Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.
John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.
“Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”
“This was not leaked to a columnist,” he added. “These were pictures of undercover people who were involved in the interrogations program given for identification purposes to the 9/11 [terrorists].”
Mr. Rizzo’s remarks are the first public comments by someone who was involved in the probe on the still-secret investigation.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican who was briefed recently on the investigation, agreed with Mr. Rizzo that the ongoing probe of the John Adams Project is very serious.
Mr. McKeon, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he has been pushing the Obama administration to brief the full committee on the investigation, which will now take place next week.
“The published reports indicate that there have been things that have happened, information passed back and forth to the detainees possibly through their attorneys,” he said.
“My greatest concern is that [the information supplied to the detainees] put our people at risk,” Mr. McKeon said in an interview with The Washington Times.
An indication of the seriousness was the fact that the investigation has been going for a year and the Justice Department recent appointment of U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald as “special prosecutor,” Mr. McKeon said.
Mr. McKeon said the CIA also “is very concerned” about the safety of its officers because of the compromise.
Mr. Rizzo, who was the CIA’s acting general counsel from 2004 until December 2009 when he left, said the Guantanamo case is a graver matter than the scandal over Mrs. Plame, a former CIA undercover officer whose name was leaked to the press after her husband accused the Bush administration of lying about prewar intelligence in Iraq.
The Plame scandal ended up ensnaring the Bush administration in an unauthorized disclosure probe from 2004 and 2007, after the Justice Department appointed Mr. Fitzgerald to investigate that case.
Mr. Fitzgerald has been asked to investigate the military lawyers in charge of representing some high-value detainees in Guantanamo Bay, along with outside attorneys who were helping them.
U.S. officials close to the CIA-Justice probe said photographs of the CIA officers were found last year in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an alleged financier of the Sept. 11 plot. Officials said the photographs appeared to have been taken by private investigators for the John Adams Project, which is jointly backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.