It’s the unclassified story of the manhunt for Saddam Hussein as told by lead interrogator Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army Veteran who spent 6 months serving in Baghdad interrogating members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. In this episode, Eric shares the stories, challenges, and the process of how his team gathered all the key intel that led to Saddam Hussein’s eventual capture.
He eventually shared his story about his experiences in Baghdad in his book “Mission: Blacklist #1”.
The David Johnson Show is the veteran talk show about points of interest within our culture – The Military and Veteran Cultural.
More so than ever the Military and Veteran community has created a culture in America. A sub-culture unique to our way of life, our experiences and the language we speak. Military forces have been deploying to fight the war on terrorism since 09/11/2001 and remain engaged in combat operations to this day. We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. This mindset of a Soldier, Airman, Sailor or Marine is never lost. Yes, the individual will exit the Military and start a new chapter in their life, however, the culture never dies.
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Eric Maddox: We built a linked diagram of over 2,000 names. At the very top of it, after five months being with this team, we realized one bodyguard, inner circle of Saddam Hussein's, running the whole thing.
David Johnson: This is a story about people. More importantly, this is a story about a man who truly listened to the person he was talking to and developed what's known as the empathy-based approach. Through his actions directly led to the capture of former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. Joining the studio with us today is Eric Maddox, welcome.
Eric: Thank you David.
David: This is going to be a great conversation, but I think it's important we lay the foundation of a little bit of what life was like for you and the military in general, pre-9/11. It was obviously a different world back then.
Eric: Sure. David, before 9/11 I enlisted in the Army in 1994. I was an infantry guy. Spent three years as a paratrooper with the 82nd airborne division.
David: All the way.
Eric: Learned about the Army's foreign language program. Thought it was cool. Re-enlisted to learn Chinese Mandarin. I was trained as an interrogator. The turn of the century, the United States military, they love their linguists. There were no interrogations going on. We weren't at war.
My primary mission was as an intelligence collection officer for the United States military against the Chinese. 9/11 happens, we start going to war. Initially in Afghanistan. Chinese Mandarin they didn't need me yet. We go to war in Iraq. I was told I'm never going to the Middle East. My focus was Chinese Mandarin. Three months of the war in Iraq, I receive highly unexpected orders for Baghdad.
David: Wow. You went to the military's language school, which is the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Correct? Then after that you went to interrogation training?
Eric: That's correct.
David: This was all pre-9/11. You studied Chinese, different mission, different part of the world, then 9/11 happened and they needed your skill set.
Eric: They did. Again, 2003 in the United States, we go to war in Iraq. I didn't think they did. I get unexpected orders for Baghdad. They don't tell me what unit. I show up, and I am picked up by interrogators from what was the Joint Special Operations Command. That's the United States military task force responsible for tracking down everybody on the deck of cards, mainly Saddam.
David: Right. Wow. You show up in Baghdad, you get attached to a unit, you have the interrogation training, you don't necessarily speak Arabic, and then you jump right into interrogations? What's the welcome like out there?
Eric: It's a great question, right? The welcome was, "Why am I here? I'm a Chinese Mandarin linguist." They said, "Listen, we have Delta Force teams spread throughout the country. They want interrogators with them to go with them on the raids." This group of bearded soldiers, they're like, "We're the interrogators. We're not infantry."
They said, "We called the Army, we said, 'Give us a list of every single US Army interrogator who's former infantry,'" and they also said, "We want you to be a graduate at Ranger School." They said, "Eric, you were the only person on the list."
David: Yeah, there's not that many. [laughs]
Eric: "You're the only person on the list!" I'm immediately sent to Tikrit, Iraq. There was a small Delta Force team up there. I joined in. The commander said very clearly, "You're going out with us on these raids. By the way, we've never fought a war like this before. There's not a battlefield, there's not uniforms, and you've got to make these prisoners talk."
David: That is a huge point. I was going to touch on it later, but we're going to touch on it now. I was there, airplaned into Iraq in the early days just like you. It's not a war of two armies on the battlefield, forward march, and let's go fight. These are, "I'm a plumber by day and I'm shooting an RPG at you at night, and then I'm going to go take my kids to school."
That might be a little bit exaggerating, but these are plain clothes, and sometimes you don't know who the combatant is. This is true unconventional warfare. Is that accurate?
Eric: That's exactly right. The problem was that all military interrogators were trained to be interrogating the soldier. There was not this plausible deniability of their guilt or innocence. The United States military, we had these detention facilities with hundreds of prisoners. We didn't know who they were.
As you know, when we go on these raids and we go on these missions, we were rounding up everybody in the vicinity. There were truly dozens and dozens of innocent people. If you're guilty, "Just pretend to be one of them. Don't talk. Don't say anything," and there's plausible deniability. When I started my interrogations, I realized we were never trained on this.
I'm going to have to gain cooperation from somebody who has a good chance of getting themselves out of prison if they keep their mouth shut.
David: Just thought of this right now. A lot of things in the military has changed since 9/11, the unconventional warfare tactics, convoy tactics, everything. You were trained in -- I don't say old school -- different manner of interrogation where like you said, I captured you on the battlefield, you're in a uniform, I know you're a combatant.
As of now, I'm going into a room to talk to you, and I don't even know who you are maybe. Let's start with that. How do you even start then? You have a blank slate. You're in Iraq, early days, not years, and years, and years of intelligence gathering, information gathering, how and where do you even start?
Eric: The first thing you start with is your original training. You're always told, trust the training you received. As I used the army techniques I realized, "OK, I've done these correctly. They're not going to work."
David: How soon did you realize that? That's a key point though. The way I was trained is not going to work? Was that in your first talk/discussion with somebody? When did that hit you?
Eric: [laughs] It crossed my mind after my first two prisoners. After, I'm going to say, eight prisoners. I'm three days into this, I'm testing everything I knew to do. It wasn't like I was getting close. This was not going to work.
For me, it was, "I don't know a solution. Let's quit getting stuck on the idea that maybe I need to tweak the techniques." I had to think of something completely different, completely out of the box.
David: Without going into detail, what were some of the techniques you tried that you knew immediately it wasn't going to work?
Eric: The basic interrogation techniques. The idea is that you're going to sit in front of this prisoner, and with conviction and authority, you're going to make them think you know everything about them. That under no circumstances are they going to talk their way out of this.
