attempts to associate himself
retroactively with bin Laden and the jihadists. However, I didn't
buy it. Bin Laden was motivated by his radical interpretation
of Wahhabi Islam. Carlos was clearly in the mold of a secular
socialist revolutionary akin to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
The PFLP was secular and anti-clerical. Yet, paradoxically, Carlos
claimed to be a Muslim convert. I pressed on with my research
and was impressed by the historical accuracy of Olivier Assayas's
5 and one-half hour biopic Carlos.
I also tracked down two French officers who had previously interrogated
Carlos in preparation for some of his many trials in France.
They told me he had a huge ego and was moody. Some days he was
chatty and other days cold, distant or angry.
In the end, I had two pages of questions for Carlos and I brought
them with me to the prison. They were printed in both English
and French depending on who would conduct the interview. Not knowing
which language Carlos would prefer, I brought my FBI language
specialist along to serve as an interpreter if necessary. His
name was Pierre. My research showed that in addition to his native
Spanish, Carlos spoke French, Arabic, English, Russian and possibly
German and Hungarian. Pierre was also a strategic choice: he was
of the same generation as Carlos and had grown up in the Middle
East. Pierre was my insurance policy when it came to establishing
rapport with Carlos.
When preparing an interview strategy with any witness, many important
factors must be taken into consideration. Motivation is one
such important factor. In order to avoid having an interviewee's
motivations control the interview, you must anticipate an interviewee's
motives and plan how to counter them, a process known as circumvention.
It was clear from his letter that Carlos wanted money. The FBI
routinely pays informants for information and intelligence.
Was the FBI going to pay a convicted terrorist for information?
No way. I had to prepare a definitive response to his anticipated
request for money and identify other potential motivations for
Carlos to cooperate with the FBI. For starters, I knew he was
willing to talk to a journalist in exchange for money to be used
for his legal defense. But would Carlos talk to an FBI agent,
a representative of the government he despised who would not offer
Perhaps Carlos would be motivated by thinking his former comrades
in Black September would "get credit" for the assassination,
if that's what you could call it. His letter indicated a desire
to honor the memory of his dead Arab comrades and to reveal their
names for history's sake.
If Black September did, in fact, kill Alon, it would be the first
successful attack by Black September on U.S. soil. A third motivation
would be based on a personal appeal: Carlos had a daughter, Alon
had three daughters. Didn't they deserve to know what happened
to their father? I knew from his book that Carlos considered himself
to be a soldier. Alon had been a fighter pilot in the Israeli
Air Force prior to being a diplomat. Perhaps I could reach Carlos's
My research revealed a ladies' man with a huge ego. A man who
saw himself on par with the major historical figures of his
day. Therefore, the core of my strategy was to be able to hold
my own in a discussion about Black September and to motivate
Carlos via indirect disingenuous flattery aimed to assuage his
ego. What do I mean by that? My plan was to bring a copy of
his book with me to the interview. I marked it up with tabs
as if I had studied it thoroughly. Actually I had studied it,
but it was disingenuous of me to bring it with me because it
had nothing to do with Josef Alon or Black September. What I
mean by indirect was that I planned to have the book with me
among my notes and papers, but not display it too obviously.
Should he notice the book, it might flatter him that I studied
it and, perhaps, trigger an intended response that would urge
him to live up to his reputation as a proselytizer for revolutionary
justice, the image of himself he put forward in his book. This
might also trigger the subconscious reciprocity rule.
Studies have shown that a kind gesture, such as getting an interviewee
a cup of coffee, often has the subconscious effect of causing
them to want to do something nice to us in return. Hopefully,
that is cooperation. If Carlos felt I studied him, he might feel
that he owed it to me to cooperate. This was the psychological
effect I was aiming for. I might even ask him to sign his book
for me if the timing was right. My strategy was to feed his self-importance.
I discussed this strategy with the FBI's famed Behavioral Analysis
Unit at Quantico (they don't like to be called profilers). They
make themselves available for consultation on counterterrorism
interview strategies and they validated my proposed strategy.
At the FBI Academy in Quantico where I am an Instructor now, we
teach the new agents that the most important part of a successful
interview starts with building rapport. An interview goes nowhere
without finding commonalities and then developing these items
of mutual interest. People talk to you if they like you, if
they are comfortable with you. One commonality we had was that
we both came from the Americas and lived and worked in both
Europe and the Middle East. Both of us were also students of
history and had strong opinions regarding the concept of justice.
