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Friday, December 11, 2009     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. agencies investigating interpreters suspected of helping Al Qaida at Gitmo

WASHINGTON — The FBI and other U.S. agencies are investigating allegations that Arabic interpreters helped Al Qaida detainees at the U.S. Navy prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.   

Law enforcement sources said up to 10 Arabic and Pashtu linguists employed by the U.S. military were being investigated on suspicion that they helped Al Qaida inmates conceal information during interrogations at Guantanamo.

Almost all of the suspected interpreters were hired on a contractual basis by the Defense Department in the aftermath of the Al Qaida suicide strikes on New York and Washington in 2001.

"The possible new spy ring involves several Arabic linguists, some also Egyptian and Syrian immigrants," Paul Sperry, a leading analyst on Al Qaida at the Hoover Institution, said.

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Sperry said the FBI has been joined in the investigation by the U.S. military as well as several committees in Congress. He said the latest suspects were alleged to have held back intelligence provided by Al Qaida detainees, advising the Islamists to accuse the U.S. Navy of abuse and transferring messages to and from the detainees.

This marked the second time that Arabic and Pashtu interpreters in the Pentagon were accused of collaborating with Al Qaida. In 2003, the FBI arrested several Arabic interpreters, two of them with high-level security clearance. An Egyptian and Syrian were convicted of stealing or mishandling classified documents.

"Six years later comes a new problem with Muslim personnel who have virtually unfettered access to detainees and intelligence at Gitmo," Sperry said.

Critics, citing political pressure, asserted that the Pentagon failed to eliminate the alleged Islamist moles at Guantanamo. They said the Pentagon ignored proper vetting procedures and employed Muslims with family links to jihad groups in the Middle East and Pakistan.

The alleged moles were said to have been in contact with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, charged with planning the 2001 attacks and scheduled to stand trial in New York City. A report prepared for the U.S. intelligence community asserted that Mohammed and other Al Qaida detainees were believed to have benefited by the moles.

"Three years of investigations have revealed the presence of pro-jihad/anti-Western activities among the civilian-contractor and military-linguist population serving Joint Task Force Guantanamo," the classified report, distributed in May 2009 to the U.S. intelligence community and Congress, read. "These actions are deliberate, carefully planned, global, and to the benefit of the detainees and multiple terrorist organizations, to include Al Qaida and Muslim Brotherhood."

Sperry, author of a book on jihad in the West, titled "Muslim Mafia," said at least one in seven former Guantanamo inmates has returned to insurgency activity. He said the freed detainees were believed to have relayed to Al Qaida and Taliban details of the interrogations they had undergone at Guantanamo.

"To prevent future betrayal, the government must reevaluate its security-clearance and hiring procedures for contract and military linguists," Sperry said. "Post-hiring, it must institute periodic security interviews, polygraph exams and database-access audits for each translator."

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