Your idea, David, is you want to take away all hope. What I realized, is that plausible deniability was hope. I started to realize, "Wait a second, that hope is actually the only way I can get them to talk."
David: Let's touch on that, then. You had to create a new strategy in your head? What was going through your mind? Like, this isn't working? What do I do? How did you lead? We're going to get into the nuts and bolts of this empathy-based approach, which I really want to get into. What was the first steps when you started to realize this is not going to work? What did you do?
Eric: David, the first was, "I have to figure out, how do I keep them talking?" I don't want to pretend that I came up with this grand idea. I did not know what to do. I said, "I've got to figure out who they are." I would ask -- and it's like you see on TV -- the stupid questions about their family and life. I tried to build rapport like you would see in the movies.
The prisoners would answer my questions. I still wasn't gaining any trust. I wasn't getting cooperation. What I started to realize is that when I was talking to these prisoners, there were times they wanted to be more transparent. I started to realize, "Ah, it is me. It's my behavior. It is my mindset."
That's when I started to realize, "Oh, my goodness, when I'm talking to a prisoner, if I can listen to them minus my biases, minus my goals, my objectives, my agenda of trying to get them to confess and gather actual intelligence, and seek to understand them, that's when I started to get transparency." That's where I got my first foothold into this technique.
David: You said, people want to open up. Was that because, how you approached it, you're a warm person, that's how human nature is? What does that mean?
Eric: At the time, I didn't realize it. It comes down to the fact that in all relationships we use verbal communication to determine the level that we can trust an individual, regardless of the topic conversation. That interaction between two individuals more than it is the transfer of information to either make better decisions or to influence, it's our barometer to determine how much can we trust this person.
David: Would you say some of the prisoners felt they could trust you?
Eric: It took a while. You can't call this a level of trust of what you're perceiving, but the level of trust that it would build was, this individual is at least seeking to understand my side of the story? That does not mean that I like them. That doesn't mean we're going to be friends, or I'm going to try and break him out of prison.
To seek to understand somebody's perspective absent of your bias is the level of trust people really want to acquire in a relationship.
David: That's probably point one then. Do you feel the detainees or the prisoners felt that you were truly trying to understand them as people, which maybe led to more trust?
Eric: I wouldn't describe it as understanding them as a person. Understand the circumstances to which they are in this situation at this moment in time. If you think about it, a prisoner doesn't need me to understand their life, they need me to understand what's going on right now. They're people. They're in prison. They've got a problem.
Eric: They don't need me to understand what's going on with their aunt. I need you to understand me right now.
David: Keep walking me through this then. Let's go down this story of catching Saddam. How did it even go down? You started catching on these raids. I've been on them. You've been on them. You get one or two people off the objective. You don't know who they are. Another raid, another raid. More people, more people. You just start gathering more intelligence. Paint that picture.
Eric: David, when I got to Iraq, I'm sent to Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. Delta Force Team initially said, "Try to get these prisoners to cooperate so we can get an idea of the insurgency in the Sunni Triangle." I started to talk to prisoners. When I started to get their trust, I started to learn information. When I understood how to gain cooperation, they started to give me targets.
I went to my Delta Force commander, and I said, "Sir, you wanted a picture, we can get targets." He said, "Eric, that's not what Delta Force does. We're not taking an enemy and putting the most expensive elite soldiers on the planet out there based on the enemy." I said, "I need you to understand. There's a higher level of trust. I didn't know it can exist. These prisoners want to help."
He said, "Give me two targets." They went. They raided these two locations. We found the individuals we were looking for. The commander, he said, "When you get that level of trust, Eric, I don't want these prisoners going into the prison." He goes, "They're going to live in this house with us." We took these guys off the grid.
As you know, the compounds, you live in Saddam's palace house. They built a room. As these prisoners started to work with us, they were living with us. We went through 300 prisoners. We built a link diagram of over 2,000 names. At the very top of it, after five months of being with this team, we realized one bodyguard, inner circle of Saddam Hussein, is running the whole thing.
Eric: As my tour is running out, the whole focus was on the bodyguard. We went from his friends, to his relatives, to his business partners. Five days into my tour, we captured the driver of the one man I thought could take us to Saddam.
The driver says, "Eric, I deliver millions of dollars throughout the country every single week. I deliver every order for every attack in the Sunni Triangle since this war began." He said, "I take orders from that bodyguard. He's taking the orders from Saddam."
David: You, like you just said, put this whole diagram together. It led to the bodyguard of Saddam. You knew you had to catch him.
David: That led to catching the driver of the bodyguard?
Eric: We couldn't find the bodyguard yet, so we had to find somebody who could take us to the bodyguard. This eventually led us to the driver.
David: They're not idiots, per se?
Eric: Some are. Some are stupid.
David: Some are smart, but they're not sleeping in the same place every night. They're moving around, so they're hard to track down. We're going to spend a good 10, 15 minutes on that, but go back to a second. You said something that I'm not going to remember exactly.
You got their prisoners. You earned their trust. Humans are humans. Are these people that at one time had deep love for Saddam Hussein and were loyal, and then the Americans came in and they just flipped? What's that all about?
Eric: They had a job. They were a distant relative of Saddam Hussein. When they were working for Saddam, obviously their loyalty to him...
David: Had to default? [laughs]
Eric: ...had to be extremely high. When you go to war and a military invades your country, all bets are off. You've got to take care of your family. You've got to look after yourself. These bodyguards weren't just this loyal evil unit. They're just normal people. As I always tell people David, "There's no Luke Skywalker. There's no Darth Vader." People are people. They're just people.
David: It was a job. They were a bodyguard. They probably got a paycheck and were safe, pre the war.
Eric: I would describe it more than a job because their job was loyalty. When the war begins, their job is not loyalty.
David: That's my point. They were loyal, and because of the war, their whole life just got flipped upside down. It's like, "I have no choice. I have no plan B now. This is different than the '92 Gulf War. Our country is now invaded by the Americans."
Eric: I think everybody takes a weight on, "What should I do?" They're not sure. Obviously, they felt loyalty to Saddam. They needed to see, "Is this interrogator going to deliver on what he says he can do?"
