Alfreda is a 50-year-old, top-level CIA official who allegedly played a key role in failing to give the FBI critical information that could have led to the capture of the 9/11 hijackers before they attacked; pushed successfully to keep an innocent man in a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan; and went to watch torture sessions, according to published reports and sources. She was dubbed the the “Unidentified Queen of Torture” by The New Yorker Magazine and was reportedly an inspiration for the female CIA agent in the Hollywood movie Zero Dark Thirty. (Her last name has been published by various news outlets, but BuzzFeed News is not using it because of the CIA’s concerns for her safety, especially in light of the rise of ISIS.)
Michael Scheuer is a 63-year-old former CIA official who back in the 1990s was Alfreda’s boss. He once headed the agency’s anti-Osama Bin Laden Unit and now stays in the public eye, pushing controversial theories. On his website, he calls for “a regional Sunni-Shia war in which our enemies will merrily kill each other until well after the cows come home.” In an interview with BuzzFeed News he confirmed that he advocates inciting war between the Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East. He called Senator Dianne Feinstein, who headed the Senate Intelligence Committee during its torture investigation, “an old hag from California.”
He lost his job as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University after publishing comments on his website that were interpreted as a call for a violent overthrow of President Obama. A school official says Scheuer wasn't fired but that his course simply wasn't needed anymore, while Scheuer said he believes he was fired for his criticism of Israel.
What was unknown outside intelligence circles is that the two have been married for more then a year, as Scheuer told BuzzFeed News, and others have confirmed.
Some intelligence sources argue that the marriage, which Scheuer says took place in December 2014, is a purely private matter, but others say it is noteworthy because the pair are so steeped in controversy and because of Scheuer’s outspoken views.
In a phone call with BuzzFeed News last week, Scheuer initially denied being married to Alfreda. But later he called back. “Yes, I’m married to Alfreda,” he said. His earlier denial, he said, was because he’d been surprised by the call. He declined to say if they had been involved romantically in the 1990s when he was her supervisor at the agency.
The CIA declined to make Alfreda available for comment, and attempts to reach her through Scheuer were unsuccessful. The agency also declined to comment about specifics, but spokesman Ryan Trapani sent an email to BuzzFeed News, with the subject line “Buzzfeed/Roston/Journalistic Perdition.” “Gossip is not news,” he wrote, “and it is not the job of the Office of Public Affairs to engage in it.”
Alfreda emerged as a divisive figure most notably last year after the publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture program. In the report, she is referred to as the “deputy chief of Alec Station.” NBC News’s Matthew Cole wrote a lengthy story about her, though he did not name her. So did Jane Mayer in The New Yorker.
In 2000, while she was at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, the agency blocked the FBI from learning that suspected terrorist Khalid Al-Midhar had a U.S. visa, according to the 9/11 commission report, and it has been reported that she played a role in the incident. Al-Midhar came to the U.S. and stayed under his own name with another terrorist, and the two men joined the hijacking team aboard American flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon. A former senior intelligence officer told BuzzFeed News that Alfreda and her colleagues “conspired to not tell the FBI” about the intelligence, and some investigators have said that the 9/11 plot could have been thwarted if the FBI had been told.
Alfreda was also a key player in the CIA’s imprisonment of a man whom agency officials knew to be innocent, an incident that has been widely reported. In early 2004, she had pushed to keep German citizen Khaled el Masri in CIA custody and sent to the CIA’s grim Salt Pit prison, even though he had been detained in a case of mistaken identity. Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo pointed out in 2011 in an Associated Press story, that she’d been promoted at the CIA, even after that disaster, though the story did not name her. McClatchy and the Washington Post did name her in connection with the incident in stories in 2014.
In another incident according to the Senate torture report and former intelligence officers, she reportedly went to visit an “enhanced interrogation” at a secret CIA prison to watch a waterboarding session.
Scheuer defended his wife. Asked about the label “Queen of Torture,” he criticized the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA program, and launched an attack on Senator Diane Feinstein, who chaired the committee when the report was written. “Feinstein, she’s just an old hag from California,” he said, “who gets her jollies criticizing American capabilities.”
As for El Masri, who was held even after the CIA knew they had the wrong man, Scheuer told BuzzFeed News “I don’t give a damn if it’s the wrong guy. You make mistakes, in war.”
Sheuer himself was the first head of the agency’s Bin Laden unit, Alec Station, in 1996, and he coordinated the intelligence on Bin Laden until 1999. Alfreda worked for him at the unit. In 2004, he left the agency, where he was considered brilliant but arrogant, after anonymously authoring a book called Imperial Hubris, where he called for the U.S. to either disengage from the Middle East completely, or be prepared for a full-scale war against radical Islam.
He later worked as a CBS analyst and a professor at Georgetown University.
In late 2014, the same month he said he married Alfreda, he published a blog post on his site that The Daily Beast, Gawker, and The Hoya, a Georgetown University student newspaper, all interpreted as endorsing the assassination of President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Later, in an interview with The Hoya, he was quoted saying, “At some point, when push comes to shove, you kill people and get them out of the way.”
In his interview with BuzzFeed News he said he was not endorsing the assassination of the president, but was arguing that people have to take action when a government becomes too repressive.
Among many CIA veterans he is viewed with dislike. “He’s a complete fucking nut,” said one.
In his interview with BuzzFeed News, Scheuer said he believes the U.S. government should encourage a wider Sunni-Shiite war. “They love to kill each other more than they love to kill us. I would stoke it. It would distract them from attacking us.”
“I think that’s a crackpot idea,” said former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Mack, asked about Scheuer’s theory. “I don’t see it as something that would serve US interests.”
Scheuer would not discuss Alfreda’s philosophy on Islam. “My views are only my views, sir.” He also said he does not discuss his wife’s work with her.
Aram Roston is an investigative reporter and editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is D861 374F D725 4F61 39C0 08F1 4575 134B 09D9 B28D
Contact Aram Roston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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