PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask smart people about dumb things. It’s called Not My Job. Back in 2003, when the U.S. Army captured Saddam Hussein, they had to interrogate him, so they sent a CIA analyst who had basically studied Hussein for his entire professional life. That man, John Nixon, now retired, has written a book about Hussein and his other adventures in the spy trade. He joins us now. John Nixon, welcome to WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.
JOHN NIXON: Oh, thank you so much.
SAGAL: Thank you. So always curious about life in the CIA. When were you first recruited and taught to kill?
NIXON: (Laughter) Well, I was first recruited in ’97. And I had to go through a very stringent background check, and I made it through. And it was just – it was nine months of hell.
SAGAL: Really? So you – I mean, I always imagine that when the CIA contacts you they do it like in the spy movies where you come home and there’s a beautiful woman in your apartment and she says, we’ve been watching you.
NIXON: (Laughter) Oh, I wish it were like that.
NIXON: But no, it was more like I got a call one day and said, would you like to come in for an interview? And I said, of course. And…
SAGAL: Well, that’s boring. Come up with a better story.
NIXON: I can’t.
SAGAL: Now, you talked about this background check for nine months. Did they find anything embarrassing about you that you didn’t know anybody would ever find out?
NIXON: No, I – to be honest with you I did find one thing. I had been engaged years ago to this girl who turned out to be a complete psychopath.
AMY DICKINSON: Natasha.
NIXON: And she ended up…
NIXON: My investigator said, do you own a home in New York? And I said no. And he said, well, according to our documents here you do. And it turns out she forged my signature on…
NIXON: And that’s how I found out about it.
SAGAL: Well, how convenient that you then were in a position to have her killed. That’s awesome.
NIXON: The thing is that the investigator said, well, you know, she’s paid off the home, so it’s probably helped your credit rating.
SAGAL: There you go.
SAGAL: So is it true that your job – you were assigned – this was ’97, this was not that long before the war – that you were assigned to Saddam Hussein? That was your job? We want you to study up on Hussein?
NIXON: Yeah. Well, I had studied him in graduate school at Georgetown. And, you know, he was a very intense figure, and I was always interested in him. And I spent a good three years directly working on him, and then I started working on Iran. But I always kept up to speed on the information on Saddam even when I was working on Iran because in order to understand Iran you also have to understand Iraq and vice versa.
SAGAL: Sure. Well, absolutely. I know that.
DICKINSON: Can I ask a question?
DICKINSON: So, John, I went to school also in D.C. And I went to school with a lot of people whose parents were I believed with the CIA. And they usually said – they lived in Northern Virginia, and they usually said that their parents worked in import-export.
SAGAL: Oh, really, like James Bond? They used the same line?
DICKINSON: They just always said my parents work in import-export. And so, like, did you have a cover job once you were sort of fully in?
NIXON: No. Well, I was an overt employee, so I – whenever I was here in the States if people asked me who I worked for for the most part I would say I work for the CIA because I was not doing – I was not a covert employee. That’s a different case altogether.
SAGAL: So were you single at this time?
NIXON: Yes, I was single. But, you know, I had a very steady girlfriend who eventually became my wife.
SAGAL: Oh, that’s nice because I was going to ask would it be like dating when you’re in the CIA. Do chicks dig that, basically?
NIXON: It’s not (laughter) – it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
TOM BODETT: Really? So there’s a – second date is like, so let me tell you about this background check you’re going to have.
DICKINSON: Yeah, really.
SAGAL: So there’s a lot to cover. So you were sent to Iraq to find Saddam Hussein or to interrogate him once he was found?
NIXON: Well, both. Initially I was to help the special forces find him. And so I did – I interfaced with the special forces and, you know, tried to kind of come up with ideas for how we could look for him. And eventually we found him. And then…
SAGAL: Did you help find him? You were like, you know, Saddam Hussein, he likes holes in the ground.
SAGAL: So finally they find him and they send you in to interrogate him. What was it like meeting the guy, this tyrant, this world figure who you had studied for so many years?
NIXON: It was intense. It was – he was everything I thought he was. And I felt comfortable talking to him, but, you know, he had enormous charisma and he could really work a crowd. And I remember the first couple of times I met with him I was like – he was charming. He was self-deprecating. He was polite.
SAGAL: Wait a minute. Saddam…
DICKINSON: Wait, he had…
SAGAL: Wait a minute. Slow down. Saddam Hussein was self-deprecating? He was like, oh, no, I didn’t kill that many people. Come on. What – what do you mean self…
ROY BLOUNT JR.: You sure you got the right guy?
SAGAL: Is it true – we have heard this from people who know you – that you’re good at doing impressions? Is this true?
NIXON: Oh, well, yeah, no – yeah. Yeah.
SAGAL: All right, well, now you’ve said it, so you have to do it.
NIXON: Oh, well, OK. Well, I’ll do Clinton first, OK?
SAGAL: Do Clinton. Do Clinton.
NIXON: You know, one is – well, my favorite phrase is like, (imitating accent) I did it. I did it for the most selfish of reasons.
SAGAL: All right, who else you got in there?
