Politics

Transcript: Nada Bakos talks with Michael Morell on “Intelligence Matters”

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – NADA BAKOS
CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL
PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:
Nada, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It is great to have you on the show.
NADA BAKOS:
Thank you for having me.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And congratulations on the publication of your book, The Targeter. I know it took a while. And actually, I want to come back and ask you about that at the end. But maybe the place to start our discussion is at the very beginning. You’re from Montana. You grew up there. You went to school there. How did you end up at the Central Intelligence Agency?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah, it was a circuitous path. I really wanted to live overseas and work overseas. And I was really interested in working for an international organization. And when I graduated from undergrad, there was a bit of a recession in the U.S.; not a lotta jobs.
MICHAEL MORELL:
What year was this?
NADA BAKOS:
This was in 1991. And I started a grad program actually in India, in New Delhi. And after, like, the first half of that year, I decided I wanted to go back to the U.S. And there just didn’t seem to be a lotta options. So, I chose positions where I could get a job, and a lot of those ended up in HR even though my academic background was in economics. And so, when I saw a job advertised for CIA for an organizational development person, I went ahead and applied.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And so, you started as a human resources officer?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
What did you actually do?
NADA BAKOS:
Well, when I came in, they were looking at trying to modernize the operations side of the house. So, I was working a bit with Rob Richer, trying to allocate resources and figure out how do we adjust this to–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Rob at that time was probably the number two in the–
NADA BAKOS:
He was the number two in operations, yeah–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Operations, yes.
NADA BAKOS:
So, he, of course, in the good case officer way, was trying to recruit me to come over to the DO (LAUGH) side and be a case officer. You know, I did that job for a little while up until 9/11.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And then you transitioned to be an analyst?
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right. How did that happen?
NADA BAKOS:
There was an opening in OTI, or Office of Transnational Issues. And it was in illicit finance. So, I applied for that role and, thankfully, got in. And that changed obviously the trajectory of my career there.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, I started in the predecessor office to OTI. I started in the Office of Global Issues. And it’s had a bazillion different names over the years. But I actually started there.

So, Nada, can you give the listeners a sense of what it’s like to be an analyst at CIA? What does kind of a typical day look like? We’ve had a lot of operations officers on the show but not a lot of analysts.
NADA BAKOS:
Right.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, what is it like to be an analyst?
NADA BAKOS:
That’s also one of the reasons I wrote this book. It just felt like there’s just not a lot of analysts who write books, in addition to women who write books. An analyst’s job is, you know, listeners have probably heard you talking about it as well– is really to digest information, pick out the salient pieces and write products for the policy-maker or brief the policy-maker. While it doesn’t sound sexy, it’s really, really interesting work because you get to see a huge swath of information.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, I’m going to get a lotta people mad at me here on the operational side of the agency. But I actually think the point of the spear is the analytic side, right. That’s the representation of our work to the people who make decisions, right. And so, I think it is extraordinarily important. Richard Helms, who is a beloved director, used to say the most important thing the agency does is analysis.
NADA BAKOS:
I agree. It’s the culmination of all the efforts coming together.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right. Prior to the war in Iraq, you were part of the team that was tasked with addressing the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
NADA BAKOS:
Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
MICHAEL MORELL:
Can you talk about that?
NADA BAKOS:
So, I came into the team and it was kind of the second iteration of the team. It had a new branch chief. She was fantastic. She had been a briefer. I think she’s a mutual friend of ours.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, (LAUGH) she is.
NADA BAKOS:
And she was really, you know, building the analysis around the question of whether or not Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 and Al Qaeda. And so, we were continually working with operations side of the house to collect information, fill in any gaps that we had.
MICHAEL MORELL:
A lotta questions were being asked by the policy-makers, right–
NADA BAKOS:
Lots of questions–
BOTH:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Is there a link? Is there a link? Is there a link?
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And you guys had to answer that?
NADA BAKOS:
We did.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And what did you conclude?
