Intelligence: Things Lawyers Can Do For You


April 29, 2007: The recent disbarment of Lynne Stewart is one of the latest examples of what is wrong with using the law-enforcement approach to dealing with terrorism. Not only is there the fact that all too often, treating terrorism as a criminal matter to be dealt with by law enforcement agencies, leads to terrorists going back onto the street, but there are problems with the lawyers.

Stewart was convicted for providing material support to terrorists while she was representing Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman during his terrorism trial. One of the things she did was pass messages to Rahman's supporters – including exhortations to kill those who opposed his brand of Islamic fundamentalism. Also, during Rahman's trial, evidence was turned over to his attorneys. At least one of the documents handed over in accordance with rules of discovery ultimately found its way to al Qaeda headquarters in the Sudan. That document contained a list of people who were on the government's radar screen – and thus alerted al-Qaeda to the possibility of surveillance. This was an intelligence disaster.

Once a person, group, or country find out that they are of interest to an intelligence agency, two things happen. First, they tend to become very careful with regards to communications – they take steps to throw off surveillance efforts, and they will even shift to means that cannot be intercepted (like couriers or flying for face-to-face meetings). Second, they begin to wonder how the information is acquired – and try to cut off the flow. If they find out enough of what an intelligence agency knows, they will have an idea of who might be a source. The suspected source's ending will not be a happy one. This not only deprives intelligence agencies of a source, but also makes recruiting future sources more difficult.

The risks of compromised intelligence are serious, and should be obvious. They primarily include the loss of sources of information (due to death or non-cooperation) and decreased efficiency from methods that have been compromised due to adaptations by terrorists (for instance, if they know cell phones are being intercepted, they will shift to messengers). These could potentially lead to successful attacks in the future.

This is why the Department of Defense is trying to clamp down on the number of meetings lawyers have with detainees. In at least one case, lawyers gave the detainees information about Amnesty International conferences and terrorist attacks that boosted their morale, increased resistance to interrogation and which encouraged attacks on guards. Over 600 attacks have occurred, many involving bodily fluids. This is not a small concern. If terrorist morale is low, there is a better chance of getting them to give up information that may help prevent future attacks.

The Guantanamo Bay setup is not the best situation, but other alternatives do not seem any better. Terrorists need to be kept out of circulation, and methods of gathering intelligence and sources of information need to be protected. A number of human rights groups are complaining about these clampdowns, claiming that the Administration is turning Guantanamo Bay into a legal black hole. Since real black holes are not presently accessible, dumping terrorists into a legal black hole will have to do. – Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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