The Blaze : CIA Turned Gitmo Prisoners Into Double Agents After 9/11

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CIA Turned Gitmo Prisoners Into Double Agents After 9/11

Associated Press | November 26, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the early years after 9/11, the CIA turned some Guantanamo Bay prisoners into double agents then sent them home to help the U.S. kill terrorists, current and former U.S. officials said.

The CIA promised the prisoners freedom, safety for their families and millions of dollars from the agency’s secret accounts.

It was a risky gamble. Officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans.

For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, the program was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf. At the same time the government used the risk of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA.

The program was carried out in a secret facility built a few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The eight small cottages were hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus.

The program and the handful of men who passed through these cottages had various official CIA code names.

But those who were aware of the cluster of cottages knew it best by its sobriquet: Penny Lane.

It was a nod to the classic Beatles song and a riff on the CIA’s other secret facility at Guantanamo Bay, a prison known as Strawberry Fields.

Nearly a dozen current and former U.S officials described aspects of the program to The Associated Press. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret program publicly by name, even though it ended in about 2006.

Some of the men who passed through Penny Lane helped the CIA find and kill many top al-Qaida operatives, current and former U.S. officials said. Others stopped providing useful information and the CIA lost touch with them.

When prisoners began streaming into Guantanamo Bay in January 2002, the CIA recognized it as an unprecedented opportunity to identify sources. That year, 632 detainees arrived at the detention center. The following year 117 more arrived.

“Of course that would be an objective,” said Emile Nakhleh, a former top CIA analyst who spent time in 2002 assessing detainees but who did not discuss Penny Lane. “It’s the job of intelligence to recruit sources.”

By early 2003, Penny Lane was open for business.

Candidates were ushered from the confines of prison to Penny Lane’s relative hominess, officials said. The cottages had private kitchens, showers and televisions. Each had a small patio.

Some prisoners asked for and received pornography. One official said the biggest luxury in each cottage was the bed – not a military-issued cot but a real bed with a mattress.

The cottages were designed to feel more like hotel rooms than prison cells, and some CIA officials jokingly referred to them collectively as the Marriott.

Current and former officials said dozens of prisoners were evaluated but only a handful, from a variety of countries, were turned into spies who signed agreements to work for the CIA.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment.

The U.S. government says it has confirmed that about 16 percent of former Guantanamo Bay detainees rejoined the fight against America. Officials suspect but have not confirmed that 12 percent more rejoined.

It’s not clear whether the men from Penny Lane are included in those figures. But because only a small number of people went through the program, it would not likely change the figures significantly either way. None of the officials interviewed by the AP knew of an instance in which any double agent killed Americans.

Though the number of double agents recruited through Penny Lane was small, the program was significant enough to draw keen attention from President George W. Bush, one former official said. Bush personally interviewed a junior CIA case officer who had just returned home from Afghanistan, where the agency typically met with the agents.

President Barack Obama took an interest the program for a different reason. Shortly after taking office in 2009, he ordered a review of the former detainees working as double agents because they were providing information used in Predator drone strikes, one of the officials said.

Infiltrating al-Qaida has been one of the CIA’s most sought-after but difficult goals, something that other foreign intelligence services have only occasionally accomplished. Candidates for Penny Lane needed legitimate terrorist connections. To be valuable to the CIA, the men had to be able to reconnect with al-Qaida.

From the Bush administration descriptions of Guantanamo Bay prisoners at the time, the CIA would have seemingly had a large pool to draw from. Vice President Dick Cheney called the prisoners “the worst of a very bad lot.” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said they were “among the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth.”

In reality, many were held on flimsy evidence and were of little use to the CIA.

While the agency looked for viable candidates, those with no terrorism ties sat in limbo. It would take years before the majority of detainees were set free, having never been charged. Of the 779 people who were taken to Guantanamo Bay, more than three-fourths have been released, mostly during the Bush administration.

Many others remain at Guantanamo Bay, having been cleared for release by the military but with no hope for freedom in sight.

“I do see the irony on the surface of letting some really very bad guys go,” said David Remes, an American lawyer who has represented about a dozen Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo.

But Remes, who was not aware of Penny Lane, said he understands its attraction.

“The men we were sending back as agents were thought to be able to provide value to us,” he said.

