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Laptops Are Screened at Guantanamo Base

October 22, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — U.S. troops are being ordered to surrender their laptop computers for security sweeps 72 hours before leaving the Guantanamo base in Cuba, officials said Tuesday.

The new security precautions were announced as a team of military investigators wrapped up their assessment of security gaps at the Guantanamo base where 660 suspected terrorists are being held.

The team arrived earlier this month after two interpreters and a Muslim chaplain were arrested on charges ranging from espionage to disobeying orders. Other security precautions were expected after the team briefed military officials at the base this week.

"We all recognize it's a necessary process," said Army Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, detention mission spokeswoman. "There haven't been any complaints."

Troops in the Joint Task Force, responsible for the detention mission, have been asked to surrender laptops they own and other personal items, such as electronic organizers, before departing the base. If the items clear inspection, they will be returned to the troops at the airport terminal.

Inspectors will be searching for classified materials or other documents meant to stay on the base. All personal information -- including e-mails or pictures -- can be viewed by inspectors.

Translator Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, 31, was arrested last month and accused of making a false statement to U.S. Customs officials and FBI agents when they asked him if he had any classified information.

A review of one compact disc found 368 documents that officials later determined to be classified.

Mehalba had security clearance to see classified document.

Another Arabic translator, Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, has been charged with espionage and aiding an unspecified enemy.

A Muslim chaplain, Army Capt. James Y. Yee, has been charged with disobeying orders for improperly handling classified information.

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