CIA operating with complicity of governmentsSafety department not aware of any `illegal activities'
Jan. 16, 2006. 05:44 AM
WASHINGTON—CIA rendition flights that fly in Canadian space or land at Canadian airports are doing so with Ottawa's permission, says the Washington journalist and author who uncovered the controversial wiretapping program approved by U.S. President George W. Bush.
James Risen, a national security writer for The New York Times and author of State of War, a study of the CIA under Bush, said such flights are operating with the complicity of foreign governments around the world.
The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service and Prime Minister Paul Martin would have approved the use of Canadian airspace, but kept other government agencies in the dark, Risen said.
"That's clearly what has happened in Italy, for example, where the local law enforcement and prosecutors are indicting CIA officials and it is fairly clear that somebody in Italian intelligence must have known what was going on," he said. "It stretches credulity to think the CIA is doing this without some local government approval."
Washington has come under fire in a number of European capitals for the use of other countries' airspace for its practice of "extraordinary rendition" in which terrorist suspects are flown to third countries, many with dubious human rights records, for interrogation.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has denied suspects are tortured, but one victim of rendition was Maher Arar of Ottawa, who has outlined the torture he endured during a prison stay in Syria.
There have been Canadian media reports indicating at least 55 "ghost flights" have passed through Canada in recent years, but the government of has been reticent to raise any questions with Washington.
A federal review of landings by alleged CIA flights at Canadian airports has found no evidence of "illegal activities," Public Safety spokeswoman Zuwena Robidas told Canadian Press.
But Robidas said the department cannot discuss "operational details" of the investigation, launched in the fall after word of the flights emerged.
Risen and his Times colleague Eric Lichtblau revealed the secret wiretapping by the National Security Agency before Christmas, handing the Bush administration a crisis, but also sparking a justice department quest to find the leakers and raising questions about the newspaper.
The Times sat on the story for a year, choosing not to publish it in the heat of the 2004 election campaign.
Risen will not discuss the internal deliberations at the newspaper, but senior editors there have said they were aware of concerns about national security ramifications raised by the Bush administration and spent some of that year toughening its story.
Risen concedes he spent much of the year fearful that another news outlet would break the story, but now he must worry about the Bush administration coming after him and forcing him to reveal his sources — something he has said he will not do.
"I don't think they should come after us," he said.
"I think that would be a tragedy for democracy.
"I think it's a big mistake if they start to use leak investigations as a proxy for curbing press freedoms in the United States.
"People who came forward, did so for the right reasons. They are whistleblowers. They thought something illegal was going on.
"I think they are real heroes."
U.S. Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales said Friday a justice department investigation into the leak is "very serious."
Bush, who has launched an aggressive defence of his right to wiretap without warrant during wartime, called the leak "shameful" and said it would only help America's enemies.
"I think it's too early to make decisions regarding whether or not reporters should go to jail," Gonzales said.
"We have an obligation to ensure that our laws are enforced. There's been a serious disclosure of classified information that's occurred in connection with this case and obviously we're going to look at it very, very seriously."
In State of War (Simon and Schuster) and newspaper articles, Risen points out that email between Germany and Italy, for example, or Pakistan and Yemen is routed through the United States.
"The secret presidential order has given the NSA the freedom to peruse that international email traffic — along with the email of millions of Americans," he wrote.
Risen also points out that globalized phone switching systems now mean that switches carrying calls from Cleveland to Chicago may also be carrying calls from Islamabad to Jakarta.
In the interview, he said he assumed it was possible that some of the phone conversations and emails which have been tapped originated or were received in Canada.
"I don't think any other countries knew about this program. It was very secret," he said.
Calls made from Toronto to overseas destinations may have gone through the United States and could have been intercepted, he said, but he did not know whether that meant the NSA was breaking laws in other countries as well.
Risen says the Bush administration says it is tracking the phone and email communication of about 7,000 persons outside the U.S. and about 500 people inside the country.
If it can be assumed that each of these people are making several phone calls and sending several emails each day, he wrote, that would mean the NSA is eavesdropping on thousands of telephone calls and email messages each day and "over time, the NSA has certainly eavesdropped on millions of telephone calls and email messages on American soil."
The wiretapping program will be the subject of hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.
Gonzales has agreed to testify that Bush had the right under the U.S. constitution to engage in such an operation during wartime.
"We believe the legal authorities are there and that the president acted consistent with his legal authorities and in a manner that he felt was necessary and appropriate to protect this country against this new kind of threat," Gonzales said.