The last 20 year of US foreign policy has been a sad state of affairs. The rendition program and enhanced interrogation program (I will refer to it by what it actually was Torture from now on) was extremely disturbing to me personally as well as most of the rest of the World. How the leaders of the Country could believe that something like this would benefit the US is so misguided as to be delusional. We kidnapped people in the dead of night and airlifted them to Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand or Poland. We then proceeded to torture them in the hopes we could prevent another attack. How the US could consider itself at the forefront of Human Rights and at the same time chastise anyone we felt like for not being on our level in hindsight is flat out pathetic.
On a cold day in early 2003, two senior CIA officers arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw to pick up a pair of large cardboard boxes. Inside were bundles of cash totaling $15 million that had been flown from Germany via diplomatic pouch.The men put the boxes in a van and weaved through the Polish capital until coming to the headquarters of Polish intelligence. They were met by Col. Andrzej Derlatka, deputy chief of the intelligence service, and two of his associates.
The Americans and Poles then sealed an agreement that over the previous weeks had allowed the CIA the use of a secret prison — a remote villa in the Polish lake district — to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects. The Polish intelligence service received the money, and the CIA had a solid location for its newest covert operation, according to former agency officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the interrogation program, including previously unreported details about the creation of the CIA’s “black sites,” or secret prisons.
The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture.Much about the creation and operation of the CIA’s prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that the U.S. government has classified as state secrets. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA’s interrogation program is about to be revisited.The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to release portions of an exhaustive 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, its value in eliciting critical intelligence and whether Congress was misled about aspects of the program.
The treatment of detainees also continues to be a legal issue in the military trials of Mohammed and others at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
And in December, the European Court of Human Rights heard arguments that Poland violated international law and participated in torture by accommodating its American ally; a decision is expected this year.
“In the face of Polish and United States efforts to draw a veil over these abuses, the European Court of Human Rights now has an opportunity to break this conspiracy of silence and uphold the rule of law,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, which petitioned the court on behalf of a detainee who was held at the Polish site.
Wanted: A better location
The story of a Polish villa that became the site of one of the most infamous prisons in U.S. history began in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad with the capture of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, in March 2002. The CIA needed a place to stash its first “high-value” detainee, a man who was thought to be closely tied to the al-Qaeda leadership and might know of follow-on plots.
Cambodia and Thailand offered to help the CIA. Cambodia turned out to be the less desirable of the two. Agency officers told superiors that a proposed site was infested with snakes. So the agency flew Abu Zubaida to Thailand, housing him at a remote location at least an hour’s drive from Bangkok.
The CIA declined to comment, as did Polish authorities through their country’s embassy in Washington. Derlatka, the Polish intelligence officer, did not return messages seeking comment.
Several months after the detention of Abu Zubaida, the CIA caught Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected of ties to an al-Qaeda attack on a U.S. warship in Yemen. He, too, was taken to the Thai site.
With the prospect of holding more and more captives, the CIA required a better location. “It was just a chicken coop we remodeled,” a former senior agency official said of the facility in Thailand.
The CIA reached out to foreign intelligence services. The agency’s station chief in Warsaw reported back with good news. The Polish intelligence service, known as Agencja Wywiadu, had a training base with a villa that the CIA could use in Stare Kiejkuty, a three-hour drive north of Warsaw.
Polish officials asked whether the CIA could make some improvements to the facility. The CIA obliged, paying nearly $300,000 to outfit it with security cameras.
The accommodations were not spacious. The two-story villa could hold up to a handful of detainees. A large shed behind the house also was converted into a cell.
“It was pretty spartan,” the agency official recalled.
There was also a room where detainees, if they cooperated, could ride a stationary bike or use a treadmill.
On Dec. 5, 2002, Nashiri and Abu Zubaida were flown to Poland and taken to the site, which was code-named “Quartz.”
Five days later, an e-mail went out to agency employees that the interrogation program was up and running, and under the supervision of the Special Missions Department of the Counterterrorism Center (CTC).
Officials then began shutting down the prison in Thailand, eliminating all traces of the CIA presence.
Agency executives tapped Mike Sealy, a senior intelligence officer, to run the Polish black site, according to former CIA officials. He was called a “program manager” and was briefed on an escalating series of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were formulated at the CIA and approved by Justice Department lawyers. These included slapping, sleep deprivation and waterboarding, a technique that involved pouring water over the shrouded face of the detainee and creating the sensation of drowning.
“I do believe that it is torture,” President Obama said of waterboarding in 2009.
In Poland, Sealy oversaw about half a dozen or so special protective officers whom the CIA had sent to provide security. The number of analysts and officers varied. Polish officials could visit a common area where lunch was served, but they didn’t have access to the detainees.
