John McCaslin

"You've got to talk to George Piro," John Miller, the FBI's assistant director for public affairs, was telling Ronald Kessler over lunch at Brasserie Les Halles in downtown Washington as they discussed plans for Mr. Kessler's book "The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack."

"That'll be your best interview," Mr. Miller opined.

He should know. Before taking the FBI job, he was the popular anchor for ABC's "20/20," and one of the few journalists to have interviewed elusive terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"Nobody's ever heard of Piro," Mr. Miller explained. "And if you ever mention his name in public, I'll have to have you killed," added the FBI assistant director, who coincidentally, like all G-men, was armed.

Mr. Miller explained that Mr. Piro is the Arabic-speaking FBI agent who was tasked with debriefing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after his capture.

"For seven months, every single day, he interviewed Saddam," Mr. Miller revealed. "He spent every waking day with Saddam Hussein from the time he was captured to just about a year ago. It's like 'Tuesdays with Morrie.' Every day, you sit down with Saddam Hussein and say, 'Let's pick up where we left off yesterday.' "

Almost a year later, Mr. Kessler interviewed Mr. Piro for his new book, which hits stores next Tuesday.

"From Saddam's strategy during the 2003 invasion to why no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, Piro unraveled mysteries and provided insights about one of the greatest mass murderers of our time," says Mr. Kessler, who reveals that when it was time to say goodbye, Mr. Piro pulled out two Cuban Cohiba cigars, Saddam's favorite brand.

"We sat outside, smoked a couple of Cuban cigars, had some coffee and chatted," Mr. Piro told the author.

Then, the two men said their goodbyes in the traditional Arab manner: a handshake and then a kiss to the right cheek, a kiss to the left, and a kiss to the right again. That, says Mr. Kessler, made Mr. Piro a little uncomfortable.

As for Saddam, he apparently was shaken and became teary-eyed.

Art as answer

Saudi Arabian Ambassador Adel A. Al-Jubeir and Sotheby's CEO William F. Ruprecht will together host a black-tie reception at the royal embassy on Thursday evening to open a monthlong exhibit of 19th-century Middle Eastern art collected by San Francisco-area businessman Terence Garnett.

"I came to this collection over the last several years as I have always been drawn to the romance and historic glory of this geography as it was evolving during the 19th century," Mr. Garnett, of the venture buyout firm Garnett & Helfrich Capital, tells Inside the Beltway.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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