David: We're going to get back to the bodyguard and the driver. I just have so many questions that come to mind. Through these hundreds upon hundreds of interrogations that led to, "OK, we got to get to this bodyguard," how do you know sometimes what you can and can't trust? I'm sure you weren't fed the truth all the time.
Eric: Oh, no. I definitely wasn't. [laughs]
David: How do you know? I've been in that situation. I have zero almost interrogation training. How do you know what you can and can't trust?
Eric: The key to interrogation is, again, I had to learn this. I had to get my Delta Force commander, his name is Bam Bam. I had to get Bam Bam to understand it. A prisoner's information is like ground beef left out. It's only that good for that long.
If you're a prisoner and you're captured by the Americans, everyone who knows you knows when you're captured. They know what you could do to identify their location.
Eric: Once you understand that, you realize, "I get a prisoner. I have to act quickly." If the information is right and correct, you can verify it. When you say, "How did you know what they're giving you was right or wrong?" Basically, I had to say, "You know, it's not the end-all be-all if it's not."
Eric: This is the Delta Force unit. They're meant to fight wars. They're meant to go on raids. What if the information is wrong? They'll fight their way out of it. They can defend themselves. We have to accept the fact that we accept a certain amount of risk going on a raid. That's what they do. It's really difficult to verify information if you're like, "What if?" You don't, what if?
That's what we're built to do. You're trained to fight a war. We have to determine which prisoners we can trust, which ones we can't. What Bam Bam was able to do was act quickly on this ground beef of information. If you think about how quickly we turned around, David, there was a system in place when you captured a prisoner.
They were supposed to go in the system, get in a orange jumpsuit, go to Abu Ghraib. Bam Bam had them living at our house.
David: That's too much time to get in-processed, per se, go there. Intel's dead by that point.
Eric: I've had 2,700 interrogations in my life. Over a thousand of those interrogations have been on the target at the raid side. I didn't really feel a need. I used to be in the infantry. You're Delta Force. You don't need me out there. What they did need was an interrogator out there. That's when the ground beef gets shredded. That's when the cow gets butchered on that raid.
If we can get the intel on the raid side, now it's fresh. That's how you can verify the validity of the information so quickly.
David: Wow. I'm going to get back to that but let's jump back to now the bodyguard and the driver. You knew you had to get to the bodyguard, but you didn't have any actual intelligence on him? The strategy was go after the driver, will then lead you to the bodyguard?
Eric: My strategy was, that bodyguard has a lot of power.
Eric: He either is the person we need to capture, or he's getting that power from his connection with Saddam.
David: Power, because like you said, he's delivering money, he's ordering a tax.
Eric: David, you're talking millions and millions of dollars.
David: Just cash?
Eric: We did a raid, trying to capture the bodyguard, and we found $1.9 million US dollars on a single raid.
David: [whistles] Wow.
Eric: We're talking dozens of millions of dollars.
Eric: I didn't know how to find the bodyguard, but I thought, "A driver? Good place to start."
David: How did he know the bodyguard had a driver?
David: From the other intel...
Eric: From another prisoner, right?
David: Got it.
Eric: When you have 300 prisoners, you start to identify, "OK, that bodyguard's the key." While we captured four of his eight brothers, we captured numerous of his nephews, all three of his business partners. We were just going around anything we could do in this flooded link diagram to find who can take us to this bodyguard.
David: Every time we talk I just get another question. [laughs]
David: It just throws me off. You captured all these high-level people, like you've just said, the brothers, the business partners. Was there a difference in the high-level people that you talked to, and maybe the ease or difficulty at a rate they gave intel verse maybe I'm the lower guy on the totem pole?
Eric: Absolutely. People would always think, well, it must have been harder at the top. It's much easier the higher you go. Interrogations, basically, I need to influence an individual to trust me, to know that when they make a decision that's a hard decision, to make the decision I need them to make. It's about decision making.
David: Why is it easier then for the higher ups?
Eric: Think about leaders. What do leader do? They make decisions. Bad leaders can't make decisions. Subordinates can't make decisions. You can say what you want about our senior leaders, they're not afraid to make hard decisions. If you get me a prisoner, I'm going to give him two choices. My job is to give them two decisions.
One's to help me, one's not to help me. I need to make it brutally obvious and clear that helping me is much better for them than not helping me.
David: They have to feel, if they help you, there are somehow going to be protected? They're not going to get thrown out on the streets of Fallujah, Tikrit, and get beheaded in the streets? What does helping you mean?
Eric: Great question. People want to say Eric, "Why have you done more interrogations at a higher levels of success than any other interrogator in the history of United States Military?" I did one thing. You want to know the secrets of it. You're going to learn more about interrogations right now than you ever thought you'd knew.
I do this one thing, when somebody cooperates in a typical setting, in a typical...if you get pulled over by the cops and you are a drug dealer, if you get captured where you were in Iraq, if you confess, do you stay in prison longer or shorter?
Eric: Longer. You cooperate, you get punished. If you keep your mouth shut, as we know these prisons are crowded, they are over flooded, we have to release people if we think you're innocent, we're going to release you. That means if you're guilty and you keep your mouth shut, you get to get released. Is that good for you or is that bad for you. You don't help me, that's reward for you.
All I do interrogations, is I flip the script and say, "If you cooperate with me, I'll help you. I'm going to get you out of here. If you don't cooperate with me, you're never going anywhere." Wait a second Eric, what if they're guilty? They all know something. If you do not cooperate with me, you're guilty of one thing, not helping me. I don't care what you do out there. I can't control what you did.
I can't control what I can't prove. All I can prove is what you're going to do for me here. You know something that helps me. As long as you give me everything I need, I'm getting you out of here. Now the trick, David, is you're like, "OK, if somebody cooperates you release them, people may know that they did that and they're going to kill them. Absolutely.
My chore was to make sure that I could protect the identity of all the prisoners that helped me. The beautiful thing is there were prisoners who didn't help me. Understanding psychological communication, that through these prisons people talk. For the prisoners who didn't help me, I fed information around the community and around the prisons, that they were the ones helping.
For the prisons who did cooperate with me, we never went directly...The first raid we got off of the cooperative prisoners was never anyone that was directly connected to them. I would always have them take us to a location. They'd say, "Eric, I know some other guys. Nobody else knows I know where they are."
They know the primary people I take you to, and I can hide their identity [inaudible 23:50] ." It's the only thing you do. They cooperate, help them. If they don't cooperate, punish them.
