- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

Counterintelligence measures were in place at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp when two translators and a Muslim chaplain who worked there were arrested on suspicion of espionage, the nation’s top military officer said yesterday.

“But it should not be a surprise that in a time of war, people try to infiltrate this way,” Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

“The fact that some people have been apprehended and alleged with these very serious crimes is an indication of some of the good news,” he said.

The translator at the U.S. naval base in Cuba was arrested Monday in Boston. In his possession was a computer disk containing names of suspected terrorists mentioned during interrogation sessions at Guantanamo, the Boston Globe reported yesterday.

The newspaper cited two unnamed federal law enforcement officials, one of whom said Ahmed Fathy Mehalba had a security clearance and had been privy to some “very sensitive” information when working as an Arabic-language translator at Guantanamo.

The officials also told the Globe that Boston’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is trying to track Mr. Mehalba’s movements of the past two months to determine whether he shared the classified material with anyone else.

Authorities reportedly are trying to determine whether Mr. Mehalba, 31, was using the material as part of his translator job at Guantanamo or whether he was smuggling it to terrorists overseas.

Upon his arrest at Boston’s Logan International Airport, Mr. Mehalba, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen who once served in the U.S. Army, told Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that he was returning from a visit with his family in Egypt.

He had entered Logan on a flight from Cairo via Milan, Italy. A Customs and Border Protection official found the classified material among more than 100 compact discs in one of Mr. Mehalba’s bags, according to an FBI affidavit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston would not comment yesterday on what information was in Mr. Mehalba’s possession at the time of his arrest.

Michael C. Andrews, appointed by the U.S. District Court in Boston to act as Mr. Mehalba’s defense attorney, said yesterday afternoon that federal authorities had not given him access to the classified documents.

“I hope to have access before the hearing next week,” Mr. Andrews said, referring to Mr. Mehalba’s scheduled appearance Wednesday in federal court in Worcester, Mass.

The military is using the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to house about 660 mainly Muslim, non-English-speaking suspects, who are considered enemy combatants in the U.S.-led global war on terror. Most of the detainees are believed to be suspected Taliban and al Qaeda members, who were taken into custody in Afghanistan last year.

Mr. Mehalba’s arrest was the latest in an apparently widening espionage probe at the prison camp. On Sept. 24, the Pentagon announced charges against Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad al-Halabi, 24, on suspicion he e-mailed classified information about Guantanamo to unspecified enemy combatants and another operative in Syria.

Another suspect is Army Capt. James J. Yee, 35, a West Point graduate who converted to Islam and worked as a Muslim chaplain with detainees at Guantanamo. He was detained Sept. 10 and has been held since without charge at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.

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