In the rapport building process, it is critical to share something
about yourself, you "give to get," sharing of yourself
in the hopes that they will share in return. As I tell my students
at the academy, this getting-to-know-you phase is a bit like
being on a first date.
Any whiff of judgment or moral superiority and rapport goes down
the drain. I liked to channel TV detective Columbo: act harmless,
friendly and most of all - curious. Once rapport is established,
let them tell their story by using the most basic questioning
technique: open-ended questions.
But how does one remove judgement when meeting someone for the
first time? Especially when that someone is a terrorist? Is that
even possible? I consider all humans to be spiritual beings, and
I've been working with all kinds of criminals for over 20 years.
I know how flawed people can be, it's my job to know and prove
that. But as long as they are not pathological, I have always
been able to find, and relate to, their humanity.
Rapport building also serves two other purposes. You can use
this time to normalize the interviewee's verbal and non-verbal
responses to insignificant questions. "Norming" allows
you to establish your observational baseline of verbal and non-verbal
cues that can later be compared to substantive questions and may
therefore help you notice subtle indicators of deception.
The third purpose of rapport is to help identify additional possible
motivations to cooperation, or themes to be used to steer further
discussion into topics of investigative interest. These themes
can also help you to identify people or things to blame that could
elicit cooperation. Themes could also be used to rationalize behavior
or minimize criminal activity. Knowing Carlos' history, my plan
to build rapport was to start by asking him his opinion about
the current civil war in Syria. Carlos had lived in Syria and
worked both for and under the protection of the Syrian intelligence
service. He was sure to have an opinion. I never got a chance
to bring it up.
Maison Centrale de Poissy was an unimposing
facility that, from the front, bore little resemblance to a prison.
It was run down
and at least 100 years old. The perimeter wall was only about
12 feet high and topped with Spanish tile not razor wire. There
were no visible guards. An unassuming guard tower peeked over
the wall about a hundred yards away. We checked our weapons
and entered the prison. Inside, the prisoners were not made
to wear uniforms. It was not the Bastille or La Santé,
the infamous prison where Carlos was first held in France, nor
was it on par with a maximum security prison in the U.S. Wicked
Thénardier, who escapes from solitary confinement in
Paris' La Force prison in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables,
would have had an easier time fleeing this place.
No one from the U.S. government had ever interviewed Carlos before.
I didn't know how he would react and I felt the burden of getting
it done right. We were shown into the innermost part of the prison
and brought into a small room where Carlos sat alone. It was obvious
he was not expecting the FBI. He was well dressed in fancy clothes
and a leather jacket and not wearing handcuffs or any other restraints.
The French police introduced themselves briefly without shaking
hands and then came my turn.
I shook his hand as I introduced myself. In the FBI we display
our credentials, or creds, when we officially identify ourselves.
I had done it hundreds or thousands of times over the years and
had seen every reaction to it: surprise, fainting, falling down,
blushing, resignation, mock surrender, disbelief, feigned confusion,
gratitude or even reaching for a weapon. I'd seen it all.
But not this. When Carlos heard me say "FBI" he immediately
stood up to face me, mouth open in disbelief. He leaned forward
to examine my credentials and read the small print out loud: "This
is to certify that Eugene J. Casey whose signature and photograph
appear hereon, is a regularly appointed Supervisory Special Agent
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Department
of Justice, and as such is charged with the duty of investigating
violations of the laws of the United States, collecting evidence
in cases in which the United States is or may be a party in interest
and performing other duties imposed by law, Office of the Director,
Federal Bureau of Investigation by order of the Attorney General
of the United States!" He tilted his head back up and pointed
his index finger in my face and, with his voice rising, said "What
kind of bullshit is that?"
I deadpanned my response, "That's FBI bullshit." Carlos
gave me a half smile and sat down. He was challenging me right
out of the gate. But with that smile, I knew I had passed the
initial challenge and a connection was made.
With connection being a key to rapport, I opted not to ask his
opinion on the Syrian civil war and got right to business. He
preferred to speak English and we occasionally spoke French.
His South American accent was still intact despite being away
from Venezuela for over 40 years. After asking Adeline if she
was interested in becoming his fourth wife (she said no), he
ignored her and I began the interview almost as if we were alone
in the room. I showed him a copy of the letter and asked if
he had written it.
Of course I already knew the answer to that; I was "norming" Carlos.
