Saddam Hussein revealed to FBI agent George Piro that there were no Saddam body doubles, that he admired Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, that he was an avid poet, and maybe most importantly, that he had no weapons of mass destruction, but was planning to restart his program.
Piro spoke Friday night at the Bush Library. From the man who led the first US Gulf War, there was high praise for an interrogator extraordinaire.
"George's work in revealing Saddam's secrets was probably one of the top accomplishments of the agency in the last 100 years," Former President Bush said.
Piro found out just days after Saddam Hussein was plucked from a spider hole -- a mid-December 2004 find -- that he'd be Saddam's new, closest acquaintance. He was actually shopping on Christmas Eve for last minute gifts when the call came.
"It really seems like only yesterday that I was sitting in a small, windowless prison cell looking into the eyes of one of the most brutal dictators of our time," Piro told the packed gathering at the library complex.
And Piro often realized the uniqueness of his task.
"Interacting with him on a daily basis, listening to jokes by him, there were times that I had to remind myself that I'm literally sitting in a small cell staring at Saddam," Piro said.
Most interrogations last days, or even hours. Saddam and "Mr. George," as the former dictator called Piro, spent seven months together before he went to trial, sometimes seven hours each day.
"Our approach is strictly rapport-based, professional," Piro said. "We rely on our subject matter expertise."
And knowing Saddam's inflated ego, his attachment to his mother, and his athletic nature, Piro says pushed those buttons at certain times to earn respect. The agent emphasized his love for his own mother, successfully connecting with that part of Saddam's nature.
He also made sure Hussein knew no one was celebrating his birthday, which was once a national holiday. But to bring Saddam's spirit back up, Piro brought Hussein cookies that Piro's mother had made. Mom wasn't pleased when she found out the ruthless dictator had partaken of her dessert, slapping Mr. George according to the son.
Hussein even believed Piro was in touch with President Bush daily. He wasn't ever.
"We wanted him to see me as someone who was worthy of this type of assignment," Piro said.
And while the agent was at the forefront of the effort, he quickly praises his entire bureau and his team in Iraq those months
"We look at it as a very unique, historic opportunity for the FBI, and really, for the US intelligence community," he said.
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