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Guantanamo witness testifies on courtroom eavesdropping allegations

February 12, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano
  • In this Pentagon-approved sketch, five accused Sept. 11 plotters confer with attorneys after court convened on Monday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In this Pentagon-approved sketch, five accused Sept. 11 plotters confer… (Janet Hamlin/MCT )

FT. MEADE, Md. -- Top officials at the terror detainee prison at the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, began testifying in a pretrial hearing Tuesday about courtroom security and allegations that the CIA or other U.S. intelligence officials are secretly listening to private conversations between defense lawyers and five accused Sept. 11 plotters.

First to the witness stand -- in fact the first substantial witness to testify in the military tribunal case that is the only prosecution in the 2001 terror attacks -- was Maurice Elkins, an Army veteran who is the director of technology for the new courtroom built next to the prison compound that houses 166 detainees.

In a crisp gray suit, Elkins testified that it would be almost impossible for any outside intelligence officials, known by the ambiguous acronym OCA for Original Classification Authority, to tap into the private defense conversations, and less likely they could record them.

But, he conceded, “I do not know what the OCA’s capability is.”

Yet while acknowledging that outside intelligence officials are indeed monitoring the proceedings should any classified information be inadvertently disclosed, Elkins added, “No entity in the U.S. government has ever asked me for recordings.”

Though Elkins was a defense witness, his testimony largely mirrored the government’s position that confidential defense conversations are not being picked up by the CIA or other intelligence agencies.

However, under questioning from David Nevin, an attorney for alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed,  Judge James L. Pohl, an Army colonel, acknowledged that intelligence authorities could be listening in and recording.

When Nevin asked if it was possible the OCA was recording everything they were picking up, the judge stepped in and answered the questions. “Anything is possible,” he said. “Most witnesses would agree that anything in life is possible.”

Elkins put it this way:  "I wouldn't know OCA if I walked next to OCA on the street or played basketball with OCA.” He added,  “You’re asking me to assume they are recording, and I can’t answer that.”

The defense, however, filed an emergency motion to address the matter, claiming that covert intelligence officials are listening in on their private courtroom discussion, as well as to visits the lawyers have with their clients in the prison.

Also scheduled to testify Tuesday are Navy Capt. Thomas Welsh, the staff judge advocate at the prison, and Army Col. John Bogdan, the compound commander.

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