CIA officers fear prosecution

Worried Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism officers are increasingly taking advantage of government-reimbursed insurance plans to help them in the event of their being sued, the Washington Post reports. According to many fomer intelligence officials, increased usage of the program is representative of a growing fear among CIA officers, many of whom fear accusations of prisoner abuse, torture, human rights violations and other crimes.

The policy costs $300 each year, and covers officers for up to $200,000 towards legal expenses and $1 million for civil judgements. Originally the government reimbursed officers for half the cost of the policy, but in December 2001 — coinciding with the CIA’s new “gloves-off” approach to counterterrorism — this was increased to 100%.

Increased usage of the policy follows an announcement by George W. Bush earlier this month, in which he admitted to the existence of secret prisons run by the CIA. Given the controversial nature of such prisons — and the interrogation methods used in them — many CIA officials fear prosecution if fair trials are ensured for the estimated 100 prisoners who have been detained in them.

CIA policies and interrogation methods have consistently been backed by Justice Department officials; however, the prospect of a Democratic President in 2008 leaves many in the CIA worried about “a pendulum swing”, according to one former CIA officer. Many Democrats seeking election or reelection to Congress this autumn have also stated their desire to investigate wrongdoing on the part of the government and its agencies; these factors may well influence the increased usage of the insurance policies and increased fears of prosecution.

The government has also attempted to take action to protect CIA agents from prosecution; in a controversial measure, President Bush drafted legislation earlier this month that would prevent federal civilian employees — including CIA officers — from prosecution for the degrading and humiliating treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. Bush has also requested that federal courts be barred from considering lawsuits made by detainees of the CIA or military if they allege the violation of international laws and treaties governing the treatment of prisoners.

News of the insurance policies comes amid growing confusion over exactly what actions an individual CIA officer is responsible for, and who should protect him in the event of his prosecution. One retired CIA officer, for example, stated that the policies were totally unnecessary, and that that it was the responsibility of the Justice Department — “the biggest law firm in the world”, in his words — to give legal assistance to CIA employees.

These developments seem to demonstrate a lack of communication between the higher echelons of government and those working at lower levels. With no clear elucidation of government policies — and exactly what constitutes “degrading” and “humiliating” treatment — many CIA officers feel neither protected nor informed by their own government and their own bosses. Fear of betrayal — or at least abandonment — has led them to pursue external sources of protection, and what a shame that is.

[Editor’s note: This story was previously mentioned Wednesday.]