I was establishing his normal truthful response to a question
in order to be able to observe later on in the interview any subtle
verbal or non-verbal indicators of deception. He acknowledged
authorship of the letter, but when he read the part of his letter
that demanded money in exchange for information, he looked up
and asked me for a million dollars. I told him I could not pay
him. He asked me who I was representing. I told him I was representing
the FBI and the MCPD in an attempt to uncover the truth about
what happened to Josef Alon, for the sake of his daughters. He
held my gaze, gauging my sincerity.
I asked him about his daughter. He told me he had four children,
one with Fidel Castro's Russian translator, two others from different
women in Europe and the fourth with his first wife, the seeming
love of his life, fellow revolutionary and GRC terrorist Magdalena
Kopp. Magdalena was ill, but Carlos was grateful to have a relationship
with their daughter. Carlos had no children with his second wife,
a Palestinian Jordanian, nor his third wife, his French attorney.
Carlos also claimed that GRC terrorist Brigitte Kuhlmann was pregnant
with their child when she was killed by Israeli commandos in Entebbe
during the hijacking of Air France flight 139 in 1976.
I steered him toward a discussion of Black September. He had
a great memory for events and locations, but struggled with last
names. Early on he mentioned Abu Ali, but couldn't recall his
full name. I said "Do you mean Abu Ali Iyad?" and Carlos
replied "Yes!" Shortly after that he mentioned Ali Hassan
but again couldn't recall the full name. I said "Do you mean
Ali Hassan Salamah?" He again said "Yes!" then
turned to the French cops and said "This FBI Agent is serious.
I'm going to help him." Carlos stood up, called for the guard
and told the guard to open a series of barred doors. The guard
jumped and opened the doors as Carlos instructed. He came back
from his cell a few minutes later bearing documents and photographs
The documents included a chapter of his autobiography that dealt,
in part, with Black September. Carlos doesn't want his autobiography
published until after his death. All the research I had done over
the past year paid off. He offered me and my colleague Pierre
the best Cuban cigars and offered the French cops cheap Dominican
cigars. So we talked and smoked for more than five hours. The
good news is that we hit it off and he cooperated. He told me
the details of what he had heard of a Black September plot to
kill Josef Alon.
Carlos had an outsized personality and could be very charming.
With his impressive facility with language, he reminded me of
an evil genius. While most of his former Arab comrades were killed,
Carlos attributed his longevity not to his own cunning, but merely
to the fact that he was not an Arab and therefore European officials
were rarely suspicious of his being involved in pro-Palestinian
attacks or organizations. It was obvious he liked to talk about
the days when he was in the fight. He was robust and strong for
a 64 year old. His eyes flashed with a keen intelligence and he
spoke with an air of erudition, a professor expounding on the
details of a complex time in our history.
He saw himself as a simple soldier, an elite killer and a political
prisoner who was subjected to an illegal rendition. I empathized
with his plight. He responded by saying that it wasn't that he
didn't do what he was accused of, it was just that he saw legal
flaws in his detention. I empathized some more and he told me
he had personally killed 83 people with his own hands. Perhaps
now he was trying to impress me. I steeled myself not to display
any signs of moral superiority or judgment - a sure way to kill
rapport and stop him from talking.
He reminded me a bit of the adman for Dos Equis - the Most Interesting
Man in the World, or, perhaps, at least the most interesting terrorist
in the world. He was also a prodigious name dropper: Yasser Arafat,
Fidel Castro, Yuri Andropov, Mikhail Gorbachev, Hafez Al-Assad,
Bashar Al-Assad, Abu Nidal, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, Osama
bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Manuel
Noriega and Eldridge Cleaver to name a few. At the end of the
interview I asked him to sign his book. He was very proud to do
so and then proceeded to give me photographs of himself (talk
In our discussion, Carlos would often get sidetracked, and would
go off on long tangents. Although it may have annoyed my French
police colleagues, I never interrupted these tangents because
what he discussed, while not always pertinent to my investigation,
would be riveting to any Western intelligence officer who worked
from the 1970's to the 1990's. Because of these digressions,
I had to return to visit Carlos in prison to complete my interview.
Between visits, Captain Arnaud did some excellent research and
we were able to locate and interview other witnesses in and
around Paris in an attempt to corroborate Carlos's story.
The second interview was nine months later and he greeted me
with a hug. We were genuinely happy to see each other. He gave
Pierre a kiss on both cheeks as is customary among close friends
in the Middle East (Pierre was born in Egypt to Lebanese parents).
