PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Sometimes we talk to people who have even cooler jobs than we have. For example, John Nixon worked for the CIA for his entire career studying one man, Saddam Hussein. So who better to send to interview him when Hussein was captured?
BILL KURTIS: John Nixon talked to us about his life as a spook last year. And Peter approached the topic in his usual discreet way.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SAGAL: So always curious about life in the CIA. When were you first recruited and taught to kill?
JOHN 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 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: 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 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?
DICKINSON: Wow, 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...
KURTIS: Debriefer, meet de briefs.
DICKINSON: Oh, no.
KURTIS: So you debriefed the president, but what do you know about briefs - that is, underwear?
DICKINSON: Oh, no.
TOM 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, the voice of anyone from our show they choose on their voicemail. Bill, who is John Nixon playing for?
KURTIS: Aaron Davidson of Eugene, Ore.
SAGAL: All right.
KURTIS: 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.
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 want to 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.
NIXON: Thank you, sir.
SAGAL: Bye-bye, now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.