NADA BAKOS:
The ultimate conclusion was that there was not a link, to put it plainly. We couldn’t find substantial evidence that Saddam had ever really worked with Al Qaeda. And there was no link between Iraq and 9/11.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right. I think we did say that there was some communication between them going way back, but even that turned out to be wrong, right?
NADA BAKOS:
Exactly.
MICHAEL MORELL:
At the end of the day?
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
If I remember correctly, we wrote two papers.
NADA BAKOS:
Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
MICHAEL MORELL:
We wrote a paper that said if we were going to make a case that there was a link, here’s the best case we can make. And were you there for that?
NADA BAKOS:
I think you’re referring to the Murky paper?
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yes.
NADA BAKOS:
I came in right after that paper–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yes. So, we wrote that paper, which I think gave the wrong impression a little bit.
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And then we corrected it. And I remember I was then the number three on the analytic side of the agency. And we put out the paper, and it didn’t get a great response from the policy-makers, if I remember correctly. And did you guys feel that?
NADA BAKOS:
With the–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Scooter Libby in particular–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes, we did. So, it was a long paper and we called it the bible because (LAUGH) everything we had had gone into it, trying to at least fill in all of the gaps that we had on the collection, as much as we possibly could. So, that paper didn’t resonate necessarily with the White House. It didn’t resonate with pieces of the Pentagon. So, we had, again, the continual questions around some of the nuances of the analysis that we had in the paper.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So, the paper concluded no relationship?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
No Iraqi involvement in 9/11?
NADA BAKOS:
Yup.
MICHAEL MORELL:
No Iraqi foreknowledge of 9/11?
NADA BAKOS:
Right.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And yet, some members of the administration continued — actually to this very day — to suggest that there was a link?
NADA BAKOS:
Right. And this is where all the sound bites that we’re seeing in the media now on all the news networks, where administration comes out with this sort of nuanced language of trying to push this narrative, it changes the trajectory of the truth.

That was happening a lot, especially with this issue, and even I think probably on the WMD side, to a certain extent. But certainly with the issue of whether or not Iraq was connected to Al Qaeda, the implication — from some members of the White House, and some members of DOD — is that there was some kind of connection.
MICHAEL MORELL:
This is a question about me, at the end of the day, and the people on the seventh floor. How did you feel you were supported with regard to what you were saying and the push-back you were receiving?
NADA BAKOS:
I mean, I had a fantastic chief. You know, she had a lot on her shoulders in the sense of this was such an unprecedented moment, I think, for us in time. Because she had that connection and experience with the White House, I think she was leading a lot of the effort and some of the direct communication, just because she was capable. So, on one hand, we were probably interacting more directly with senior leadership than a traditional team would be. At the same time, we felt supported from the seventh floor.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right. Well, you know, we got a lotta things wrong on Iraq, but this piece, we got right and you should feel very good about that. I know I do. But you should feel really good about that.

So, Nada, after the initial invasion of Iraq, you do a tour in Iraq. Were you asked to go? Did you volunteer? How did that happen?
NADA BAKOS:
My branch chief asked for volunteers, so I went ahead and raised my hand. And I ended up being the second person from our team that went to Iraq. I really didn’t have any idea what to expect.
MICHAEL MORELL:
When did you go?
NADA BAKOS:
I left D.C. in May of 2003–
MICHAEL MORELL:
2003, okay–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah, at the end of May. You know, the person that went right before me, he was in kind of a slightly different situation. (LAUGH) He had aligned himself with a case officer who had been there for a little bit longer. So, they had this structure kind of set up, and a routine set up, for what they did on a daily basis. When I got there, the DO had changed over. So, we were rebuilding the structure of what we needed to do and achieve on a daily basis, so–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Uh-huh (AFFIRM), so what did you do? What was your job?
NADA BAKOS:
My job was to continue to support my team in answering questions on whether or not we would find any further evidence that Iraq was connected to 9/11 and Al Qaeda.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, how did you do that?
