Egyptian with intelligence ties arrested at Guantanamo

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

An Egyptian-born translator for the U.S. military, with family ties to Egyptian military intelligence has been arrested on charges of stealing classified information from the U.S. naval detention center for Al Qaida insurgents at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ahmed Mehalba, a naturalized U.S. citizen, became the third U.S. servicemen arrested in connection with what officials suspect is an Arab espionage ring that operated at Camp Delta in Guantanamo. Officials said at least four other employees at Guantanamo were being investigated for espionage. About 70 translators are working at Guantanamo.

Court documents have asserted that at least one member of the ring worked for Syrian intelligence, Middle East Newsline reported. But officials said the classified information obtained on Al Qaida and Taliban detainees could have been transferred to U.S. allies in the Middle East, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

"What is actually taking place there, we'll know more about later," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

U.S. Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo, announced plans to investigate Camp Delta. The statement said the command would conduct "an internal assessment into current operational security procedures and measures."

Officials said Mehalba, 31, was arrested by federal agents at Boston's Logan International Airport and found to have been in possession of computer discs that contained classified information about Guantanamo. They said Mehalba has not yet been linked to the two other U.S. servicemen arrested at Guantanamo -- Senior Airman Ahmed Al Halabi and Capt. James Lee.

The arrests have sparked concern within the Defense Department and U.S. military that one or several Arab intelligence services have penetrated Guantanamo. A six-page federal complaint against Al Halabi said he was working for the Syrian government while charges against Mehalba reported his connection to Egyptian military intelligence.

An FBI affadavit said Mehalba was arrested with 132 computer discs when he returned from Egypt, where he was visiting his family. One of the discs was classified "secret," but the affadavit did not elaborate.

The 12-page affadavit said Mehalba, who filed for bankruptcy in 1997, served as a private first class in the U.S. Army for several months during 2000 and 2001. He was later employed by Titan Corp., based in San Diego, and the supplier of translators for military interrogators of the 660 detainees at Guantanamo.

Mehalba has an uncle who serves as an officer in Egyptian Army intelligence, the FBI affadavit said. The affadavit said Mehalba had begun a course in interrogation techniques at the U.S. Army intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. before he was discharged in May 2001. His girlfriend at the time was then studying to be a counterintelligence agent, but was discharged after she was found to have stolen a computer and a classified counterintelligence training manual.

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