NIXON: The other one is Bush. It’s like he had this unique way of, like, painting you into a corner when he talked to you. (Imitating accent) Well, the man’s a dictator, isn’t he? I mean, the man’s a thug. Don’t you agree with me?
DICKINSON: Can I ask a quick – sorry.
SAGAL: Sure. Go ahead, Amy.
DICKINSON: Did George Bush have this button on his desk where he could push it and get a Coke?
NIXON: Oh, my God (laughter). No, he didn’t need a button because there was always, like, a White House steward at the ready with a whole tray of Cokes.
DICKINSON: Oh, awesome.
NIXON: Like, one time they delivered Coke Zero instead of Diet Coke.
SAGAL: Oh, no.
NIXON: Totally flipped.
DICKINSON: (Laughter) No.
SAGAL: Wait a minute, you’re saying – so the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, flipped out because they delivered the wrong brand of low-calorie Coca-Cola?
DICKINSON: He’s like a sorority sister, really.
DICKINSON: Yeah. That’s amazing.
SAGAL: Well, John Nixon, we are delighted to talk to you. And we have invited you, as we do with all our guests, to play a game, which this time we are calling…
BILL KURTIS: Debriefer, meet the briefs.
DICKINSON: Oh, no.
SAGAL: So you debriefed the president, but what do you know about briefs – that is, underwear?
DICKINSON: Oh, no.
BODETT: Did you know what you were getting into…
SAGAL: Yeah, he’s CIA, but he didn’t see that coming.
SAGAL: We’re going to ask you three questions about briefs. Get two right, you’ll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell’s voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is John Nixon playing for?
KURTIS: Aaron Davidson of Eugene, Ore.
SAGAL: All right.
SAGAL: Mr. Davidson apparently is here.
SAGAL: Thanks for making the trip. All right, ready to play, John?
SAGAL: Here is your first question. Some organizations have instituted strict rules about briefs, as in which of these – A, Major League Baseball umpires are required to wear black briefs in case they split their pants squatting like that; B, a school board in Florida has banned the new trend of wearing an extra-large pair of underpants over regular underpants as pants; C, employees at Fruit of the Loom headquarters are required to wear Fruit of the Loom underwear at all times and are subject to random checks?
NIXON: I would say all of the above, but I’m going to – I’m going to go with B.
SAGAL: You’re going to go with B, the school board of Florida has banned the use of wearing underpants over your underpants as pants? It’s actually Major League Baseball umpires.
SAGAL: Think about it. How embarrassing would it be for the dignity of the game if an umpire were to squat there behind home plate (imitating pants ripping)? All right, here is your next question, John. There’s still two more chances. There are some places where you’re absolutely not allowed to wear briefs, as in which of these – A, surprisingly, the Constitution requires that all Supreme Court justices go commando under their robes…
SAGAL: …B, on spacewalks because NASA is conducting a 30-year-old study on supported human junk and zero grav…
SAGAL: …Or C, in official ferret legging contests? That’s the British sport where they put ferrets in competitors’ pants and see who can stand it the longest.
NIXON: (Laughter) You got me on this one. I’ll go with C.
SAGAL: You’re right, ferret legging.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, APPLAUSE)
SAGAL: I believe it’s now an extinct sport. They no longer play it. But in the days you used to put ferrets down your pants and underwear was seen as cheating. Well, this is exciting for John because he’s got one right with one to go. If you get this you win. In 1993, scientists wanted to test the impact of briefs versus boxers on male fertility. How did they conduct these tests? A, they made tiny briefs and boxes for lab rats and observed the effects…
SAGAL: …B, they studied the social habits at a bar of 100 men wearing both and recorded how many in each group went home alone…
SAGAL: …Or C, they performed a 10-year study on a pair of identical twins, one who wore only boxers and the other only briefs?
NIXON: Again, I’m going to try C.
SAGAL: That’s your choice?
SAGAL: No I’m afraid it was actually the rats.
DICKINSON: No. No. (Laughter) No.
SAGAL: They made…
DICKINSON: Stop it. That is not real.
SAGAL: They made little rat boxers…
DICKINSON: (Laughter) No.
SAGAL: …Little rat briefs, I’m sure in a nice array of patterns and plaids, solid colors. And then they – after letting the rats run around and do what rats do, they would test the rats’ fertility.
DICKINSON: Stop it.
SAGAL: It’s true. Bill, how did CIA analyst John Nixon do on our quiz?
KURTIS: We love your imagination, John, so we want you to go home a winner. Thanks for playing.
SAGAL: All right, hold on, I’ll ask you this question – which was more fun, interrogating Saddam Hussein or talking to us?
NIXON: That’s a tough one.
SAGAL: I know.
BODETT: Say C.
SAGAL: We don’t have his charm. John Nixon’s book is “Debriefing The President: The Interrogation Of Saddam Hussein.” John Nixon, thank you so much for playing with us.
BODETT: Thank you, sir.
SAGAL: Bye-bye, now.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALPH REBEL’S “JAMES BOND”)
SAGAL: In just a minute, nothing comes between Bill and his Calvins in our Listener Limerick Challenge game. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We’ll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME from NPR.
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