- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Military officials responding to the espionage probe at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Navy prison camp in Cuba have ramped up security checks of materials carried off the camp’s grounds by prison guards and civilians.

Days after the Sept. 29 arrest of a Guantanamo interpreter charged with lying about classified materials in his possession, senior Pentagon officials said counterintelligence measures had been in place at the prison camp to prevent such a case.

Those measures, however, apparently did not include the thorough bag and computer checks under way now.

“We just started those baggage checks this past Saturday,” Army Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, spokeswoman for the Guantanamo prison camp, said yesterday.

Col. Hart said “anyone carrying a laptop or any other digital devices must have those screened 72 hours in advance.” Previously, she said, such checks were not conducted. “It is a little inconvenient for some, but we all realize how necessary it is for the protection of the mission and for everyone involved.”

Meanwhile, a team assessing the camp’s security procedures is expected to make its findings public once presented to camp commanders, a spokesman for the Defense Department’s Southern Command, which oversees the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said yesterday.

The Miami Herald first reported Friday the checks were put in place in response to the spy probe. The Herald said Brig. Gen. Mitchell LeClair, deputy commander of the prison for al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, described them as “corrective actions.”

Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, the Guantanamo interpreter arrested in Boston on Sept. 29, is said to have had in his possession a list of names of suspected terrorists mentioned during interrogation sessions with terror suspects at the base.

Federal law-enforcement authorities have said the classified materials were found on a compact disc he was carrying. Mr. Mehalba, 31, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen, is being held in Massachusetts pending trial.

The spy probe began in July with the arrest of Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad al Halabi, 24, also an interpreter at Guantanamo. The Pentagon has identified 32 charges against him, accusing him of collecting more than 180 messages from detainees with plans to pass them on to unidentified enemy operatives in Syria.

While the charges against Airman al Halabi are serious, one count could carry the death penalty, those filed by the Pentagon are less severe against a third man, an Islamic chaplain held in the spy probe.

Army Capt. James J. Yee, 35, who was also stationed at Guantanamo for the detainees, nearly all of whom are Muslims, is charged with disobeying a general order for improperly handling classified information, but not espionage.

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