NADA BAKOS:
I did that through talking to detainees that were in military custody, in addition to former regime officials, like Tariq Aziz.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And tell me how that worked. You went to their cell? They were taken to a debriefing room? How did that work? And how’d you find that, right? Because you’re a trained–
NADA BAKOS:
Right.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–analyst, and all of a sudden, you’re face to face with–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–people who are under arrest.
NADA BAKOS:
So, working a little bit through I think it was the deputy chief of station at the time, he had told us kind of what the structure was for the detainee population. So, I worked with the general population, which we were set up in these sort of plywood debriefing rooms, when they would just pull them out of these pens at Baghdad International Airport and set them up. And for once, they had shade. I think, you know, it was essentially a break for them. With the regime officials, they were held in a separate area. We were in buildings, where we’re able to talk to them for longer periods of time.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And what was a typical debriefing session like?
NADA BAKOS:
Well, with the general population, it varied. Some of these guys were arrested because they were suspected to be what we were terming insurgents. And some of these guys, it was suspected, could be foreign fighters. And my whole interest really at the time was were these guys working with Zarqawi. Where is he? Is he still in the country? And what is he doing at that moment?
MICHAEL MORELL:
Did you have a standard set of questions?
NADA BAKOS:
No.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Or–
NADA BAKOS:
It depended on the circumstances of how the person was arrested. So, I would have to just play it by ear, how cooperative this person was going to be, what their background was. There was a lot of, like, former military; some former Iraqi Intelligence Service. It would just depend.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And did you try to build some rapport as you kind of went into the room?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah. But that sometimes worked. Other times, there was just so much resistance, it was clearly not going to be productive. The one exception being Tariq Aziz. I think the first time I met him was in– he had heatstroke; was in the hospital. And he was in a hospital robe, as most people are when they’re (LAUGH) in a hospital, sitting across from me on a cot. And he decided he wanted to disarm me and throw me off. So, he opened his hospital robe right in front of me, just sitting there in his underwear. I didn’t respond. But yeah, that was probably the more unique–
MICHAEL MORELL:
This was the foreign minister of Iraq–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah, (LAUGH) yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–prior to the war?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So, what were your enduring memories of that first tour? What really stands out to you?
NADA BAKOS:
I think more than anything was the lack of cohesion of process and strategy. What were we going to do once we were there? Once everything was dismantled, we didn’t seem to have a plan. There’s no way to put anything back together–
MICHAEL MORELL:
And we as a government?
NADA BAKOS:
We as a government.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah.
NADA BAKOS:
And a coalition. We just didn’t seem to have any kind of plan to be able to provide electricity, water, any kind of infrastructure, after it was taken apart.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Did you have a sense when you were there that this was going to head in the wrong direction as a result of that?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah, I did. I remember having a phone call with my husband — well, he wasn’t yet my husband at the time — just relaying to him how hopeless it already started to seem. Because we didn’t really have a grasp of what was happening, I thought, on the ground in a way that would be productive. This was clearly ramping to be a huge fight.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Nada, a few months after you return from Iraq, you quit.
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
In fact, you sent a resignation email, I understand. But days after that, you were back at work again. What happened?
NADA BAKOS:
So, people smarter than me had started peeling off my branch, going to other jobs. They had been there quite a while. It was burnout, essentially. I stayed on longer as an analyst, largely to prove myself. This was the first, you know, really high-profile account I had been on.

I was writing a lot of the presidential daily briefs at that point. I was burned out and I was really tired of answering the same question over and over and over again. That came back to me constantly, in addition to trying to keep up on the daily intelligence that was coming in, and trying to provide that information back to the policy-maker.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And so, you said–
NADA BAKOS:
I’d had enough.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–I’m done?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah. (LAUGH) I had filled, full-brain capacity at that point, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And so, you say I quit, and then what happens?
