Speaking at a press briefing for foreign journalists in Washington on Wednesday, Piro, currently the FBI's assistant director of international operations, recalled his months of painstaking work interrogating the former Iraqi leader following the 2003 US invasion.
"I'll be honest with you, I didn't realize I was even being considered for that assignment. I just got a call that said, 'You have just been selected to interrogate Saddam Hussein.' So you can imagine my shock and surprise at that," Piro said.
The official explained that there were "several factors" that influenced the FBI's decision, including the fact that Piro was one of only a handful of FBI agents who spoke fluent Arabic at the time.
"Of course, Saddam Hussein only spoke Arabic, so the interrogator had to be able to speak Arabic for the interrogator to have any chance of success. At that time I happened to be one of 12 [Arabic speakers], so you could see how my chances dramatically increased at that point," Piro recalled.
The FBI began interviews with Hussein in February 2004, with Piro, a Beirut-born ethnic Assyrian, serving as a lone interrogator. In a 2008 interview, Piro told a US interviewer that Hussein had misjudged President Bush's intentions and didn't really believe he would invade. Instead, the Iraqi leader believed the US would confine itself to an air war as the Clinton administration had. The agent also said that Hussein had been deliberately vague on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (whose existence turned out to be a bluff) in an effort to present Iraq as a strong power and contain rival Iran.
Saddam Hussein was executed in December 2006, with the country falling into sectarian strife. The Iraq War is thought to have resulted in the deaths of up to 1.2 million Iraqis, as well as the deaths of over 4,400 US military personnel. The power vacuum also contributed to the rise of the Daesh (ISIS)* terror group, which spread across northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014 and 2015.
* A terror group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.