WASHINGTON — CIA Director Porter Goss, saying his agency struggles to penetrate terrorist sanctuaries overseas, insists that "we know more than we’re able to say publicly" about Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
In a rare television interview, Goss defended the CIA’s track record, which has been tarnished by allegations ranging from erroneous or hyped intelligence leading to the war in Iraq to reports the agency runs secret prisons abroad for terrorism suspects and uses harsh interrogation techniques amounting to torture.
"What we do does not come close to torture," Goss said, though he declined to elaborate on the agency’s interrogation techniques.
Al Qaida leaders Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi haven’t been found "primarily because they don’t want us to find them and they’re going to great lengths to make sure we don’t find them," Goss said in the interview broadcast Tuesday on ABC’s "Good Morning America." "We’re applying a lot of efforts to find out where they are." He insisted the CIA knows "a good deal more" about the men "than we’re able to say publicly."
Goss said one of the hardest parts of the CIA’s mission is to "penetrate into some of the sanctuary areas" – whether harsh terrain or "at the heart of a city, in a ghetto or slum area where people don’t regularly go."
"Knowing how to find those places and getting to penetrate them is going to be the hardest part of this business," he said.
Even with the CIA’s mistakes, Goss said, the agency is "the gold standard by any measure" in terms of human intelligence.
"We don’t get it right every time," he said, "but I don’t think there’s anybody who could even come close."
Reports have surfaced recently that the CIA runs secret prisons in Europe for detaining and interrogating suspects. The U.S. has not confirmed those reports, and Goss did not address them directly.
"We’re fighting a war on terror," he said in response to a question about the prisons. "We’re doing quite well. Inevitably, we’re going to have to capture some terrorists and inevitably they’re going to have to have some due process. It’s going to be done lawfully."
The interview was taped inside the operations room at the agency’s headquarters in suburban Langley, Va. A red light flashed throughout the interview, indicating there was someone in the room who did not have a security clearance – the interviewer, ABC’s Charles Gibson.