NADA BAKOS:
Ended up getting a call from another senior manager who worked in the counter-terrorism center and said–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Did you have any idea what you were going to do? That you were going to go work someplace else? Or–
NADA BAKOS:
Well–
MICHAEL MORELL:
–were you going to figure that out later?
NADA BAKOS:
–I did have an offer from one of the contractors, and I wasn’t really interested in it. It was just, you know, an offer letter had been sitting at my house and I hadn’t done anything with it at that point. When I got the call from the senior manager from the counter-terrorism and he said, “Why don’t you come back into the DO side,” the operations side, “And become a targeting officer,” that just had a lot more allure to me.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And what was it about being a targeting officer that was different than what you were doing before that excited you?
NADA BAKOS:
Well, having the strategic background of the DI and the type of analysis that we did there, and being able to apply that to working with the action arms and trying to dismantle Zarqawi’s network was– I felt like at least at that point, I’d be doing something versus answering a question.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, maybe we should take a second to tell the listeners what is a targeting officer and what does a targeting officer do.
NADA BAKOS:
At that time, they were just in the operations side. Now, they’re on both sides of the house. But on the operations side, their job is to either recruit and look for assets for the U.S. government to–
MICHAEL MORELL:
To find the person who has–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–the information we need?
NADA BAKOS:
That will spy for us.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yup.
NADA BAKOS:
Or it’s to target individuals that we are looking for, like Zarqawi or bin Laden or members of Al Qaeda.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, to find them? Find out where they are–
NADA BAKOS:
To find them, yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And what’s the difference between what an analyst does on a day-to-day basis, and what a targeting officer does? Is there much of a difference?
NADA BAKOS:
It’s still analysis, but it’s tactical analysis. So, you move from trying to really paint this broader picture to not necessarily a pinhole version but a much smaller bandwidth of information that you’re looking at. So, you’re really trying to just find ways — insertion points and vulnerabilities — to dismantle a network or an organization.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. One of the things you talk about in the book is that you felt as being an analyst, particularly on the Iraq/Al Qaeda question is you were always looking backward.
NADA BAKOS:
Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right? And one of the things you liked about targeting is essentially you were looking forward?
BOTH:
Right.
MICHAEL MORELL:
That played a role in how you felt about the two jobs?
NADA BAKOS:
It did. And really, you know, traditional analyst job is you are looking forward. And that’s what was so interesting and exciting about being an analyst. So, going to the targeting officer role, in some way, was like being a traditional analyst again. Maybe in retrospect, I should’ve looked for another analyst job.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. (LAUGH) Well, no, no, I think you did okay. I think you did okay as a targeting officer.

So, Nada, you eventually become branch chief of the Zarqawi unit. So, what’s the Zarqawi unit? Essentially, you guys are looking for him, right?
NADA BAKOS:
Right. So, by this point, Zarqawi had joined Al Qaeda. His organization he was, you know, building up within Iraq was garnering all the resources and money and recruits the Al Qaeda traditionally had drawn. So, we were–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Was he in Iraq prior to the war?
NADA BAKOS:
You know, he moved into northern Iraq right prior to the invasion. He had set up a camp that included a rudimentary poisons lab in northern Iraq, and he was co-located with another indigenous terrorist organization.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And then when the vacuum occurs, he starts filling it?
NADA BAKOS:
Right. So, he was basically lying in wait, waiting for that vacuum to occur so that he could take advantage of it.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And extremists start joining him because–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–he’s got this great personality?
NADA BAKOS:
He already had built a network. He was co-located with Al Qaeda in Herat, Afghanistan, in the late ’90s. So, he’d already been building this extremist network for a while.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And what made him so special? I guess what made him so good, from one perspective, right, and so bad from another perspective?
NADA BAKOS:
Right. He took violence to a whole different level. This was one of the first times that we had seen a tactic that had continuous rolling vehicle bombs. So, he would take two or three vehicles and load them up with IEDs and push them through to a target, one at a time, one right after another.

