In the early stages of the ‘War on Terror,’ CIA agents at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility turned detainees into double agents, helping the US to track and kill terrorists, according to US officials.
For some Gitmo detainees, held prisoner on a US military base in the middle of shark-infested waters, the promise of freedom in return for helping the CIA root out terrorists back home may have proven too much of a temptation.
In addition to winning their freedom, co-conspirators were granted safety guarantees for their families, and millions of dollars from the agency’s secret war chest, sources told AP.
The arrangement did not come without some inherent risks, however, since – as the war in Afghanistan has proven on various occasions – it is not uncommon for US troops to suddenly become the target of ‘friendly foreign fire.’
In January 2002, 632 detainees arrived at Gitmo, followed by 117 the next year. Suddenly, the risk of building a strategic partnership with the enemy seemed worth taking. The CIA, recognizing an opportunity for breaching the mountain hideouts of elusive terrorist targets, seemed prepared to release some prisoners from the harsh conditions of their indefinite detention.
A few hundred yards behind the Gitmo detention facility, concealed behind vegetation and rock formations, sits eight unassuming barracks, known to those in the know as ‘Penny Lane’.
Given the relative comfort of the compound’s units, which were said to have had “private kitchens, showers and…real bed with a mattress,” CIA personnel jokingly referred to the complex as ‘the Marriott’.
The intelligence agency was then tasked to recruit potential candidates into the program. Of the ‘dozens of prisoners’ evaluated for the special program, only a handful signed agreements to work for American intelligence.
“Of course that would be an objective,” Emile Nakhleh, a former top CIA analyst who spent time in 2002 assessing detainees but who did not discuss Penny Lane, revealed. “It’s the job of intelligence to recruit sources.”
To qualify for the program, recruits needed good connections with terrorist organizations, notably Al-Qaeda.
Once accepted into the secret program, candidates were instructed by the US intelligence agency to spy on behalf of the CIA in its effort to capture or kill Al-Qaeda operatives, current and retired US officials told the Associated Press.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the program, which ended in about 2006. CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment.
“I do see the irony on the surface of letting some really very bad guys go,” David Remes, an American lawyer who has represented about a dozen Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, told AP.
“The men we were sending back as agents were thought to be able to provide value to us,” he added.
AP sources confirmed that some of the double agents did help track down and kill terrorists, while other operatives ceased cooperation and the CIA lost contact with them.