David: It's in their best interest is to help you.
Eric: That's it.
David: Back to the driver. What intelligence led to capturing the driver? Walk me down that approach.
Eric: The nephew of one of the business partners of the bodyguard led us to the driver.
David: Nephew of one of the business partners of the bodyguard led you...
Eric: Led us to the driver. Once we get the driver, he says, "I deliver the money. I deliver the orders." The driver says, "I am taking all orders from my boss, this bodyguard. He's taking all orders from Saddam Hussein. Saddam's in this area."
David: Where did you pick up the driver at?
Eric: We actually can.
David: If you can say, I don't know.
Eric: I can tell you whatever you want. It's complicated. The driver's second cousin, was the head of security for the perimeter of the Governor of Baghdad. We had the head of security think that he was bringing in his second cousin just to be interviewed. We knew he was the driver. When he brought him in, we picked him up. It wasn't even a raid.
David: I get it.
Eric: It was a manufactured meeting in which he didn't get to go home.
David: Did he know that going in?
Eric: No, I think he was concerned.
Eric: He was like, "Do they know what I do?"
David: You got the driver through the nephew and the business partner of X, Y and Z, and in the hope the driver is going to lead you to the bodyguard. You know for a somewhat fact you can make the strong assumption of the bodyguard of Saddam Hussein is going to lead you to Saddam.
Eric: I never thought we were going to capture Saddam. I'll put that right out there. You were out there, if anybody ever thinks they're going to get their high-value target, that is wishful thinking. I knew, it didn't matter whether I thought we were going to get him, my job was to try to find him.
David: Try to find him.
Eric: We were going to keep that speck of hope and behave as though we were going to get him. I never thought we were going to get him.
David: We're going to continue on the path that the driver, led to the bodyguard, led to Saddam. I'm going to throw us off on one more thing, something came to mind, and I apologize.
The culture of the Middle East where maybe it's very...You live in a village. Everybody's somewhat related. Does that have anything to do with anything? Like in Phoenix, I might not even know my neighbor two doors down. I'll never even talk to them. Is there a culture there where everybody knows everybody?
Did that have anything come into play where it's like that close-inner circle? Is there anything to that?
Eric: They all know each other. This is a Saddam Hussein's hometown. They're only about 20,000 citizens into Tikrit.
David: That paints the picture a little bit better.
Eric: There's a difference in, "They know each other, and they know everybody." They all know each other. It is not beneficial. When I'm trying to gain is one-on-one trust with a prisoner and literally anybody they might take me to, they have some connection to in some way. It's definitely a struggle.
Again, I'm telling you, verbal communication, seeking to understand, this empathy-based listening, understanding that they're trying to survive for their family, their children in a war culture, you can shatter those old ties. It comes down to this connection, these moments when we're together, and we communicate, that I flip them.
That they go, "I want to trust this guy. I don't know where we're headed, but I'm going to trust this guy. OK, Eric, here you go."
David: Tell me how it happened. You have the driver. The first time you met him, in your mind, this driver can lead you to the body guard, that's a big source, info you need, intelligence you need. You sit down with the driver. You've never met him before. How do you even start it out?
Eric: Totally very clearly, "I know you're the driver. You got to take me." Obviously he's like, "Ah, Eric ever since you guys invaded, I've been out of a job." It took me a while. Six hours, six hours. He looks and he goes, "Yep. I'm the driver." He said, "Eric, here's the deal. I drop the bodyguard off of one of five safe houses in Tikrit every single night. He'll be one of these five safe houses tonight."
Got all five locations told Bam Bam. Bam Bam says, "Well, you know, we'll hit them all simultaneously." Hit all five, no bodyguard. At this point Bam Bam the team brought me back from all five houses, all prisoners to our house. I could do the interrogations quick. Now it doesn't take me hours. David, now it takes just minutes. In minutes, so I got going.
David: Those six hours, what do you do? Small talk, or what do you do? What's the approach?
Eric: Oh, no. No small talk. First of all, a prisoner, their number one job is plausible deniability. I've got the driver first try to be plausible deniability. Once I checkmate him on that, then he says, "Oh, OK. I was scared. I lied to you." Now I've got to catch him in some more lies. Then I've got to cut a deal with him and say, "You know what? If you really are innocent you're not going to lie to me."
He goes, "From this point on I won't." I've got to make this game, put some stakes on it. I've got to capture him in another lie, reveal it, and him go, "Shoot. You caught me now. What?" I've got to get him to measure giving up his boss, the bodyguard, or this guy interrogator smarter than me and can put me away forever. I've got to get him to balance that.
Then we've got to navigate through, when I give him up, how's Eric Maddox going to protect my identity? I've got to navigate through it. I've got to get the locations. You ever tried to map track a prisoner in Iraq. There's no go over this hill, it's flat, sand. This is before we've been there a long time. We didn't have this whole thing digitized out. I've got to get the locations.
I've got to talk to the commander and Bam Bam says, "I want all five." Now I've got to get him for recon. It's not like you don't have to recon them. All this stuff takes place. This is a busy six hours. You going to send that Delta force team, you're not going to give them an address. You're not going to take a prisoner who's not trusted out there.
These American soldiers have to dress up in Arab garb, low vis. All that's got to take place. Getting exhausted just thinking about it. Aren't you?
David: Yeah. That's a full on operation.
Eric: That's a full day. There are no other sources of intelligence. There are no cellphones. We're not tracking cellphones. There's not high level imagery. We're not collaborating information, intel. It's a single source, prisoner intelligence to drive an operation.
David: What year was this?
Eric: Six safe houses.
Eric: I'm sorry. Five.
David: You thought the bodyguard was going to be at least one of them, peanuts, empty, squirrels.
Eric: There weren't squirrels. There were people.
Eric: Just not the person we are looking for.
David: The saga continues.
Eric: He brings them all back to me. The team does.
David: How many people?
Eric: It's 40.
David: From all five safe houses?
Eric: Yes, 40.
David: Wow. I know you said six hours to gather the intel, was this from gathering the intel to hitting these targets within the same?
Eric: 36 hours.
David: 36 hours?
David: This is a testament to the special operations community, including yourself, to gather this Intel, plan the raid, close target reconnaissance if they're going to do it, hit the house, and pull that all off. This is just a testament to the community.