And it caused huge destruction. It was one of the first times that we had actually seen that. We’d seen mention of that as a plan before, but had not ever seen it executed. He was also targeting civilians, other Muslims, lots of Shia. He was basically doing anything he wanted to just sow chaos.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And you talked about the relationship between him and Al Qaeda, and that evolved over time. Can you talk about that a little bit?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah. When he first joined Al Qaeda, there was a struggle between how he was supposed to build his strategy, according to what Al Qaeda central wanted, and then what Zarqawi wanted. So, they were butting heads for a while. And eventually, he won that war–
MICHAEL MORELL:
And wasn’t part of the debate, they wanted him to focus on the foreign presence and he wanted to–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–focus on creating this dynamic between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq?
NADA BAKOS:
That’s exactly right. So, he was wanting to just make sure that he was taking advantage of the situation internally. They wanted him to go after the foreign targets, because they were still really focused on the United States and Western European countries; Al Qaeda central–
MICHAEL MORELL:
By focusing on the internal target, what was he trying to achieve?
NADA BAKOS:
Well, at that point, he (LAUGH) had a point plan that ISIS actually took and co-opted. Caliphate was toward the bottom of his list. He wanted to control territory so that he could start building his own caliphate.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And people need to know that this organization that he created, Al Qaeda in Iraq, eventually morphs into ISIS–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–someday.
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, you then go back to Iraq for a second time. When did you go and what did you do?
NADA BAKOS:
So, this was as a targeting officer. I actually was managing the team at the time. And we had a person that was co-located with special forces. So, while we had a person rotating through there, in addition to sometimes having people in Baghdad, we were working with special forces. We were working with station. And we were really trying to take advantage of any kind of vulnerabilities we could find within Zarqawi’s organization. So, special forces was quite often our action arm.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And that was true in Afghanistan and–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–it’s probably still true today?
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, Nada, you had some near misses in getting him. In fact, in February of 2005, you almost got him but he got away. What happened?
NADA BAKOS:
We had intelligence from somebody who was tired of Zarqawi taking advantage of everybody that said he’d be traveling at a certain period of time with another individual in a white pick up truck. So, we had surveillance. We were able to see overhead where we saw a pick up truck leave a certain point that was navigating toward a destination that we were told about. So, special forces then lined up, scrambled–
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, you thought that was him–
NADA BAKOS:
We thought that was him. They scrambled up behind. They were still a good half-mile away, but we had surveillance overhead. But at the time, our surveillance wasn’t able to see through some clouds and some of the tree canopy. So, he would disappear periodically.

And then he pulled into a farmhouse, into what in Montana we call a shelter belt; canopy of trees. And we couldn’t see him. He got out of the truck and ran. So, by the time special forces pulled up, the individuals were gone, but there was a laptop that was left inside the pick up.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So, how did you and your team feel at that point?
NADA BAKOS:
On one hand, it was fantastic we were able to get that close. Figured that we could again. But on the other hand, to be able to be that close and not actually capture him or kill him at that point, that was incredibly frustrating.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So, then you return and you do another job transition?
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right? But we eventually do get him?
NADA BAKOS:
Yes. So, about three months prior to Zarqawi being killed, I transitioned to another job within the operations field. And so, my former colleagues and some of the team that I have worked with in the U.S. military ended up getting him.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And how did that happen, to the extent you can talk about it?
NADA BAKOS:
They had actually human intelligence about where and when he would be arriving at a certain place. So, U.S. military was actually able to leverage all of that information and continually update intelligence, also working with the CIA, and they ended up killing him.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So then, how did you hear about it, right? And how did you feel?
NADA BAKOS:
So, I was with work colleagues. We were actually traveling at the time, and I came down into this hotel lobby. And they told me. They saw it on the news that he’d been killed. And I was shocked. (LAUGH) I mean, I knew it was coming, right. He’s inside this country. There’s coalition forces everywhere. But I felt like it was a huge relief. I knew it wasn’t the end of anything, necessarily, but it was a huge relief.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. And then were you surprised that Al Qaeda in Iraq was able to bounce back and ultimately become this thing called ISIS? Or did you always see the roots of that?
