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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 the Jackal.

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 modern terrorism.

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 any money?
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 empathy.

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 for me.

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 about ego!).

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 Carlos's account.

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 your homework.

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

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.


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