Eric: It's awesome, but it's also to understand, to put it in perspective, you're less than three kilometers from any target. You're right there. This is boom, boom, boom, boom.
David: This is what these guys do. They kick in doors, and they take down objectives.
Eric: Really well, really fast.
David: I've seen it firsthand sir. [laughs] Five houses, you pull off 40 people off these objectives?
Eric: Uh-huh. They brought them back to me. I interrogated them, and quickly I could get them to go. Running a safe house. Eric, he left. You guys are close. You scared him to this town of Samarra. Another prisoner says, "Yes in Samarra he has a senior commander and I'll take you to the house."
I went to Bam Bam and I was like, "Hey, five good houses, good job. We actually pushed him to this house." I said, "I'll promise he'll be there." Don't ever promise.
David: Yeah, I get it. He was scared off prior to these raids. He knew, felt, "Hey, the Americans are onto me." And he just kept moving?
Eric: We're walking up the chain. We just got his driver. He probably goes, "Shoot. They got my driver. I'm not staying at these safe houses. Let me go to Samarra." One of the prisoners said his head guy in Samarra is this person that lives at this house. We go to that house the next night.
David: All these 40 prisoners off the objective, they're not talking to each other obviously. Are you playing double source? Like person A said this, I'm going to tell person C, get that intel. Is it like a chess match here?
Eric: It is. It's a lot of that. Also what it is, over the five months, I've got a small team. At that time it was seven prisoners that are fully on board. I have them in the waiting room. If I need to what they call Jerry Springer and bring one of them out to reveal and talk to a prisoner, I can. My driver was the go-to guy. The driver would come out, "Yeah. Let me talk to him." They would flip.
"You're with them? Oh my goodness." It was anything I can do to help influence them to gain cooperation. I had to do it fast.
David: Let's keep going down this path. We got intel the bodyguard is going to be in Samarra at this house.
Eric: Raid the house.
David: How long after that raid was the raid on the five...?
Eric: 24 hours.
David: 24 hours later?
Eric: One night later. Raid the house, nada. The younger brother of the sub-commander in Samarra was at the house. The bodyguard wasn't. The bodyguard was supposed to be at his sub-commander's house in Samarra. The younger brother of that sub-commander was at that house.
It was the right house, and we got a younger brother. Younger brother on the target was like, "Hey, I'm not getting arrested. I'm getting married this weekend. You cannot arrest me. I'll take you." He's like, "Mohammed Ibrahim actually rented a house. One block from where you captured me. He's there right now."
David: Mohammed Ibrahim is the bodyguard?
Eric: It's the bodyguard. That's our guy.
David: OK, so we're after Mohammed Ibrahim, he's the bodyguard?
Eric: Immediately flex target.
David: Right then and there?
Eric: Right then and there to the bodyguard. A rental house.
Eric: Bodyguard was not there. He's 20-year-old son was.
Eric: At this point, Bam Bam brings me back the boy. He's like, "Eric, we're tapped." I talked to the boy. He says, "My dad was here two hours before you captured me." The boy says his dad, the bodyguard, the one we're looking for was at the house we raid two hours before we got there.
Bam Bam said, "Do you have anything?" I'm like, "He was there. We just missed him." Bam Bam says, "Your flight, you're leaving Tikrit. Your tour's up. You're going back to Baghdad the day after tomorrow."
David: To redeploy, to come home.
Eric: Redeploy, tour's up.
Eric: Nobody thinks Saddam's in Tikrit, nobody. It's a six-month deployment for me. Six weeks into it, the one CIA guy that's living with this team gets shot in the stomach. He had to medevac to Germany. David, they didn't replace him. They had 50 case officers in-country. They couldn't give one replacement to the town of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, because they didn't think anybody was there.
David: He fled, fled. He left Tikrit. You're saying nobody thought Saddam was in his...Why would he stay there?
Eric: Why would anybody stay there? It was this little bitty town. You could hide in the millions of Baghdad, you could go to Syria.
David: Why do you think they did stay there? They felt safe. They had people to cover for them?
Eric: When you say they, who do you mean?
David: Saddam. If you thought nobody was there, why would people that did stay...
Eric: I don't know if you remember. In 2003, the whole focus was on that deck of cards. If you weren't on that deck of cards, you were a nobody. There was not one bodyguard on that deck of cards. There was not one individual on my link diagram on that deck of cards. That deck of cards was regime officials.
My entire link diagram was bodyguards, friends, family, relatives, not a single person on the deck of cards. I'd spent five months, and they're like, "Eric, you all haven't found a single person on the deck of cards. We don't think Saddam's here. You haven't found anybody. He's not here."
As my tour's running out, for me to go, "I think he's here," they're like, "Yeah, man, we gotcha. You're fired up, man, doing a good job."
David: I'm on the edge of my seat. After the five, you hit the house where you think he's going to be in Samara. You catch his kid. The bodyguard's kid?
Eric: No, we caught the sub-commander's little brother.
David: I'm sorry, the sub-commander's little brother.
Eric: He flexes target to the rental house of the bodyguard...
David: That's right my apologies.
Eric: ...where we caught the son of the bodyguard.
David: Then what happened next?
Eric: I've got one night.
David: As you're going home.
Eric: I'm going back to Baghdad, then redeploying. I start talking to the son of the bodyguard. He says, "Eric, my dad was here two hours ago. He left. How would I know?" We connect. David, this is all about connection. This turned into a full-blown connection. This 20-year-old boy was laying on the couch crying, telling me about how his dad doesn't respect him as a man.
It's like a counseling session. He starts talking. He goes, "Yeah, my dad didn't respect me as a man." He goes, "I wish we could do some of the things we used to do when I was a kid." I was like, "Yeah, what did you guys used to do?" He goes, "Well, we used to go fishing. He doesn't take me fishing anymore." I'm like, "Your dad's in the middle of a war. You might want to cut him some slack."
Eric: The boy said, "They still go fishing. He just doesn't take me." At that point. I wrote one of the early interrogations that we did, we captured Saddam Hussein's cook. Guy cooked every meal for Saddam Hussein for eight straight years. He's a cook. He's wide open. He did not care.
