WASHINGTON – Pentagon officials said Thursday they worry that terrorists are trying to infiltrate the U.S. military and may have done so at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba.
Three workers at the prison, including two members of the military, have been arrested on suspicion of espionage at the high-security base. It is unclear whether the men were connected to or part of any terrorist plot, the commander in charge of homeland security said.
"I'm hoping we're going to find these are unusual, these are few and far between, that this isn't some large cell," said Gen. Ralph Eberhart, head of U.S. Northern Command.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said investigations into possible security problems at Guantanamo Bay continue. He scoffed at suggestions that he should discipline commanders at the base, which holds some 660 suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban members.
"What they are doing is reviewing the procedures to determine, are there ways that we can do this in a better way," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference. "The implication that every time something happens in the world you should fire somebody is kind of a mindless approach."
Eberhart, who spoke at a breakfast meeting with reporters, said he had no doubt terrorists were trying to penetrate U.S. military forces.
"There's no doubt that there are people out there trying to turn our people," Eberhart said. "I'm sure there are people right now being worked on as we speak, and it's not working, and they're reporting it."
The latest arrest came Monday when federal agents apprehended translator Ahmed F. Mehalba upon his arrival in Boston from his native Egypt. Mehalba, who worked for government contractor Titan Corp., is charged with lying to federal agents when he denied a compact disc he was carrying contained secret information from Guantanamo Bay.
A second Arabic translator, Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, is charged with espionage and aiding the enemy, accused of trying to pass Guantanamo Bay secrets to Syria and an unidentified enemy. A Muslim chaplain, Army Capt. Yousef Yee (search), has been arrested but not charged.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the military and the government have had a difficult time finding qualified Arabic translators. Myers said efforts to find good translators will continue.
"We're looking for all sorts of ways to fill that gap," Myers said.
Rumsfeld said Muslims and Arabs in the military would not be subject to greater scrutiny just because of their ethnicity or religion.
"Raising the question you did about profiling is not a useful thing to do," Rumsfeld said in response to a reporter's question. "The fact of the matter is that there are a variety of vetting procedures, and people who happen to be of one religion -- I don't think one has to assume that they have a monopoly on this type of activity."