A Window Into CIA's Embrace of Secret Jails

Published on
The New York Times

A Window Into CIA's Embrace of Secret Jails

David Johnston & Mark Mazzetti

Kyle D. Foggo, who helped build jails for the C.I.A. in the campaign against terrorism, after his arraignment in San Diego in 2007. (Denis Poroy/Associated Press )

WASHINGTON - 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.

At the detention centers Mr. Foggo helped build, several former
intelligence officials said, the jails were small, and though they were
built to house about a half-dozen detainees they rarely held more than

The cells were constructed with special features to prevent injury
to the prisoners during interrogations: nonslip floors and flexible,
plywood-covered walls to soften the impact of being slammed into the

The detainees, held in cells far enough apart to prevent
communication with one another, were kept in solitary confinement 23
hours a day. For their one hour of daily exercise, they were taken out
of their cells by C.I.A. security officers wearing black ski masks to
hide their identities and to intimidate the detainees, according to the
intelligence officials.

Just like prisons in the United States, the jailers imposed a reward
and punishment system: well-behaved detainees received books, DVDs and
other forms of entertainment, which were taken away if they misbehaved,
the officials said.

C.I.A. analysts served 90-day tours at the prison sites to assist
the interrogations. But by the time the new prisons were built in
mid-2003 or later, the harshest C.I.A. interrogation practices - including waterboarding - had been discontinued.

Winning a Promotion

Mr. Foggo's success in Frankfurt, including his work on the prisons,
won him a promotion back in Washington. In November 2004, he was named
the C.I.A.'s executive director, in effect its day-to-day
administrative chief.

The appointment raised some eyebrows at the agency. "It was like
taking a senior NCO and telling him he now runs the regiment," said A.
B. Krongard, the C.I.A.'s executive director from 2001 to 2004. "It
popped people's eyes."

Mr. Foggo soon became embroiled in agency infighting. The C.I.A. was
reeling from criticism that it had exaggerated Iraq's weapons programs.
Mr. Foggo came to Washington as part of a new team that almost
immediately began firing top C.I.A. officials, causing anger among
veteran clandestine officers. Mr. Foggo's fast rise and blunt approach
unsettled some headquarters officials, according to Brant G. Bassett, a
former agency officer and friend who served with Mr. Foggo.

"Dusty went in there with a blowtorch," Mr. Bassett said. "Some
people were overjoyed, but there were a few others who said, we've got
to take this guy down."

In 2005, before he came under investigation, Mr. Foggo and other officials, including John Rizzo,
the agency's top lawyer, paid a rare visit to some of the prison sites,
assuring C.I.A. employees that their activities were legal, according
to former intelligence officials. Mr. Foggo also met with
representatives of Eastern European security services that had helped
with the prisons. He expressed gratitude and offered assistance - a
gesture the officials politely declined.

In February 2007, Mr. Foggo and Mr. Wilkes were indicted.
Prosecutors believed that the C.I.A. had paid an inflated price to
Archer Logistics, a business connected to Mr. Wilkes that had a $1.7
million C.I.A. supply contract. In return, the prosecutors claimed, Mr.
Wilkes had taken Mr. Foggo on expensive vacations, paid for his meals
at expensive restaurants and promised him a lucrative job when he

"I was taking a trip with my best friend," Mr. Foggo said in his
defense. "It looked bad, but we had been taking trips together since we
were 17 years old."

Mr. Foggo said he had turned to Mr. Wilkes' companies to bypass the
cumbersome C.I.A. bureaucracy, not to provide a sweetheart deal to his
oldest friend. "I needed something done by someone I trusted in private
industry," Mr. Foggo said.

Downfall in Court

Mr. Wilkes maintains his innocence, but he was eventually convicted
in a bribery scandal involving former Representative Randall Cunningham
of California. Mr. Foggo pleaded guilty and is serving a sentence on
the fraud count, but he still maintains that he was unfairly prosecuted.

His lawyer, Mark J. MacDougall, said he believed that Mr. Foggo's
legal problems stemmed in part from controversies over his stint as
executive director. "Nobody ever accused Dusty Foggo of putting a dime
in his pocket, failing to do his job, or compromising national
security," Mr. MacDougall said. "Dusty may have made some mistakes, but
this case was driven by professional animosity at C.I.A. and personal

When Mr. Foggo's lawyers tried unsuccessfully to obtain access to
agency files about his role in the prison program, prosecutors
complained that he was trying to disclose a secret program. Mr. Foggo
claimed that he was reluctant to divulge his role in classified
programs and pleaded guilty, in part, to avoid revealing his secrets.

In an Aug. 1, 2007, letter, a C.I.A. lawyer informed Mr. Foggo's
lawyers that they could not review any classified files related to the
prisons. The agency's letter concluded, "In light of the president's
statements regarding the extraordinary value and sensitivity of the
C.I.A. terrorist detention and interrogation program, the C.I.A. denies
your request in its entirety."

Share This Article

More in: