FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. – The FBI agent who interrogated Saddam Hussein is only months after the former Iraqi leader’s capture is now the leader of the investigation to the Florida airport shooting in the shoes of an Iraq veteran.
George Piro, special agent in charge of the FBI Miami field office, was Saddam’s sole interrogator beginning in January 2004. In earlier interviews, Piro said that Saddam not his true identity — the Iraqi leader called him “Mr. George” and that he posed as a high-level envoy who answered directly to then President George W. Bush.
Federal prosecutors file charges against Santiago, he could face the death penalty
Now Piro, a native of Beirut, Lebanon, fluent in Arabic and Assyrian, is the boss of the FBI investigation into the shooting rampage at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which is five more dead and six wounded. Federal prosecutors have charged Esteban Santiago, 26, with the airport of violence and firearms offences which may lead to the death penalty if he is convicted.
In the notice of charges filed Saturday, Piro said his thoughts are with the victims and their families.
“I want to make sure that these families that enforcement of the law work tirelessly to ensure justice is served,” he said.
Piro, an FBI agent since 1999, moved with his family to Lebanon to California’s San Joaquin Valley as a teenager. After high school he enlisted in the air force, then became a police officer, who for ten years, in Ceres, California, followed by a job as an investigator in the local prosecutor’s office.
As soon as he joined the FBI in Phoenix, Piro was one of only a handful of Arabic-speaking agents — a group that suddenly was the big question after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent AMERICAN invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2003, Piro was promoted to the FBI’s counter-Terrorism Department at the headquarters in Washington, making his work as Saddam’s interrogator.
In subsequent interviews, including a 2008 appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, Piro said he meets daily with Saddam in a windowless room, and worked to gain his trust by becoming his sole provider of the supplies and such things as paper for Saddam to writing poetry.
Finally, Piro said Saddam confirmed that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S. invasion, but maybe they seek in the future to deter Iran and other threats. Saddam also not all ties with al-Qaeda and Osama bin laden, Piro said.
Saddam also liked to brag about how he escaped U.S. air strikes and, according to the Piro.
“What he wanted to show . . . how he was able us to outwit,” Piro told “60 Minutes.” “He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail that he’s on a trip is really just to change his signature.”
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Saddam was later tried and executed by hanging in December 2006.
Santiago, the airport shooting suspect, also served in Iraq in 2010 with the Puerto Rico National Guard as part of an engineering battalion, guard officials said. Santiago later served in the Army Reserves and the Alaska National Guard.
After Iraq, Piro moved to the top of the FBI’s counter-terrorism jobs in Washington, including a White House position with a high-value detainee interrogation that works with various intelligence agencies.
Since taking the top Miami FBI job, Piro has the supervision over the work in the domestic areas such as health care fraud, identity theft and tax fraud, Ponzi schemes and mortgage fraud — all areas where in the South of Florida is one of the national leaders. Bank robberies, violent street gangs, the corruption and the smuggling of people and drugs around a lot of the work for the Miami office is approximately 1,000 agents and employees.
Since Friday’s shooting, Piro careful to say that there is no evidence that Santiago to terrorism has been found, but these connections are also not excluded.
“It is much too early in the investigation. We are looking over all of his social media, that sort of thing. It gives us a picture of the individual, but it is much too early for us to rule out nothing,” Piro said Saturday. “We strive in all directions, what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack.”