A Window Into C.I.A.'s Embrace of Secret Jails

In March 2003, two C.I.A. officials surprised Kyle D. Foggo, then the chief of the agency's main European supply base, with an unusual request. They wanted his help building secret prisons to hold some of the world's most threatening terrorists.

Mr. Foggo, nicknamed Dusty, was known inside the agency as a cigar-waving, bourbon-drinking operator, someone who could get a cargo plane flying anywhere in the world or quickly obtain weapons, food, money -- whatever the C.I.A. needed. His unit in Frankfurt, Germany, was strained by the spy agency's operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Mr. Foggo agreed to the assignment.

"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.

Mr. Foggo acknowledged a role, which has never been previously reported. He pleaded guilty last year to a fraud charge involving a contractor that equipped the C.I.A. jails and provided other supplies to the agency, and he is now serving a three-year sentence in a Kentucky prison.

The C.I.A. prisons would become one of the Bush administration's most extraordinary counterterrorism programs, but setting them up was fairly mundane, according to the intelligence officials.

Mr. Foggo relied on C.I.A. finance officers, engineers and contract workers to build the jails. As they neared completion, he turned to a small company linked to Brent R. Wilkes, an old friend and a San Diego military contractor.

The business provided toilets, plumbing equipment, stereos, video games, bedding, night vision goggles, earplugs and wrap-around sunglasses. Some products were bought at Target and Wal-Mart, among other vendors, and flown overseas. Nothing exotic was required for the infamous waterboards -- they were built on the spot from locally available materials, the officials said.

Mr. Foggo, 55, would not discuss classified details about the jails. He was not charged with wrongdoing in connection with the secret prisons, but instead accused of steering other C.I.A. business to Mr. Wilkes' companies in exchange for expensive vacations and other favors. Before leaving the C.I.A. in 2006, he had become its third-highest official, and his plea was an embarrassment for the agency.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the intelligence world's embrace of dark-of-night snatch-and-grabs, hidden prisons and interrogation tactics that critics condemned as torture has stained the C.I.A.'s reputation and led to legal challenges, investigations and internal divisions that may take years to resolve. The Justice Department is now considering opening a criminal investigation, with much of the attention focused on the agency's network of secret prisons, which have become known as the "black sites."

From Fringes to Spotlight

The demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had transformed Mr. Foggo from a fringe player into the C.I.A.'s indispensable man. Before the 9/11 attacks, the Frankfurt base was a relatively sleepy resupply center, running one or two flights a month to outlying stations. Within days of the attacks, Mr. Foggo had a budget of $7 million, which quickly tripled.

He managed dozens of employees, directing nearly daily flights of cargo planes loaded with pallets of supplies, including saddles, bridles and horse feed for the mounted tribal forces that the spy agency recruited. Within weeks, he emptied the C.I.A.'s stockpile of AK-47s and ammunition at a Midwest depot.

He was a logical choice for the prison project: aggressive, resourceful, patriotic, ready to dispense a favor; some inside the C.I.A. jokingly compared him to Milo Minderbinder, the fictional character who rose from mess hall officer to the black-market magnate of Joseph Heller's World War II novel "Catch-22."

Early in the fight against Al Qaeda, agency officials relied heavily on American allies to help detain people suspected of terrorism in makeshift facilities in countries like Thailand. But by the time two C.I.A. officials met with Mr. Foggo in 2003, that arrangement was under threat, according to people briefed on the situation. In Thailand, for example, local officials were said to be growing uneasy about a black site outside Bangkok code-named Cat's Eye. (The agency would eventually change the code name for the Thai prison, fearing it would appear racially insensitive.) The C.I.A. wanted its own, more permanent detention centers.

Eventually, the agency's network would encompass at least eight detention centers, including one in the Middle East, one each in Iraq and Afghanistan and a maximum-security long-term site at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that was dubbed Strawberry Fields, officials said. (It was named after a Beatles song after C.I.A. officials joked that the detainees would be held there, as the lyric put it, "forever.")

The C.I.A. has never officially disclosed the exact number of prisoners it once held, but top officials have put the figure at fewer than 100.

[Source: By David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti, NYT, Washington, 12Aug09]

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