Prisoners agreed to cooperate for a variety of reasons, officials said. Some received assurances that the U.S. would resettle their families. Another thought al-Qaida had perverted Islam and believed it was his duty as a Muslim to help the CIA destroy it. One detainee agreed to cooperate after the CIA insinuated it would harm his children, a former official said, similar to the threats interrogators had made to admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

All were promised money. Exactly how much each was paid remains unclear. But altogether, the government paid millions of dollars for their services, officials said. The money came from a secret CIA account, codenamed Pledge, that’s used to pay informants, officials said.

The arrangement led to strategic discussions inside the CIA: If the agency’s drones had a shot at Osama bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, would officials take the shot if it meant killing a double agent on the American payroll?

It never came to that.

The biggest fear, former officials involved with the program recalled, was that a former detainee would attack Americans then publicly announce that he had been on the CIA payroll.

Al-Qaida suspected the CIA would attempt a program like this and its operatives have been very suspicious of former Guantanamo Bay detainees, intelligence officials and experts said.

In one case, a former official recalled, al-Qaida came close to discovering one of the double agents in its midst.

The U.S. government had such high hopes for Penny Lane that one former intelligence official recalled discussions about whether to secretly release a pair of Pakistani men into the United States on student or business visas. The hope was that they would connect with al-Qaida and lead authorities to members of a U.S. cell.

Another former senior intelligence official said that never happened.

Officials said the program ended in 2006, as the flow of detainees to Guantanamo Bay slowed to a trickle. The last prisoner arrived there in 2008.

Penny Lane still stands and can be seen in satellite photos. A dirt road winds its way to a clearing. The special detachment of Marines that once provided security is gone. The complex is surrounded by two fences and hidden among the trees and shrubs of Guantanamo Bay.

It has long been abandoned.


Associated Press writer Ben Fox in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

Boston Globe : Troves of files on JFK assassination remain secret

Monday, November 25, 2013

Troves of files on JFK assassination remain secret

By Bryan Bender | Globe Staff | November 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — There were the Pentagon’s top-secret reviews of Lee Harvey Oswald, the former US Marine — before and after the assassination. The files about the CIA operative who monitored the alleged assassin and whose knowledge of him was purposely hidden from congressional investigators. The sworn testimony of dozens of intelligence officials and organized crime figures dating back nearly four decades. And the government personnel files of multiple figures officially designated as relevant to the investigation.

The documents, which could amount to tens of thousands of pages, are just some of the collections that government archivists acknowledge have still not been released a half-century after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

As the nation marks the anniversary of JFK’s murder, there is a new push, including lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act, to shake loose these and other classified materials that may shed light on one of the most unsettled debates of modern history: Was the murder of the nation’s 35th president the work of a lone assassin or a conspiracy, and did elements of the US government know about it, or cover it up, or knowingly destroy evidence to prevent other dirty laundry from being aired?

“A lot of questions remain,” said John R. Tunheim, a federal judge in Minnesota who chaired the Assassination Records Review Board, which oversaw the review and disclosure of some five million records related to the JFK assassination in the 1990s. “We only put a few pieces of the puzzle together. Lots of the jigsaw is missing.”

The National Archives and Records Administration, which is tasked with working with the agencies that originally generated the files, reports that some 1,100 distinct documents that Tunheim and his team did not have access to remain shielded from public view.

The so-called 1992 JFK Records Act, the law that established Tunheim’s records review board, stipulated that all the files have to be released by October 2017 unless the president of the United States grants permission to keep them secret — something many researchers fear could happen if there isn’t more public pressure.

“There is no mechanism to implement the JFK Records Act,” said Jefferson Morley, a former Washington Post reporter and author who is suing the CIA to release more documents. The National Archives, he said, “has little leverage with the CIA to release stuff.”

Morley and others advocate an additional step that could help dislodge the remaining JFK assassination materials: allow any former government officials with direct knowledge of the secret records to discuss them publicly without the threat of jail.

“We need to make sure disclosure is legal,” Morley told a conference of JFK assassination researchers at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh last month. “That should be part of the agenda going forward.”

Just like the competing theories of who was responsible for JFK’s assassination — whether pro-communist or anti-communist Cubans; members of the American Mafia; elements of US intelligence; or some murky amalgam of all three — assassination researchers disagree on which of the withheld files could prove most illuminating.