Our rapport was clearly established. I came armed with many follow-up
questions based on the information he previously provided and
my research into his story about Josef Alon. We were both eager
to get back to business. This time I gave him a cigar and our
smoke filled the room for the next five or six hours.
Again because of his amazing memory and attention to detail and
his famous digressions, a third interview was necessary. This
gave me the opportunity to conduct further investigation into
When the second interview was over, the French cops needed time
to prepare their report on a laptop for our signatures. Carlos
and I stood alone in a hallway with a clear view of an inner courtyard,
a garden, with a perimeter walkway surrounded by a cloistered
cage of iron bars. A woman entered at the far end of the courtyard.
Carlos's eyes lit up. He told me it was the prison's English teacher
and in a whisper, in crude terms, told me what he wanted to do
with her. He then called out her name and waved her over, a barred
door separating us. He told her "Look! The FBI is here to
see me!" I then realized he was using me to impress her in
his efforts to sleep with her. She walked away, unimpressed. Carlos
told me he was disappointed that she refused to spend any time
with him based on the flimsy excuse that he was already fluent
in English. I couldn't imagine this scenario playing out at the
Supermax prison in Colorado.
Not five minutes later the scene repeated itself. Another woman
appeared. This time it was the prison psychiatrist. He again tried
to impress her with the fact that the FBI was here to see him.
She was equally unimpressed with his routine and quickly moved
on. Again Carlos lamented that she refused to see him because
he had been declared sane. I felt uneasy being unexpectedly thrust
into the role of Carlos's wingman. Yet it was oddly reassuring
how comfortable he felt in my presence. He gave me a conspiratorial
wink as if I shared his desire. I rolled with it by making a face
and shrugging my shoulders: "French girls. What can you do?" I
smiled. "Better luck next time." I said. Earlier, while
discussing the Muslim Brotherhood, Carlos told me he "didn't
like the Muslim brothers, only the Muslim sisters." There
was no doubt he still saw himself as a ladies' man.
Our final meeting was in July of 2015. It was a swelteringly
hot day, and needless to say, French prisons are not air conditioned.
He greeted me as if he were a gracious host welcoming me to his
home. He saw Pierre did not have water. He took me by the arm
and said "come with me." He ordered guards to open various
barred doors at the end of long hallways. They all complied without
hesitation. Finally, we stopped in front of a few vending machines.
I reached inside my pocket and came up with a handful of coins.
Carlos looked at the euros and said they were no good in prison,
the machines only took tokens. As he said this his eyes suddenly
sparkled and he started to pick out a few of the larger 2 euro
coins from my hand saying "May
I quickly had to decide whether or not to allow myself to supply
Carlos with prison contraband or risk damaging the rapport I had
established with him. Given everything else he seemed to have
access to in prison, including an inmate cook and an inmate maid
according to the guards, I decided not to risk damaging our rapport.
By then he had emptied my hand of all its coins. He used his tokens
and got some water for Pierre and asked me if I wanted some coffee.
Suddenly I realized I was alone with Carlos deep inside the prison.
I could hear other prisoners around a corner. I knew the prison
housed other dangerous terrorists including a Hezbollah terrorist
that Carlos sometimes prayed with. I realized he had planned this.
In a low voice he asked me if I could bring him a certain book
on my next visit. The book was Michael Morrell's The Great War
of Our Time: The CIA's Fight Against Terrorism from al Qa'ida
to ISIS. He had read about it in Time magazine and didn't want
to ask me for it in front of the French cops. There was now no
doubt that he trusted me.
Later, during that last interview, when I asked about Magdalena
and his daughter, he told me Magdalena had died two weeks earlier.
I offered Carlos my condolences. No one else in the room realized
that we were discussing the death of his first wife. Carlos appeared
to be grateful for my words and proceeded to tell me the rest
of what he knew about the murder of Josef Alon. It pays to do
One of the reasons Carlos told me about the Black September operative
who was involved in the murder of Alon was because that operative
was dead and therefore could not be betrayed. Carlos prided himself
on personally killing traitors to his cause. He had already generously
given me several examples.
Because of his personal warmth, with each prison visit I felt
I had to caution my team never to let down their guard in his
presence in case Carlos wanted to try and take out an FBI employee.
The way he bossed around the guards and carried his own leather
portfolio in prison, made it easy to assume he could easily
have a letter opener or a crude prison shank in his possession
(not to mention his cigar cutter). He never tried anything and
remained cordial and professional during our interactions. Only
once did I see his anger flash and the transformation of his
personality was remarkable.
