Tuesday, September 30, 2003


Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis wonders about the comparatively high percentage of suspected traitors at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. "We now have at least three moles at Gitmo (which isn't all that large a facility), I don't think it's all that implausible to suspect that they might have been working together"  -- that is, two translators and one Muslim chaplain. To put that number in perspective, there are 80 translators at Guantanamo and 12 Muslim chaplains in the US Armed Services. Although the high percentage of suspects among chaplains (as compared to translators) is affected by the small sample size and the unfortunate choice of the institutions chosen to supply the chaplains,  the situation among the translators is also disturbing given that one of the suspects was already "a supply clerk before being pressed into service as a translator at Guantanamo Bay". And there may be more. Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "we don't presume that the two we know about is all there is to it".

Darling explores the possibility that all three were part of the same espionage ring and comes to the tentative conclusion that two of the suspects, were if anything, not working for Syria but Al Qaeda. US authorities for their part, have refused to specifically identify the spymasters, referring to them only as "the enemy".

It would be almost comforting to learn that that the Syrians handled the moles. It would then be a case of a straightforward intelligence penetration. The alternative that Darling suggests would imply a far more spontaneous adherence to militant Islam among American Muslims. The development of sleeper agents is an expensive and long-term proposition. It boggles the imagination to think that Al Qaeda, which funds operations in the sub-million dollar range, would recruit, train and place agents in the US military at this statistical rate. After all, proper agents at Guantanamo would require case officers and a communications plan to pass on information. Syria might do it, but Al Qaeda?

Yet the very amateurishness of the tradecraft -- the chaplain was found with sketches and lists on his person and one translator had classified documents on his person as he arrived at Boston's Logan airport -- suggests that Darling may be right. The Syrians, who were Soviet-bloc trained, would employ dead drops, cutouts and the like. The current crop of suspects sound like walk-ins and raise the possibility that they formed the ring after the fact; that Al Qaeda made contact when they were already in place, and by appealing to their loyalties, turned them.

All the suspects were American citizens; the chaplain native born and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. None were obviously oppressed or disadvantaged by the United States. Their presence in the sanctum sanctorum of the War on Terror, which may represent only the tip of the iceberg, should make everyone hope that the Syrians are "the enemy".