Worried CIA Officers Buy Legal Insurance

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006

CIA counterterrorism officers have signed up in growing numbers for a government-reimbursed, private insurance plan that would pay their civil judgments and legal expenses if they are sued or charged with criminal wrongdoing, according to current and former intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the program.

The new enrollments reflect heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct, including wrongdoing related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They worry that they will not have Justice Department representation in court or congressional inquiries, the officials said.

The anxieties stem partly from public controversy about a system of secret CIA prisons in which detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation methods, including temperature extremes and simulated drowning. The White House contends the methods were legal, but some CIA officers have worried privately that they may have violated international law or domestic criminal statutes.

Details of the rough interrogations could come to light if trials are held for any of the approximately 100 detainees who were held in the prisons. President Bush announced last week that he had transferred the last 14 detainees in the facilities to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and had submitted a proposal to Congress for the rules under which the administration would like the suspects to be tried.

Terrorism suspects' defense attorneys are expected to argue that admissions made by their clients were illegally coerced as the result of policies set in Washington.

Justice Department political appointees have strongly backed the CIA interrogations. But "there are a lot of people who think that subpoenas could be coming" from Congress after the November elections or from federal prosecutors if Democrats capture the White House in 2008, said a retired senior intelligence officer who remains in contact with former colleagues in the agency's Directorate of Operations, which ran the secret prisons.

"People are worried about a pendulum swing" that could lead to accusations of wrongdoing, said another former CIA officer.

The insurance policies were bought from Arlington-based Wright and Co., a subsidiary of the private Special Agents Mutual Benefit Association created by former FBI officials. The CIA has encouraged many of its officers to take out the insurance, current and former intelligence officials said, but no one interviewed would reveal precisely how many have bought policies.

As part of the administration's efforts to protect intelligence officers from liability, Bush last week called for Congress to approve legislation drafted by the White House that would exempt CIA officers and other federal civilian officials from prosecution for humiliating and degrading terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. Its wording would keep prosecutors or courts from considering a wider definition of actions that constitute torture.

Bush also asked Congress to bar federal courts from considering lawsuits by detainees who were in CIA or military custody that allege violations of international treaties and laws governing treatment of detainees.

The proposals have won mixed reviews in the Senate, where they are generally opposed by Democrats and a group of dissident Republicans. The proposals were deliberately omitted, for example, from competing legislation circulated last week by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

Several former intelligence officials who said CIA officers do not need insurance because they can rely on the government to defend their lawful actions depicted the growing number of policies as a barometer of the uncertainty officers have of the legality of their work.

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