I could see he was agitated, but it did not seem related to our
conversation or my line of questioning. It was that unbearably
hot day. This time our room was near the inner exercise yard where
the prisoners were allowed outside. There was noise coming in
from the exercise yard, but nothing unusual for a prison.
Carlos was trying to concentrate and access his memory. Suddenly
he jumped up and quickly ran out of the room. I could hear him
ordering the guards to open several doors. Then I heard him yell
out to everyone in the yard in French: "Shut the f--- up!
We're working in here!" Immediately there was silence in
the yard. Then I remembered the words of the warden about who
was in charge at the prison. The warden was right.
Instructors at the FBI Academy teach the new agents this acronym
for interviewing: PIECE: Planning and Preparation, Initiate,
Engage, Closure and Evaluate. Once an interview or an interrogation
is over, it is important to evaluate and self-critique your
performance in the spirit of continuous improvement. Having
a well-considered interview strategy in place is a critical
step in interview preparation. In international terrorism investigations
it is equally important to thoroughly understand your subject's
motivational ideology and have strong liaison relationships
with other law enforcement agencies.
My interview strategy was a success, a good rapport was established,
and he fully cooperated, displaying no indicators of deception
and giving me the name of the Black September operative involved
in the murder along with documents and photographs. If I had not
proven to Carlos that I knew the subject matter and was serious,
he would not have cooperated. After more than 15 hours over three
smoke-filled days we parted with what I can only identify as a
mutual respect. I have always believed that for any witness to.
cooperate, treating them with respect is a minimum requirement.
Aside from criminals afflicted with psychopathy or sociopathy,
none of us are wholly good or wholly evil. We are all shades
of gray. In the words of Georges Simenon's famous detective
Inspector Maigret: "Understand and judge not."
When closing an interview, it is always best to part on good
terms should new developments necessitate another interview. Since
we parted Carlos has written to me from prison, sharing with me
his opinion on ISIS's use of psychological warfare. Luck and timing
may also have played a part in this case. By the time I spoke
to Carlos, he had received a second life sentence and was no longer
in dire need of money for his legal defense. The not so good news
is that the information he provided may not lead to a definite
resolution of the case.
The story that Carlos told me was this: Carlos happened to be
with a Black September operative, a Syrian exile, in Paris in
1973 when news reached them of the murder in Maryland of Josef
Alon. Upon hearing the news, the operative told Carlos the following
story. The representative of Fatah in Paris arranged a meeting
between the operative and two or three American Vietnam War veterans.
They met in a café in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
The Americans told the operative that they didn't want to return
to Vietnam, that the war was an atrocity and that they wished
to do something for the Palestinian cause. The operative told
them they could assassinate the new Deputy Military Attaché at
the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Josef Alon. The Americans said
they would do it, but the operative did not take the Americans
seriously and never expected to see or hear from them again. When
the news broke of Alon's murder, the operative told Carlos that
it must have been the American soldiers who killed Alon and that
he was amazed and couldn't believe that the Americans had actually
carried out the hit.
Carlos was convinced that, had the assassination been a Palestinian
operation instead of an American one, it would have been common
knowledge among the leaders of the PLO, the PFLP and Black September.
But the opposite was the case, no one seemed to know who killed
Alon except this one operative. After Carlos dutifully related
this story to his commander, Wadie Haddad the PFLP's military
commander and head of external operations in Beirut, Haddad asked
Carlos to try to verify that Alon was killed by Americans by inquiring
with the Black Panthers.
After 43 years, it is no easy task to verify or prove Carlos's
version of events, but efforts by the FBI, the MCPD and others
continue despite the odds.
Carlos's information has breathed life back into a cold case.
Armed with new intelligence, Captain Arnaud and I have interviewed
many other potential witnesses in this case since I first spoke
with Carlos. While the information Carlos provided may ultimately
prove to be one more fruitless lead in a long investigation, there
remains a small chance that the case could be solved. I sincerely
hope the day comes when the FBI and the MCPD can tell Josef Alon's
daughters what really happened to their father.
Should you have any information regarding the murder of Israeli
Air Force Colonel Josef Alon, please contact the FBI office in
Rockville, Maryland at (301) 251-7300, or the MCPD, Cold Case
Squad at (240) 773-5070, email email@example.com.
About the Author
Eugene J. Casey is a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI and
is an Interviewing and Interrogation Instructor at the FBI Academy
in Quantico. Prior to his current assignment, he was the FBI's
Assistant Legal Attaché in Paris.