NADA BAKOS:
He had such a broad network. And that extremist ideology we knew, from what happened with Al Qaeda, wasn’t going away. So, while it wasn’t surprising that it morphed, it was slightly surprising that it morphed in such an intense, dynamic way that it did, drawing so much from Iraqi–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Did we know of al-Baghdadi at that time?
NADA BAKOS:
We knew of him but he wasn’t a player, necessarily. But he became radicalized, we know, you know, before Zarqawi really took over.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Was he a member of Al Qaeda in Iraq, you remember?
NADA BAKOS:
I don’t know if he ever swore bayat to Zarqawi. But he certainly was part of that network.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, Nada, then you decide to leave CIA?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right? Why?
NADA BAKOS:
Well, my husband at the time didn’t work there. It’s really difficult to– I wanted to live overseas. I didn’t really want to go back to the mothership in D.C. that badly for a long period of time. And it’s really difficult to ask somebody who’s mid-career to senior career to move every few years with me overseas in different capacities. So, that was just the right moment for us both to make that change.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. Do you miss it?
NADA BAKOS:
I do miss it. Yeah, I missed it right away. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the ability to, you know, focus on different topics at any given (LAUGH) time. It’s a great place to kind of reinvent yourself.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. So, a lotta discussion in your book about the role of women at CIA. Let me ask you two questions about that. One is, you saw a difference in the role that women had on the analytic side of the agency, and the role that they had on the operational side of the agency. Can you talk about that?
NADA BAKOS:
So, on the analyst side, you know, there was largely gender equity. It seemed to be semi-equal numbers. You were really judged on your capability and the products that you write, as you know. When we send things out for our colleagues to tear apart, (LAUGH) they do it equally. It doesn’t matter who you are; they want to make sure that we have the analysis right.

On the operations side, it still felt very misogynistic at times. Sometimes I was the only woman in the room in various meetings. And I was looking around for someone to be a mentor, especially because I wasn’t a case officer. And it was just really difficult to find women that were able to, like, create a balance, working on the ops side.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, I mean, I saw this. And in fact, I saw it to the point where we made a decision to bring in Madeleine Albright and have her look at this issue of what happens to women on the operational side of the agency. She wrote a great report and made a whole bunch of recommendations. And I sure hope they’ve been implemented, because there was a difference, absolutely. Second question about women, which is that a lot has been made about women as targeters, right. Most targeters are women–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–and then people even make the argument that women make better targeters than men. What’s your sense on that?
NADA BAKOS:
I always push back on that narrative because I think regardless of who you are, it depends on individual skill sets, right. That’s like saying men are generally better at X because they’re men. I don’t think that’s true, and it depends on the person. Regardless of what gender you identify with, you’re capable of doing great things. There were a lot of women focused on Al Qaeda before 9/11. It wasn’t a super sexy job. There wasn’t an immediate payoff. And I think women are willing to put up with that, to a certain extent.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Patience?
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah, and not looking for that bump in career I guess at the time. But there were lots of men working, focusing on the analyst side, also on Al Qaeda. Some fantastic analysts, who I highly respect. So, there has been a lot said about–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, yeah, yeah–
NADA BAKOS:
–women doing that, but yeah–
MICHAEL MORELL:
–some documentaries have– that’s been a theme of the documentary–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah, I was part of one–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

So, Nada, you’ve been great with your time; just a few more questions. Number one, a role like yours was fictionalized. The role of a targeting officer was fictionalized in the film, Zero Dark Thirty, which I’m sure you’ve seen. So, how accurate is that as a description of a targeting officer?
NADA BAKOS:
I think I should ask you that question. (LAUGH) I would love to flip this interview around.
MICHAEL MORELL:
No, I get to ask the (LAUGHTER) questions here.