Some believe it is the files on US attempts to launch a coup in Cuba with the help of Castro’s internal opponents in late 1963. Others say it is the files on leading Mafia figures who were previously hired by the CIA to kill Castro but never testified before congressional investigations because they were slain just before they were about to appear.

But there are several categories of files that they agree offer the prospect of bringing into better focus a plot that most Americans believe involved more than Oswald acting alone. Just as importantly, researchers say, the files could clear some individuals or agencies that have been suspected of involvement.

Among them are the repeated references to a pair of security reviews that were conducted by the Navy on Oswald, a former Marine who defected to Russia before returning to the United States.

The information is considered by researchers to be critical to understanding what the military discovered about Oswald before and immediately after the assassination.

In the 1990s the Assassination Records Review Board interviewed former military investigators who said they were involved in investigating Oswald. One former official reported that among the findings were that “Oswald was incapable of committing the assassination alone,” according to the board’s final report, issued in 1998 when the congressionally mandated panel expired.

Tunheim said he thought he had been making progress in getting the information. Indeed, the Navy at the time told the board that it had located more than 1,000 cubic feet of documents that might be relevant — including, according to a memo drafted by the review board staff, a box of files that “has to do with defections, both Cuban and Soviet; they plan on turning this box over ‘in toto.’ ”

Soon after, however, the Navy officer tasked with responding to the review board’s requests was removed from her position, and Tunheim confirmed in an interview that his group ultimately received nothing.

A spokesman for the Office of Naval Intelligence told the Globe that the agency does not keep records that old but said he would make additional inquiries. Repeated follow-up calls were not returned.

Yet it is the CIA that remains the major focus of most disclosure efforts by journalists, scholars, and other researchers.

“Most sealed records belong to the CIA,” said Miriam Kleinman, a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Records Administration.

One category of records that researchers are anxious to see are the files related to George Joannides, a CIA officer who came to public light when he served as the agency’s liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, which concluded the president’s death was likely the result of a conspiracy.

But what the CIA didn’t tell the oversight panel was that Joannides had been monitoring Oswald when was living in New Orleans prior to the assassination and was involved with a series of Cuban exile groups with ties to the CIA as well as leftist organizations sympathetic to Castro.

“It really was an example of treachery,” Tunheim said in a recent interview of the CIA’s handling of the Joannides affair. “If [the CIA] fooled us on that, they may have fooled us on other things.”

He called on the agency to make public everything it knows about the Joannides, who is now dead.

“I think they should release them now because they clearly have become relevant to the assassination,” Tunheim said.

The CIA maintains that it has provided all relevant documents to the Archives.

“CIA has followed the provisions of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act, and the National Archives has all of the agency’s documents and files on the Kennedy assassination,” said CIA spokesman Todd D. Ebitz. “The classified information contained in the files remains subject to the declassification provisions of the act.”

Other withheld records, according to the National Archives, are from the files of several congressional inquiries of the assassination, beginning with a small number of documents from the original Warren Commission investigation that fingered Oswald as the sole suspect.

More are from the so-called Church Committee that investigated CIA abuses in 1975 and in the process stumbled upon several JFK-related revelations, including that the CIA hired the Mafia to assist in his war against Cuban leader Fidel Castro and that the president was sharing the same girlfriend as a leading Mafia figure involved in those plots.

Rex Bradford, who runs the Mary Ferrell Foundation in Ipswich and has digitized more than one million records related to the JFK case, has identified numerous depositions before the Church Committee that are referenced in the panel’s final report but have yet to be made public.

They include the testimony on secret plots to assassinate Castro from CIA officers; Kennedy’s national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy; and the head of the CIA, John McCone.

Also withheld are the panel’s interviews with CIA officials about “JM/WAVE,” the code name for the secret CIA station overseeing covert operations in Cuba that was located on the campus of the University of Miami.

Other still-secret files were compiled in the late 1970s by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which concluded there was a conspiracy to kill JFK.

“The [withheld] collection includes records from Church Committee and House Select Committee on Assassination — there are records from both series that are withheld either in part or in full,” the National Archives’ Kleinman said in response to Globe queries.

