No Comment — August 13, 2009, 4:05 pm

Inside the World of Dusty Foggo

Dusty Foggo, the man at the heart of a scandal that took down a number of senior CIA figures close to former director Porter Goss, had a reputation as a hardworking and hard playing wheeler-dealer whose friction with agency bean-counters was a steady source of colorful stories. In today’s New York Times, David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti paint a fascinating portrait of a different Dusty Foggo: the architect of the agency’s system of black sites, the pulse points of the intelligence community’s extraordinary renditions program. Hints of Foggo’s involvement in this program appear in the documentation filed with the court connected with his sentencing, and from the trial itself it was apparent that Foggo’s intimate involvement with super-secret projects insured him cover for many of his corrupt dealings.

“It was too sensitive to be handled by headquarters,” he said in an interview. “I was proud to help my nation.” With that, Mr. Foggo went on to oversee construction of three detention centers, each built to house about a half-dozen detainees, according to former intelligence officials and others briefed on the matter. One jail was a renovated building on a busy street in Bucharest, Romania, the officials disclosed. Another was a steel-beam structure at a remote site in Morocco that was apparently never used. The third, another remodeling project, was outside another former Eastern bloc city. They were designed to appear identical, so prisoners would be disoriented and not know where they were if they were shuttled back and forth. They were kept in isolated cells.

The existence of the network of prisons to detain and interrogate senior operatives of Al Qaeda has long been known, but details about them have been a closely guarded secret. In recent interviews, though, several former intelligence officials have provided a fuller account of how they were built, where they were located and life inside them.

The black sites system was ordered shut down by President Obama as one of his first official acts. But the CIA has resisted disclosures about it, arguing that they would damage relations with cooperating states. The Times piece offers some interesting details about the black sites and how they were maintained. On the other hand, it is foggy on a number of details. Particularly odd is the reference to a project “outside another former Eastern bloc city.” Why does the Times give us fairly precise information about projects, and suddenly go all hazy about this one? We have to suspect that this is because the Times source was emphatic about not giving up the information. By process of elimination, suspicion could fall on Szymany Air Base in northeastern Poland, where eight High-Value Detainees were held and interrogated. Evidence has recently accumulated that waterboarding was practiced at this site, which clearly would have been criminal conduct under Polish law. The Times source might have good reason to avoid any detail about this project because Polish criminal investigators are now busy with a probe into what transpired there, as has been reported in the Polish press and in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, but has not (yet) been reported in major U.S. media. John Sifton, a human rights researcher whose work has focused on the black site system, notes that it’s fairly clear that the CIA was operating another black site in close proximity to Szymany—perhaps in one of the Baltic states. “The cat is out of the bag with respect to Szymany,” Sifton states, “but the other black site in its vicinity remains a well guarded secret. It boils down to this: The Times’s sources either wanted to avoid mentioning the Polish operations, because of the ongoing investigation there, or wanted to avoid revealing the other nearby operation, which remains secret.” Records of aircraft involved in special renditions operations show a number of landings at airports in Vilnius and Palanga in Lithuania, each less than an hour’s flying time from Szymany.

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