How To Uncover CIA Spies

Nick Baumann and Daniel Schulman tell how human rights advocates investigating torture ended up snooping on the CIA—and in hot water with the feds, in Mother Jones:

The CIA probably doesn’t want you to know this, but unmasking its covert operatives isn’t as hard as you’d think. Just ask John Sifton. During a six-year stint at Human Rights Watch, the attorney and investigator was hot on the trail of the CIA and some of its most sensitive Bush-era counterterrorism programs, including extraordinary rendition, secret Eastern European detention sites, and the legally dubious and brutal methods used to extract information from detainees. “Even deep-cover CIA officers are real people, with mortgages and credit reports,” Sifton once told CQ Politics. For researchers with a trained eye for the hallmarks of a CIA alias, there are obvious giveaways: “A brand new Social Security number, a single P.O. box in Reston, Virginia. You disregard those and focus on the real persons who lie behind, and you can find them.”

Sifton’s talent for uncovering the CIA’s secrets may have served him well—but now, it also has set off a firestorm in the human rights community, prompted a backlash from congressional Republicans, and helped trigger a federal investigation headed by none other than Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame affair. The story begins in 2008, when military prosecutors sought the death penalty in military commission trials of six suspected 9/11 conspirators being held at Guantanamo Bay, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks. The defense had few resources and little experience trying capital cases. Into the breach stepped the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which created the John Adams Project—an effort to supply civilian lawyers to assist in the defense of some of the least sympathetic clients in the world. Fittingly, the group was named after the founding father who had represented British soldiers after the Boston Massacre.

A top priority for the lawyers was establishing whether the detainees had been coerced or tortured into giving the statements the government was now using against them. And to do that, the detainees’ lawyers needed to identify who had been involved with those interrogations.

To get that information, the John Adams Project turned to Sifton, who in 2007 had opened his own investigations firm, One World Research, catering largely to human rights and public interest groups…

[continues in Mother Jones]

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