NADA BAKOS:
I mean, that wasn’t really my experience as a targeting officer. I’m sure it was, you know, that one single person, her experience as she saw it. I personally saw everything as a much broader, bigger, team effort.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Yeah. I think what happened in the film is that they had to create one–
NADA BAKOS:
Absolutely, yeah, yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–one person who did everything, right?
NADA BAKOS:
It’s hard to have a huge ensemble cast and do a movie, yeah–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Right, right, right. The second question was, in your mind, how much of the breakthroughs that happen in a targeting case are attributable to a moment of intuition, a moment of brilliance, and how much just really hard data work?
NADA BAKOS:
There were some people that actually– analysts that had worked for me, that I was just amazed at their ability to find and dig up and create these just connections that were initially, when we talked about it, just didn’t seem plausible. But they would end up finding these nuggets on hunches and be able to make those connections. And they would turn into real-time operations. And sometimes I think it is based on your instinct. And there is some value to being able to have some inherent skill to do that job.
MICHAEL MORELL:
And where do you think those hunches and intuition comes from?
NADA BAKOS:
Knowing how either the individual target functions or else understanding the organizational dynamics. Where would they go to leverage their strength at this point?
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, real deep knowledge of–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–the target and the organization–
NADA BAKOS:
Absolutely.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–that you’re looking at–
NADA BAKOS:
Yes.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–creates a moment where you say, that’s not the way they would do this? This is the way they would do it–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–and I think we should focus on this?
NADA BAKOS:
Exactly.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Interesting. And Nada, one last question. This one related to your book. You’ve been very vocal about the frustrations of getting your book through the publication review process at CIA. We all sign a piece of paper when we start to work there that we will do that the rest of our lives, right. You even filed a lawsuit to get your book–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–broken loose, so to speak. What happened? What was going on there?
NADA BAKOS:
I had sent it in, as I was supposed to, the entire manuscript. I didn’t hear anything back for a long period of time. And by the time I actually did receive something, I think it was at least a year and a half later–
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, you sent it and you didn’t hear anything for a year and a half?
NADA BAKOS:
Right.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Wow–
NADA BAKOS:
It came back largely black with zero explanation. There were some things that they said, well, if you change this, it can be that. But there were huge chunks of this that were just completely redacted. And they couldn’t answer some of those questions because it was done by another agency and some of it was done by DOD. And I couldn’t sit down with anybody. They weren’t willing to, to just discuss–
MICHAEL MORELL:
Why they thought–
NADA BAKOS:
Yeah.
MICHAEL MORELL:
–something was classified–
NADA BAKOS:
So, I had no book at that point. And I couldn’t even move forward with publishing. So, without getting the answers, I ended up having to file a lawsuit so that I could at least try to clarify what more I could be doing differently. And that’s when they actually sat down and we had a whole discussion. So, I talked to several different agencies, individually, and worked through the process. The process is so broken.
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, at the end of the day, how different is what was published from what you originally sent them? How much ended up being redacted?
NADA BAKOS:
I would say 25% of it was completely redacted and removed, and another 30% changed.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Uh-huh (AFFIRM). And when they explained to you why they wanted it redacted, did it make sense to you?
NADA BAKOS:
10% of it did. There was some stuff that they just gave back to me when I’m sitting there. You know, we’re sitting there discussing it, they were like, you can have that back, you can have that back. So, there really wasn’t any rhyme or reason as to why they redacted the information — some of the information — that they did.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Interesting. So, after more than two years of going through that, the book’s out.
NADA BAKOS:
Yes–
MICHAEL MORELL:
So, you must feel really good about it?
NADA BAKOS:
Very much. It was a labor but it’s really nice to just finally have it out there.
MICHAEL MORELL:
Nada, thank you so much for your time today. The book is The Targeter and the author is Nada Bakos.
NADA BAKOS:
Thank you so much.
MICHAEL MORELL:
You’re welcome.
* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *


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