He said, "Listen, Saddam really loves this one dish. It's called masgouf. It's a fish dish." Chef said, "I make the best masgouf in the world. I'm Saddam Hussein's cook." The boy said, "Yeah, they still go fishing." I said, "Where do they go fishing?" He said, "Along the Tigris River." I said, "But where?" The boy said, "Eric, they built this fishpond next to the river. They fish next to the pond."
I'm like, "Why would you build a fishpond during the middle of a war, unless you need to have the pond stocked because you couldn't go to the market and get fish for Saddam. I went and told Bam Bam. I'm like, "They built a fishpond. I'm telling you, I promise they'll be there."
Eric: He's like...
David: I've been hearing this for six months, Eric.
Eric: I know.
Eric: It wasn't promising until the end. He said, "It's our last night." He goes, "If you want to hit a fishpond. He needs to be there." I said, "Bam Bam, I'm telling you. I promise he'll be there." That night, Bam Bam and the team raided the fishpond. They had built a shack next to the pond, little, probably the size of this.
Go in, Bam Bam's like, "We got two guys." 20 minutes later he's like, "It's nothing." He said, "Eric, it's not the bodyguard. It's not Saddam. It's two fishermen." He said, "Your helicopter's coming in." He goes, "Bring all the prisoners," that were living with us in the house, he goes, "Get all the prisoners down to the helipad." They flew in a Chinook helicopter. Bam Bam brought me the two fishermen.
He said, "You're going back to Baghdad. He said, "You won't leave for a couple of days. Don't quit." He goes, "Take all these prisoners, get the next target."
Eric: I go to Baghdad. I see all the bearded soldiers I hadn't seen in five and a half months. They said, "All right, your flight's leaving in three days." I brought in the fishermen, started to interrogate them, went back and forth, and one of the fishermen broke. Took me 11 and a half hours. 11 hours, fisherman breaks and says, "Eric, I'm the distant cousin of Mohammed Ibrahim, the bodyguard."
He said, "I catch fish out of the river, I put it in the pond." I said, "Where'd he go?" He said, "Couple of days ago, he came and he got our address of our mutual aunt and uncle in Baghdad." He said, "I think they're at that house in Baghdad." I got the location, called the Bam Bam of Baghdad. I said, "I need you to do this raid." He's like, "Yeah, whatever."
David: Put it on the list.
Eric: "I'll put in on the list."
David: Put it on and we'll get to it.
Eric: I said, "What does that mean?" He said, "Eric, Saddam's not in Tikrit. He wasn't in Tikrit. He sure didn't come from Tikrit to go to Baghdad. I'll put it on the list." That's all I heard. I'm told my flight leaves in three days. Days come and went, leaving the country December 13, 2003, at eight o'clock in the morning.
At one o'clock in the morning, the Bam Bam of Baghdad calls back the prisoners, like, "We had a slow night, we did your raid, nothing." It wasn't the bodyguard, wasn't Saddam, we can bring you in the prisoners. I said, "Yeah, bring them in."
Brought in the prisoners, brought me the guy they said owned the house in Baghdad. Sat him down, started talking to him. Connected with him, realized this guy is not from Baghdad.
Eric: Guy's from Tikrit. Guy's in the link diagram. He's the deputy of my bodyguard. Out of my whole link diagram, he's the number two guy.
David: You had his place right there. You knew he existed.
Eric: His name was Mohammed also. He was the other Mohammed. He was the Mohammed deputy of Mohammed Ibrahim, the bodyguard.
David: You got the number two in charge, right under the bodyguard, I should say.
Eric: He's right there, and I'm like, "This is not coincidental." I told him, I said, "I need you to take me to him." In my mind, I'm thinking...
David: You have how many day left in-country, hours?
Eric: I have four hours.
David: Four hours left on a six-month tour.
Eric: Six-month tour.
David: The past six months of your life was dedicated to getting hundreds of people to trust you, gathering all this intelligence to go after the bodyguard who knows where Saddam Hussein is. You got four hours left and you find the guy right under the bodyguard.
Eric: That's correct.
David: Wow. Go on, I'm on the edge of my chair.
Eric: I told him, "Where is he? You gotta take me. You gotta take me now." The deputy, the guy underneath the bodyguard's like, "Eric, when y'all came and captured me last night at that house, the bodyguard was in the bed next to me."
Eric: No, they don't miss people. I'm like, "Did they get him and they didn't know it?" I'm like, "This is the Baghdad team. They don't know what they're looking for. Maybe they got him." I told the guards, I said, "Bring me any prisoner from any raids last night." They brought them in. There's four prisoners sitting on the ground, hoods over their head, handcuffs behind their back.
We did not have a picture of Mohammed Ibrahim. I knew exactly what he was supposed to look like. My bodyguard was supposed to have a chin like John Travolta.
Eric: Start lifting up hoods. Last hood, lifted it up, before I even got the hood off I saw the chin. I'm like, "Wow. Oh, my gosh."
David: That's Mohammed Ibrahim.
Eric: That's what I said to him. I just said...
David: Hey, Mohammed, nice to meet you.
Eric: I was shocked. I was like, "You're Mohammed Ibrahim. Man, I've been waiting to meet you." He looks at me, and in perfect English he goes, "You're the interrogator in Tikrit." He said, "I've been waiting to meet you, too."
Eric: Right? Now, I've got two and a half hours. Brought him man, set him down and told myself, "You gotta connect with him. You gotta to give him. Don't over think it. Don't rush it. Just listen to him."
David: Just listen.
Eric: Took off his hood and I said, "The only thing we could talk about is the exact location of Saddam. Right?" I didn't know what he was going to say. I knew wherever he started would tell me where to go. He said, "You give me too much credit." He said, "The president, I don't know where he is," and I knew. I knew immediately.
David: You knew he was lying?
Eric: No. Everybody lies. [laughs] This isn't the lie detector.
David: When he said, I knew, what did you know?
Eric: That his perception, his whole world was, "Why me? You give me too much credit." He was not on the deck of cards. Saddam had hundreds of bodyguards. He had 30 inner circle bodyguards. Why did he pick this guy? He goes, "You give me too much credit." Very clearly I said, "I didn't give you any credit." [laughs] I said, "I didn't know who you were before I came to this country."
I said, "The 300 prisoners I've interrogated, the 40 of your family members that I have in this prison right now, they give you credit." I said, "They give you credit for ruining their lives."