Longtime researchers of the Kennedy assassination assert that the fact that the files remain secret doesn’t mean the government wants to protect those who might have been responsible for the assassination.

“There are plenty of documented reasons that agencies like the CIA, FBI, and Naval Intelligence would cover up material from investigators or other agencies,” said Lamar Waldron, author of several books on the Kennedy assassination. “Some crucial information . . . was covered up for reasons of national security. Other times agencies were hiding intelligence failures that could have embarrassed their organization or even cost some officials their careers. On other occasions, officials were hiding unauthorized operations.”

Still, Waldron and many other researchers believe that what is left to be learned just might shed new light on a case that has been picked apart like virtually no other.

“This is not a fishing expedition,” Morley said. “These are records that we know exist. There isn’t going to be a big smoking gun. But there might be a small one.”

Mark Lane, author of “Rush to Judgment,” one of the first books to question the official narrative that Oswald was the lone assassin, also believes there still could be useful information hidden in government vaults.

“The government says, ‘Oswald did it and did it alone. But we can’t show you everything for national security,’ ” offers Lane. “Which one of those statements is true?”

Bryan Bender can be reached at

Boston Herald : Cohen: Military hub works to prevent the next 9/11

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cohen: Military hub works to prevent the next 9/11

Rachelle Cohen | November 25, 2013

COLORADO SPRINGS — “A great wrong was perpetrated in our homeland. We will never forget.”

The words are inscribed on the walls where no one reporting for duty here can miss them. They drive everything that is done here at the joint headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

NORTHCOM was born out of 9/11 — out of the government’s failure to “connect the dots,” a failure that allowed a terrorist attack on American soil.

Today it is the mission of NORTHCOM and its commander, Gen. Charles J. Jacoby Jr., to day in, day out, 24/7 connect the dots — bringing together the resources of the Pentagon, Homeland Security and working with civilian authorities in every community that calls on them for help.

“We’re stuck with the reality that we can be touched in the homeland,” Jacoby told a group of journalists and security experts in a visit arranged by the Heritage Foundation.

Then the briefing room grows dark and the screen fills with an all-too-familiar image — that of two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The moment is as real for this general and his operations staff 2,000 miles away as it was for those of us who lived through it that day.

“You couldn’t have had a better [local] response,” Jacoby assures.

But when the “incident” showed up on NORTHCOM’s systems — one of about a thousand such “incidents” that get their attention each year — Jacoby’s team went to work.

The initial reports of as many as seven possible bombs in the area set off a chain reaction of checks with both military and civilian partners. Was there any further activity on the air or the ground? Was this part of something larger? Was the homeland once again under attack?

Ruling that out was what they did here.

“Ten years ago we didn’t have that capacity,” he adds, and 10 years ago Boston’s own response teams would not have been bolstered by a decade of Homeland Security grants and training.

Sure this time it was homegrown terrorists — or at least adopted ones. But what about the next time?

“I’m often asked what keeps me up at night,” Jacoby said, “In the end what keeps me up at night is being late.

“I want to know about that threat before the finish line at the Boston Marathon.”

And so, ahead of next April’s Marathon, NORTHCOM is likely to play a supporting role. It does, after all, have the resources to keep watch on no-fly lists, and along with the FBI check networks of known terrorists. And if a surveillance drone or two would help, why NORTHCOM could do that too — if asked.

“Our job is to get left of the boom on this one,” he adds, using a military expression for prevention and for disrupting insurgents before they can do their dirty work.

And NORTHCOM does this all while helping interdict drugs, provide relief during natural disasters — fires, hurricanes, floods — and keeping the skies safe.

Oh and keeping an eye on some particularly bad actors like, say, North Korea, recently upgraded from a “theoretical threat” to a “practical threat” in the minds and operations of our military.

And right now all that is being done in an era of sequestration-mandated budget cuts.

It’s a blending of what Jacoby called the “home game and the away game.” Because that’s what it takes now.

So here in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain a twisted girder from the World Trade Center rises from a Pentagon-shaped planter anchored in soil from a Shanksville, Pa., field. It provides a reminder — as if one were needed — that constant vigilance is the price we pay for our freedom. There’s no longer room for error.

Rachelle Cohen is editor of the editorial pages.