Menu

ARCHIVE

Security Experts Cleaning Up Gitmo Spy Ring Mess

There's a lot going on at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station (search) to clean up what may be an espionage ring at its terror camp in Cuba.

The U.S. military is investigating at least three people -- all Americans and some service members -- for espionage, disobeying orders or having classified information about Camp Delta, where 660 Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects are detained. Two of the three who have been charged are non-American born.

The Air Force said Thursday that an Air Force translator at the prison camp, Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi (search), will go before a court-martial on 20 charges in the continuing probe of possible espionage at the facility. Ten other charges against him were dropped. The military will not seek the death penalty, Air Force officials said.

Efforts are ongoing to determine how such an imbroglio could have happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

"It's a problem of security down there. I've been there," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told Fox News. "We have [over] 600 detainees. We have 2,000 employees down there. And of the military, I think it's kind of surprising that more incidents have not occurred."

A team of 24 security experts fear a possible spy ring that already includes soldiers, private contractors and translators may be more expansive than originally thought. Troops have been asked to listen and look for any kind of odd behavior, not just from detainees, but also from fellow soldiers.

"We find things that we fix every day," said Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller of the Joint Task Force at the base. "We've got to get better, so we can help this nation win this global war on terror."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it shouldn't come as a surprise that enemies are trying to get a leg up on the United States in this fashion.

"We've had spies and problems throughout the entire history of mankind," Rumsfeld recently told Fox News' "Special Report with Brit Hume." "If you have activities that other people are interested in, other people are going to try to penetrate those activities. And from time to time, they will be successful in penetrating them.

"It is our task to constantly be vigilant against it and to have a variety of techniques of trying to root it out. And in this instance, we feel fortunate that we've been able pull some of those threads on alleged wrongdoing."

To root out those potential spies, the U.S. Southern Command (search) is reviewing security measures and said in a statement it "will immediately recommend reinforcement or correction of established procedure."

More attention is also now being given to the screening process linguists and others go through before given jobs working with the detainees or where they could have access to government and camp secrets.

The FBI is working with the Defense Department and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to determine if the way in which chaplains and translators are vetted for employment is as foolproof as possible.

The FBI also is evaluating how employees on sensitive assignments are reviewed. More frequent polygraph examinations is one option, John Pistole, assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a recent hearing.

"We understand the importance of controlling and preventing the recruitment of inmates into terrorism," said Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin. "We know that inmates are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists and that we must guard against the spread of terrorism and extremist ideologies."

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers told reporters last month that counterintelligence capabilities were in place to prevent such activities from taking place but the military is looking at how people in such positions in the military are chosen.

"The fact that some people have been apprehended and alleged with these very serious crimes is an indication of some of the good news," Myers said. "But it should not be a surprise that in a time of war, that people try to infiltrate this way, and it wasn't."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sent a letter to Rumsfeld in September urging a "comprehensive review of security protocols at sensitive American military installations … so that our forces are able to defend themselves against infiltration and attack."

Recent suspect activities "suggest that security provisions, especially with respect to background checks and technology, are incredibly lax at some of our supposedly most secure military facilities," Schumer wrote.

Arrested so far are Titan employee Ahmed F. Mehalba, a civilian Arabic translator charged with lying to federal agents when he denied the compact disc he was carrying contained secret information from Guantanamo; al-Halabi was already under investigation for allegedly making anti-American statements before he arrived there. He is now charged with espionage and aiding the enemy and will appear before a grand jury.

Muslim Army Capt. Yousef Yee has been charged with disobeying orders for improperly handling classified information. He was arrested while carrying sensitive documents about Camp Delta interrogators and prisoners there, as well as maps or sketches of the prison site. Yee's lawyers want hearings held by Dec. 10.

Some experts have said the desperate need for Arabic speakers could be part of the reason security isn't as tight as it should be at Camp Delta, where about 70 translators help 200 interrogators in 17 languages.

Many translators were hired after completing only cursory background checks, Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary for personnel and readiness at the Pentagon, told the Senate Judiciary Committee recently.

"I think the results of that are as we are seeing here," he said. "We have found a couple who were not as trustworthy as we had hoped initially."

Fox News' Orlando Salinas contributed to this report.