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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

C.I.A. Asks Criminal Inquiry Over Secret-Prison Article - New York Times

C.I.A. Asks Criminal Inquiry Over Secret-Prison Article - New York TimesNovember 9, 2005
C.I.A. Asks Criminal Inquiry Over Secret-Prison Article

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 - The Central Intelligence Agency has asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation to determine the source of a Washington Post article that said the agency had set up a covert prison network in Eastern Europe and other countries to hold important terrorism suspects, government officials said on Tuesday.

The C.I.A.'s request, known as a crimes report or criminal referral, means that the Justice Department will undertake a preliminary review to determine if circumstances justify a criminal inquiry into whether any government official unlawfully provided information to the newspaper. The possibility of this new investigation follows by less than two weeks the perjury and obstruction indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., then Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in a leak case involving other news reporting about a national security issue.

Republican leaders in Congress also jumped into the matter over The Post's article, asking the Intelligence Committees of the House and the Senate on Tuesday to investigate whether classified material had been disclosed. At the same time, the Senate rejected a Democratic call for an independent commission that would conduct an investigation into claims of abuses of detainees in American custody.

Eric C. Grant, a spokesman for the newspaper, said it would have no comment on the new developments concerning its article. A spokesman for the C.I.A. said a crimes report had indeed been sent to the Justice Department but would not otherwise comment.

The front-page article, published last Wednesday, said the agency had set up secret detention centers in as many as eight countries in the last four years.

The existence of secret detention centers, and the identity of a few of the countries in which they were located, like Thailand and Afghanistan, had been previously disclosed. But the article, describing the prison system as a "hidden global internment network," told of previously undisclosed detention facilities at highly classified "black sites" in "several democracies in Eastern Europe."

The Post, citing a "request of senior U.S. officials," did not identify the Eastern European countries. But the mention of Eastern Europe stirred anxiety at the intelligence agency, particularly after Human Rights Watch, a group that has opposed American detention policies, issued a statement on Monday saying its research had tracked C.I.A. aircraft in 2003 and 2004 making flights from Afghanistan to remote airfields in Poland and Romania. The group said aircraft used in the flights had been previously flown by the C.I.A. for prisoner transport.

More broadly, former intelligence officials said the Post article had prompted concerns at the C.I.A. over threats to the agency's ability to maintain secret relationships with other intelligence services on detainee matters.

In the wake of the disclosure, the top Republican Congressional leaders - Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist - sent the chairmen of the Intelligence Committees a request Tuesday for a joint investigation into the origin of the article.

"If accurate," the letter said, "such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks."

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said he was willing to undertake the inquiry but acknowledged that leak investigations were notoriously difficult.

Another Republican member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, indicated skepticism at such an inquiry. Mr. Lott noted that accounts of a private discussion on detainee policy between Mr. Cheney and Senate Republicans last week had also leaked to the press.

"When you get into investigations around here, where does it end?" he said. "Who is going to investigate who?"

Democrats, meanwhile, said that if Republicans wanted to pursue an inquiry, it should go beyond any leak related to secret detention facilities and cover a range of other issues that Democrats say are ripe for investigation.

"That includes the possible manipulation of prewar intelligence on Iraq, and the disclosure for political purposes of classified information involving the identity of the C.I.A. officer," said the House minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.

But the Senate voted, 55 to 43, to reject an outside commission to examine detainee abuse. The measure, introduced by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan as an amendment to a broader military policy bill, was opposed by 54 Republicans and 1 Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

In debate on the amendment Monday, Mr. Levin said 12 military investigations into prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba had failed to address several important matters, including the role of contractors and Special Operations forces in interrogations.

"The investigations so far have swept critical issues under the rug," Mr. Levin said.

Republicans said that any problems had been exhaustively examined and that the armed forces had already changed many of their detention and interrogation procedures.

"In my judgment, the further investigation is simply unnecessary," said Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting for this article.

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