Eric: He rolls his eyes.
David: A punch in the gut.
Eric: He wasn't rolling his eyes to me. He was rolling his eyes at Saddam. If you knew Mohammed Ibrahim, which I didn't know him personally, but I knew exactly who he was. Saddam had 30 inner circle bodyguards. He could have picked anybody. Why did he pick this guy? All of Saddam's bodyguards, they were not smart.
They used the power of being Saddam's bodyguards against the local populace to their own personal advantage, except Mohammed Ibrahim. He was the nicest fun loving, whiskey drinking and Domino player. Think of what Saddam Hussein did. Saddam Hussein saw this deck of cards as beacons to him. He makes everybody on the deck of cards leave his hometown.
He also knew that all the locals hated the bodyguards. He made all them go away except for Mohammed Ibrahim. He said, "This one guy can know where I am. Nobody's going to turn in this guy. He didn't have any enemies. Everybody loves him. They won't turn him in to the Americans." That was Saddam's strategy.
David: The civilians in the town would not turn that one bodyguard over, would not flip on him because he was loved by the people.
Eric: That's right.
David: Wow. Then that's why he rolled his eyes when you said I got 40 people in here that says, "You're the man."
Eric: No, who give you credit...
David: ...who give you credit...
Eric: ...for ruining their lives.
Eric: See, I don't need to make this about can you do it. I need to make this about, look what's happening to you. Think about interrogations. You can't make it about what they should do for you, what they need to do for you. It's got to be about them.
David: Did he know where Saddam was?
Eric: I didn't know.
David: What happened then? You leave? You got hours left? [laughs]
Eric: Oh, no, no, no, no. As my clock's ticking out, we're going back and forth. My final thing, he had a daughter, they had a baby, that his wife was hiding in Tikrit. I said, "Your wife and the baby have been living here." He was shocked. I didn't know what I said. I never went to that house. I would never send the soldiers that house. I've never hurt that baby.
I said, "Where else are you going to go to find someone than their spouse?" I said, "What will he do for you now? What would he do for your baby?" I've got him crying. He's really broke down. The time's running out. The interrogator's like, "Dude, you got to go catch a plane." I take him to a cell. I'm like, "I need it. I need it now." He's like, "I don't know if I should do it."
He didn't say couldn't do it. He said, "I don't know if I should do it." I'm like, "I really think you should."
David: That should mean, tell you where Saddam is.
Eric: Yes. He said, "I can't." I said, "All right. I'm leaving. I'm not joking. This is not a joke."
David: It's been six months. You finally got the guy. You have an hour left before your flight leaves. It's literally down to the hour. This guy's, "I don't know if I should." That's insane. Insane. All right. Go on. Sorry. I didn't realize.
Eric: I told him, I said, "You're going to be in here. You're going to change your mind." I said, "I know how the story ends." I said, "I'm not kidding. I ran out of time." I said, "I'm going to be gone. When you change your mind and you're going to take us to Saddam, I will be gone."
I said, "Nobody here thinks you can do it. When you do it, you got to go crazy." I said, "Make them come talk to you. Yell, scream, make them come talk to you. No one's ever going to talk to you again. You're gonna die in here an old man."
Eric: I left, all right. I put him in the cell. I left. I didn't pack my bags. Packed my bags. Senior interrogator comes pick me up, drive me to the tarmac in which [inaudible 50:27] , you're right next to the plane. You're driving across the tarmac. Senior interrogator says, "What did you do to the prisoner? I'm like, "Why? Nothing. Why?"
He goes, "Guards are freaking out. They think he's trying to kill himself. I said, "He can't stop [inaudible 50:44] from banging his head against the wall of the cell." I'm like, "He's trying to do it." Jumped out of the truck, ran across, went to the prison, got Mohammed Ibrahim out, took off his head said, "Where is he?" He looks at me and he said, "We got to go. We got to go right now."
I said, "Don't mess with me, man. Where are we going?" He said, "We're going back to Tikrit." He said, "He's in this village called Ad-Dawr, the farmhouse [inaudible 51:08] . I'm like, "Show me." He drew a beautiful sketch, got the map. He goes, "Eric, we've got to go." Interrogators are back. I said, "That guy just broke." They said, "Go get on the plane."
I said, "You don't understand. Saddam Hussein's in Tikrit." They said, "You don't understand. We know He's not Tikrit. Go get on the plane." I'm like, "Please call Bam Bam. Tell him Mohammed Ibrahim is dying to take him to Saddam." I gave him the sketch. Now, they put me on the truck. They took me to that flight. I left. I left the country. David, when you're with JSOC, you don't go home.
They fly you to Doha. The next morning, I had to give a top secret out briefing of my entire tour. I've got my link diagram, show up to the building. They knocked on the door. Senior officer opens up and he said, "All briefings this morning are canceled." clunk.
The sergeant knocked on the door and he said, " [inaudible 52:12] Maddox, can't leave the country until he gets his briefing. The senior officer pulled me inside and he said, "You're Eric Maddox?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Eric, we got him."
Eric: We got him last night. He said, "Your prisoner did it." I said...
David: Bodyguard did it.
Eric: "How did it go down?" He said, "When you left we call Bam Bam, Bam Bam and the team. The whole team jumped on a helicopter, picked up Mohammed Ibrahim, the bodyguard, went to Tikrit planned, executed the raid of the farmhouse. He took him straight to the hole.
David: Mohammed Ibrahim was on target when the raid happened?
Eric: Yes. Bam Bam and the team raids. The United States Army said, "Hey, we've been to every house in Tikrit. We've been to this farm twice." They couldn't find Saddam. They go to the bodyguard. Pull him out of the truck, tough caught off his hand cuff, take off his hood. Where is he? The bodyguard walks him around to the backside of the house.
It's just sand and dirt and he kicks it up with his heels. They realize he's kicking up a rope. They moved him aside. They dug it up. Rope's connected to a lid.
Eric: They look at the bodyguard and he's not saying anything. He is just going...
Eric: They're drawn, lift up the lid, and there he was.
David: We all know what happened to Saddam. What happened to Mohammed Ibrahim after that? Did he continue to cooperate? How'd you guys treat him after that?
