WASHINGTON — A former CIA officer accused of revving an electric drill near the head of an imprisoned terror suspect has returned to U.S. intelligence as a contractor, training CIA operatives after leaving the agency, the Associated Press has learned.
The CIA officer wielded the bitless drill and an unloaded handgun — unauthorized interrogation techniques — to menace suspected USS Cole bombing plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri inside a secret CIA prison in Poland in late 2002 and early 2003, according to several former intelligence officials and a review by the CIA’s inspector general.
Adding details to the public portions of the review, the former officials identified the officer as Albert, 60, a former FBI agent of Egyptian descent who worked as a bureau translator in New York before joining the CIA. The former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because many details of the incident remain classified.
Both Albert and his CIA supervisor at the time, a second official known as Mike, were reprimanded for their involvement in the incident, the former officials said.
The AP is withholding the last names of the two men at the request of U.S. officials for safety reasons.
Human rights critics say the men’s actions were emblematic of harsh treatment and oversight problems in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, amounting to torture that should have been prosecuted. They also say Albert’s return as a contractor raises questions about how the intelligence community deals with those who used unauthorized interrogation methods.
“The notion that an individual involved in one of the more notorious episodes of the CIA’s interrogation program is still employed directly or indirectly by the U.S. government is scandalous,” said Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Federal prosecutor John Durham is looking at the case — the third time federal authorities have examined it for possible charges. Now held at Guantanamo Bay prison, al-Nashiri faces possible terror charges either in a U.S. military commission or in a civilian court, and the outcome of Durham’s investigation could influence his case, possibly determining whether the detainee was tortured.
Nancy Hollander, al-Nashiri’s lawyer, said torture would be a mitigating factor if al-Nashiri ever faced a possible death sentence.
After leaving the CIA, Albert returned at some point as a contractor, training CIA officers at a facility in northern Virginia to handle different scenarios they might face in the field, according to former officials. Albert hasn’t been involved in training CIA employees for at least two years, but a current U.S. official says he continues to work as an intelligence contractor.
A message left with Albert was not returned. It’s not clear when he left the agency and became an intelligence contractor.
His former supervisor, Mike, 56, retired from the CIA in 2003 and now teaches and works in the private sector. Mike declined to comment.
The events in Poland were outlined in the CIA Inspector General’s special review of the agency’s detention and interrogation program, parts of which were declassified last year. But a full accounting of what happened to al-Nashiri at the so-called black site and who was involved has never been made public.
The CIA used secret prisons scattered around world, from Thailand to Poland, where detainees were questioned and subjected to the simulated drowning technique of waterboarding and other harsh methods.
President George W. Bush closed the black sites in 2006, but the government has yet to divulge the full history of the secret program. Revelations have continued to surface, confronting the CIA even as the spy agency tries to focus on the future.
Al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai in November 2002 and was taken to another CIA secret prison in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit — a facility that figures in a separate Durham prosecution of a detainee death in 2002.
Al-Nashiri was flown to still another secret CIA prison in Thailand, where he stayed briefly, then taken to the Poland prison on Dec. 5, 2002, just days after that facility was opened.
In Poland, al-Nashiri was subjected to a series of enhanced interrogation techniques — including some not authorized by Justice Department guidelines.
There were heated arguments at CIA headquarters about al-Nashiri’s treatment, according to a former CIA official. Some CIA officers felt al-Nashiri was “compliant” after two weeks of tough questioning and additional rough treatment was unnecessary. But others thought he was withholding information, and Albert was sent to Poland, according to the special review.
According to the review, Albert took an unloaded semiautomatic handgun to the cell where al-Nashiri was shackled. The officer then racked the slide — a cocking action — of the unloaded weapon once or twice next al-Nashiri’s head, according to the review.
The special review said that, probably on the same day, Albert revved a power drill to frighten al-Nashiri, who had been left naked and hooded. The drill did not contain a sharpened bit, but the detainee would not have known that. The drill was placed near the detainee’s head but did not touch him, the review concluded. In January 2003, newly arrived CIA officers heard about these incidents and reported them to headquarters.
Former and current intelligence officials said the agency disciplined Albert and Mike, the CIA officer in charge of the jail. The details of the reprimands remain classified, but Mike had given Albert permission to use the unauthorized techniques, failing to get approval from headquarters, the former U.S officials said.
The CIA’s inspector general investigated the incident and referred it to the Bush administration Justice Department. But prosecutors declined in September 2003 to charge Albert with a crime.
Charging Albert for the gun and drill incidents could prove difficult. CIA officers can be prosecuted in the U.S. for crimes committed overseas, but typically just for felonies. Simple assault would not qualify.
And since the gun was unloaded and the drill contained no bit, it would be hard to convict him of more serious charges such as assault with intent to murder or assault with intent to do bodily harm.
Despite those hurdles, al-Nashiri’s lawyer insisted she would press for legal consideration of the detainee’s treatment.
“Terrorizing a hooded, shackled prisoner is torture,” Hollander said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure the world knows that agents of the U.S. government tortured my client and have now held him in violation of U.S. and international law for over eight years.”