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Help From France Key In Covert Operations

"It's really an effort to come up with innovative ideas and deal with some of the cooperation issues," said one CIA officer familiar with the base. "I don't know of anything like it."

Factions within the intelligence services of several countries opposed a multinational approach, according to current and former U.S. and European government officials who described its inception. The CIA's Counterterrorist Center did not want to lose control over all counterterrorism operations; the British service did not want to dilute its unique ties to Washington; Germany was not keen to become involved in more operations.

And no country wanted to be perceived as taking direction from the CIA, whose practice of extraordinary renditions -- secretly apprehending suspected terrorists and transferring them to other countries without any judicial review -- has become highly controversial in Europe. In Italy, 13 alleged CIA operatives are accused of kidnapping a radical Egyptian cleric off the streets of Milan in 2003.

To play down the U.S. role, the center's working language is French, sources said. The base selects its cases carefully, chooses a lead country for each operation, and that country's service runs the operation.

The base also provides a way for German case officers to read information from their own country's law enforcement authorities, sources said. German law bars criminal authorities from sharing certain information directly with their intelligence agencies.

French law, by contrast, encourages intelligence sharing among its police and security services. In fact, since the Napoleonic Code was adopted in 1804, French magistrates have had broad powers over civil society. Today, magistrates in the French Justice Department's anti-terrorism unit have authority to detain people suspected of "conspiracy in relation to terrorism" while evidence is gathered against them.

The top anti-terrorism magistrate, Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, has said that in the past decade, he has ordered the arrests of more than 500 suspects, some with the help of U.S. authorities. "I have good connections with the CIA and FBI," Bruguiere said in a recent interview.

In France, which has a Muslim population reaching 8 percent -- the largest in Europe -- U.S. and French terrorism experts are desperate to take terrorist-group recruiters and new recruits off the streets, and have been willing to put their own anti-terrorism laws into the service of allies to lure suspects such as Ganczarski from abroad.

"Yes, without a doubt there are some cases where we participate that way," one senior French intelligence official said.

France sent its interrogators to Guantanamo Bay to gather evidence that could be used in French court against the French detainees the United States was holding there. France is the only one of six European nations that continues to imprison detainees returned to it from the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bruguiere and other French intelligence officials like to note dryly that France first realized it had become a target of al Qaeda-style jihadists when a group of Algerian radicals hijacked an airliner with the intent of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower in 1994. They viewed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as another, if much larger, part of the jihadist campaign against Western civilization.

So it did not surprise many intelligence officers when, in the days after the attacks, President Jacques Chirac issued an edict to French intelligence services to share information about terrorism with the U.S. intelligence agencies "as if they were your own service," according to two officials who read it.

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