ACLU Denies Lawbreaking In Case Of Photographed CIA Officers

March 23, 2010 7:00 a.m.

In a case that has all the ingredients to explode into a national controversy, Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed star prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate whether laws were broken after “paparazzi style” photographs of CIA officers were found in the cell of a Guantanamo inmate accused of financing the 9/11 attacks, Newsweek is reporting.

In an interview with TPMmuckraker, the top official for the ACLU project that provided assistance for the defense of the detainee in question — and hired private investigators to take the photos of CIA officers thought to be involved in torture — said that no laws had been broken.“The lawyers that I have been working with have complied with both the letter and the spirit of every law and the protective orders issued by the military commission,” said Denny LeBoeuf, director of the ACLU’s John Adams Project, which provides lawyers to help defend five Guantanamo detainees charged in military commissions in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

The focus of the federal probe, according to Newsweek, is whether laws against revealing the identities of covert CIA agents were broken. Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney for Chicago, won convictions of Bush Administration official Lewis Libby for lying in the landmark case that centered on the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The head of the ACLU, Anthony Romero, acknowledged to Newsweek, that the group hired investigators to track down CIA officers it believes were involved in torture, citing the need to cross-examine “the perpetrators of torture.” He added that, “To our knowledge, the 9/11 defendants were not told the identities of the CIA officers.”

An August story in the Washington Post that reported the existence of the DOJ probe — then being led by the National Security Division, not Fitzgerald — explained that multiple human rights groups and media organizations had created lists of CIA officers who had been involved in interrogations at the agency’s “black sites” around the world.

Citing “sources familiar with the investigation,” the Post explained how John Adams Project researchers went about their work identifying CIA officers:

Tracking international CIA-chartered flights, researchers have identified hotels in Europe where CIA personnel or contractors stayed. In some cases, through hotel phone records, they have been able to identify agency employees who jeopardized their cover by dialing numbers in the United States. Working from these lists, some of which include up to 45 names, researchers photographed agency workers and obtained other photos from public records, the sources said.

Beyond calling the John Adams lawyers “admirable people doing what they’re doing at great sacrifice,” the ACLU’s LeBoeuf declined to comment in detail about what happened, citing attorney-client privilege in the still unresolved cases of the Guantanamo detainees charged in connection with Sept. 11.

The CIA officer photos were reportedly found in the cell of one of these five, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an alleged financier of 9/11. He was originally held at a CIA black site before being brought to Gitmo in 2006. He was charged in a military commission in 2008, but that has been suspended pending the Obama Administration’s final decision on whether to try the group of men, which includes Khalid Sheik Mohammed, in federal court.

The DOJ and Fitzgerald’s office both declined to comment on the investigation.

But government secrecy expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists tells TPMmuckraker that the law at issue is probably the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

There has been only a single conviction under the 1982 law: the case of CIA employee Sharon Scranage, who plead guilty in 1985 to disclosing agent identities to Ghanaian intelligence.

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