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CIA says ACLU-backed plan endangered Gitmo officers
A team of CIA counterintelligence officials recently visited the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and concluded that CIA interrogators face the risk of exposure to al Qaeda through inmates’ contacts with defense attorneys, according to U.S. officials.
The agency’s “tiger team” of security specialists was dispatched as part of an ongoing investigation conducted jointly with the Justice Department into a program backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The program, called the John Adams Project, has photographed covert CIA interrogators and shown the pictures to some of the five senior al Qaeda terrorists held there in an effort to identify them further.
Details of the review could not be learned. However, the CIA team came away from the review, conducted the week of March 14, “very concerned” that agency personnel have been put in danger by military rules allowing interaction between the five inmates and defense attorneys, according to an intelligence source close to the review.
The team also expressed concerns about the inmates’ access to laptop computers in the past. Some of the inmates who are representing themselves in legal proceedings were granted laptop computers without Internet access. However, the officials fear that future unfavorable court rulings could provide the inmates with the capability of communicating outside the island prison.
The joint investigation, which recently added U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald to the Justice Department team, was stepped up earlier this month after a disagreement between Justice Department and CIA officials over whether CIA officers’ lives were put in danger at the prison.
The probe was launched last year but was given renewed attention after CIA counterintelligence officials expressed alarm at the recent discovery of photographs of CIA officers, without their names on the photos, in a cell at the prison.
Mr. Fitzgerald, who investigated the press disclosure of clandestine CIA officer Valerie Plame beginning in 2003, has been meeting with CIA officials for the past several weeks as part of the probe.
The prosecutor was called into the case after agency officials voiced worries that Justice Department investigators did not share their level of concern over the danger that al Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, could secretly send information on the identities of CIA officers to al Qaeda terrorists outside the prison through the attorneys.
A senior Justice Department National Security Division official, Donald Vieira, recused himself from the probe earlier this month as a result of the interagency dispute. Mr. Vieira was a Democratic counsel on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, before taking a post at the Justice Department.
Spokesmen for the CIA and Justice Department had no comment. The new chief defense counsel for Guantanamo, Marine Corps Col. Jeff Colwell, also declined to comment on the recent CIA security review conducted at Guantanamo.
Spokesmen for the ACLU and the John Adams Project have denied that any lawyers working to represent Guantanamo detainees have compromised the security of CIA personnel, asserting that they have operated within rules set by a military judge.
Military lawyers and some civilian lawyers seeking to represent the detainees have held meetings with the detainees over the past several months.
Regarding the interagency dispute, some CIA officials are said to be concerned that Justice Department investigators may have been advocates on behalf of the Guantanamo Bay detainees prior to joining the Obama administration.
The worries were heightened after the recent disclosure that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had signed Supreme Court briefs supporting a court review of the case of convicted terrorist Jose Padilla. Mr. Holder apologized last week for failing to disclose his role in the briefs during Senate confirmation hearings last year to be attorney general.
Mr. Holder announced in November that he would shift military trials of five al Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo to a federal court in New York. However, under protests from critics, he reversed the decision and is expected to announce soon either another civilian trial location or military trials at the Cuban prison.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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