There would soon be problems in the implementation of the interrogation protocols.
Agency officers clashed over the importance of Nashiri’s alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000; the attack killed 17 U.S. sailors.
“He was an idiot,” said the former CIA official, who supported the program. “He couldn’t read or comprehend a comic book.”
Other CTC officials thought Nashiri was a key al-Qaeda figure and was withholding information. After a tense meeting in December 2002, top CIA officials decided that they needed to get tougher with him, two former U.S. intelligence officials recounted.
A decision was made to dispatch a CIA linguist who had once worked for the FBI in New York. Albert El Gamil was of Egyptian descent and spoke Arabic fluently, but he was not a trained interrogator.
Gamil flew to Poland, where he subjected Nashiri to a mock execution and put a drill to the head of the blindfolded man, according to several former CIA officials. The CIA inspector general also reported on those events.
Top CIA officials learned about the incidents in January 2003 after a security guard at the facility sounded the alarm. Sealy and Gamil were pulled out of Poland and dismissed from the program, according to several former agency officials. They left the CIA a little later.
Both Sealy and Gamil declined to comment.””””
It pains me that we thought this was a good idea. You cannot learn from History if you do not know it.
Sheer coincidence I ran across this article after updating my blog. I guess what pains me and I did not write eloquently enough above about it… Where was the outrage about what the US was doing inside this Country? We have had 50 hearings about Benghazi where 4 people died. At the same time we have had less than 5 about breaking international law in any number of ways by torture…mistreatment of prisoners and just flat out war crimes of vast and varied nature. Honestly I just do not get it. At some point we need to come to terms with our History and what we did. Stop turning the blind eye and pretending it did not happen.
That the Central Intelligence Agency had a so-called “black site” in Romania was well known. It was known that it was in one of those secret prisons that intelligence officials conducted harsh interrogations with major Al-Qaida operatives, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad.
Today, the result of a joint investigation with German public television, the AP reports it has found the site where Mohammad was held and interrogated. And it’s not where you would think it is. The AP reports on the prison in Bucharest known as “Bright Light”:
Unlike the CIA’s facility in Lithuania’s countryside or the one hidden in a Polish military installation, the CIA’s prison in Romania was not in a remote location. It was hidden in plain sight, a couple blocks off a major boulevard on a street lined with trees and homes, along busy train tracks.
The building is used as the National Registry Office for Classified Information, which is also known as ORNISS. Classified information from NATO and the European Union is stored there. Former intelligence officials both described the location of the prison and identified pictures of the building.
In an interview at the building in November, senior ORNISS official Adrian Camarasan said the basement is one of the most secure rooms in all of Romania. But he said Americans never ran a prison there.
“No, no. Impossible, impossible,” he said in an ARD interview for its “Panorama” news broadcast, as a security official monitored the interview.
But the AP says that’s indeed the site based on its talks with unnamed former U.S. government and intelligence officials. The wire service also moved ths picture of the black site:
When President Barack Obama announced future changes to the government’s surveillance programs on Jan. 17, he mentioned nothing about the National Security Agency’s efforts to undermine worldwide encryption standards.
While the president focused most of his efforts on curbing the NSA’s bulk records collections on phone call metadata, a group of more than 50 leading cryptographers believes the NSA’s intentional weakening of Internet security standards is equally important and should be done away with, too.
The cryptographers, including several former federal officials, signed an open letter to the U.S. government Jan. 24 calling for an end to “the subversion of security technology,” referring to revelations from top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Those documents revealed the NSA deliberately weakened international encryption standards adopted and promoted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, damaging NIST’s reputation and forcing it to publicly recommend against using its own adopted standard.
“Media reports since last June have revealed that the US government conducts domestic and international surveillance on a massive scale, that it engages in deliberate and covert weakening of Internet security standards, and that it pressures US technology companies to deploy backdoors and other data-collection features. As leading members of the US cryptography and information-security research communities, we deplore these practices and urge that they be changed,” the open letter states.
“The choice is not whether to allow the NSA to spy,” the signatories argue in the letter. “The choice is between a communications infrastructure that is vulnerable to attack at its core and one that, by default, is intrinsically secure for its users. … We urge the US government to reject society-wide surveillance and the subversion of security technology, to adopt state-of-the-art, privacy-preserving technology, and to ensure that new policies, guided by enunciated principles, support human rights, trustworthy commerce, and technical innovation.”
Among the many cryptographers to sign the letter were two former Federal Trade Commission chief technology officers: Steven Bellovin and Ed Felten, now professors at Columbia and Princeton universities, respectively.