Monday, September 11, 2006

CIA Officers Taking Out Legal Insurance

A plan like this is a better approach than (as advocated by one individual quoted in the article) expecting the Justice Department to provide adequate legal counsel in a jam.

This is because, if the winds shift, the government could easily choose to hang low-level operatives out to dry. Just like in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

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. ...

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. ...

A recently retired CIA officer who said he had not bought insurance contended that "if an individual does get sued in the course of their official duties, then you get the biggest law firm in the world to step in" -- the Justice Department. ...

Although suing federal officials for their actions is not easy, it is possible; the Supreme Court left the door ajar in two rulings. It ruled in 1971 that six narcotics agents could be sued for monetary damages arising from a warrantless search. Eleven years later, it held that government officials should be immune from civil liability only if their conduct does not violate clear statutory or constitutional rights that should be known by "a reasonable person."

William L. Bransford, a senior partner at the law firm that defends people who take out the insurance, said he is unaware of any recent increase in claims. But agency officials said that interest has been stoked over the years by the $2 million legal bill incurred by CIA officer Clair George before his 1992 conviction for lying to Congress about the Iran-contra arms sales; by the Justice Department's lengthy investigation of CIA officers for allegedly lying to Congress about the agency's role in shooting down a civilian aircraft in 2001 in Peru; and by other events.

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