Eric: Mohammed Ibrahim, I never promised that he would be released. He was too volatile. All those 40 family members, released the next week. He, eventually he was there for three years. He got released. He went and got a gazillion dollars of Saddam's in...Saddam had over $3 billion in cash stored in Aleppo, Syria, just before the invasion of the 2003 war.
David: When I was in Iraq the second time, we captured a guy who said he drove some of that money over the border. No kidding. I digress. I don't want to say hurt, but did you feel you missed out because you spent six months? That's a lot of energy. That's a lot of time. That's an emotional commitment. Then you weren't there because your tour ended?
Did you feel you missed out because you weren't there on target when they got Saddam? I would have probably. I would have.
Eric: I don't think so. I didn't at the time. I get that question more than any other questions. Now, I'm like, "Well, maybe, I guess it would have been better." For me, when you're dialed in, when you're so in, you want to get the guy. For me, I did my job. Bam Bam, he didn't need me at the target. They did their job.
David: You know what you did. You felt that pride. There's a sense of pride there.
Eric: I don't make any bones about it. People talk a lot of stuff about, we've done and who we've done. I'll tell you exactly what I did. I tracked down Saddam Hussein. I don't need to be on that raid.
David: I don't know what time it is. I'm so caught up in this. This is a great story. That's how Saddam Hussein got captured. Very briefly, what do the next 10, 15 years look for you? This is now 16, 17 years ago when that happened. You've had a full career since then and doing amazing things.
Eric: I'm immediately taken straight to the Pentagon, at the end, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld's office. Secretary Rumsfeld loved how this went down. He loved the interrogations. He said, "I don't want to have to borrow interrogators who are Chinese, Mandarin linguists." He goes, "I want my own team of interrogators."
Instantly, the next weekend had received the funding for the Defense Intelligence Agency to have a 30-person civilian interrogation team. I was hired as the first one. I was pulled out of the Army, became a GS Interrogator for the DIA as a civilian interrogator. Over the next 10 years, I ended up doing a total of eight deployments, 2,700 interrogations.
My first year, my first assignment was to teach this technique, teach this empathy based listening interrogation technique. I'm going to tell you of interrogations before empathy based listening technique uses the Army's old techniques Prisoners Break at four percent. That 30-person interrogation team and myself...I ended up doing 2,700. They have done 1,000.
We break prisoners at 65 percent using this technique. In 2014, I hit the 20-year mark, 10 military, 10 civilian DIA. I got out of the government and became a keynote speaker and trainer of empathy-based listening to gain influence for sales negotiations.
David: Wrap this up, and tell me a little bit more about this empathy based, what goes into it? I heard a lot of the stories while you're tracking down Saddam. Outside of maybe a war zone, outside of that specific mission you are on, what's more of this empathy-based approach?
Eric: Empathy-based listening, is the idea that when we talk to people, they're measuring -- anybody they have a conversation with -- can I trust you of what? Can I trust that you're more interested in me than you are yourself? That's what we call the hurdle of trust. The problem is, every time we're communicating with somebody, we have psychological distractions.
It lowers our listening to 25 percent. We think about our own agenda, own goals, our biases towards this individual, everything in our world. If we can identify those distractions, put them behind us, and then have a single agenda instead of our own goals, a single agenda of seeking to understand their perspective with regards to the top conversation at that moment in time, you can catapult your listening deep into the 80s and 90s.
When you do that, there's no higher way to gain immediate trust in any relationship with a family member, with a colleague, or a prisoner you just yanked off the battlefield.
David: Why, because it makes the person talking feel welcome, feel invited, feel loved?
Eric: Let me say it again. When people are in a relationship, the trust is not that you're going to steal my wallet. I'll make sure you'll have that level of integrity. The partnership is if we're going to work together, what's more important to you? Your goals or mine?
You can't put somebody else ahead of yourself unless you can remove everything in your mind to even listen, to seek to understand what matters to them. If you can live a life of listening, to seeking to understand, then you build a personal culture, a professional culture that says, "Here, what we do is figure you out for you." That's what everyone wants to partner with.
David: Wow. I get it. In conclusion, veterans, that's why I started this show. We're big on the military and veteran community. What can you tell the veteran community, to specifically veterans still trying to find their path?
Eric: What I would tell veterans is we can't look at your military past and say, "I'm going to make the assumption or have the belief this is how I can jump into the private sector. This is where my value is." We want to have that personal value. We want to have faith. We want to have that level of integrity.
When I say that transition, which is so difficult, when a veteran comes out and says, "How do I jump in? What job can I do?" I need you to think about what did you learn? What are your differentiators? What is the secret sauce of what you learned in the military? Anybody can look at me as an interrogator and say, "Wow, you know what you should do is go train cops. Get into security."
All that stuff, it's like, "No, no, no." What the military taught me to do was to gather information, to build trust, to maximize influence with people. In the private sector, we're talking sales, leadership, culture building. This technique that the Army taught me, it's not an Army skill set. It was a military background which taught me a skill set which can be applied in the private sector.
The other thing that I want veterans to know, and people outside who aren't veterans who were like, "What do veterans bring to the table?" People think, you know what the military is about, [inaudible 61:06] , wake up at five o'clock in the morning and obey orders.
I'm like, "No, no, no, no." You think there's war runs at five o'clock in the morning? I said it's about understanding how to process information, to make decisions, to solve problems that we did not know we were going to face. You talk to people in a battlefield, they'll go, "Here's how wars work, you show up and everything's a goat rope. Nothing what we expected, and we got to figure it out."
You're like, "What?" They're like "That's what it means to be in the military we're problem solvers."
David: We do. You have a team of people around you that are problem solvers.
Eric: That's what we do in the military. We are problem solvers.
David: You get out and sometimes you don't have that same team anymore. You have to go find a new team, or develop the trust and relationships with the new team as well, which is not easy.
Eric: Yes, but you have that experience that put your feet to the fire. No, they probably don't want you for your raw, raw lockdown military live or die. What they do want is that mindset to say, "I don't know what the solution is, but we can go figure it out. Let's communicate mindset to build a team." That's the value of what veterans bring to the private sector.
David: Wow. That's amazing. This was so amazing. Please check out his website. ericmaddox.com. Am I correct? M-A-D-D-O-X.com. That's how we got connected. I saw you online, we started hitting it off, formed a relationship. Thank you so much for flying out here.
Eric: Thanks, David.