CIA Secrets: Egyptian Fax Throws Light on "Black Sites"

A top secret fax from Cairo intercepted by Swiss intelligence provides new evidence that the CIA ran secret prisons in eastern Europe. The revelations, published over the weekend in a Swiss newspaper, have raised questions about just how closely Europeans are cooperating with the European Union investigation.

Inside the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase on the Black Sea coast.
AP

Inside the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase on the Black Sea coast.

Swiss military intelligence has intercepted a top-secret fax from Cairo to the Egyptian embassy in London that seems to confirm the existence of CIA prisons in eastern Europe, according to the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick, which published the fax on Sunday. In the fax, reports the paper, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Gheit discusses 23 Iraqi and Afghan prisoners who were interrogated at Mihail Kogalniceanu, a Romanian air base on the Black Sea coast.

Similar interrogations mentioned in the fax took place in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bulgaria, according to SonntagsBlick. The Egyptian government had this information from its own intelligence sources, according to SonntagsBlick, rather than public or official sources; but experts quoted in the Swiss newspaper called Egyptian intelligence services "highly professional."

The commander of the Kogalniceanu base, Dan Buciuman, has vehemently denied allegations of harboring a secret CIA prison. He started working there in 1995 and has never seen any unusual activity, he told the news agency AFP. Buciuman also stressed that the base was open to anyone who wants to inspect it. The US military used Mihail Kogalniceanu as a hub for troops and equipment for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but officially left the base in 2003.

American broadcaster ABC reported at the end of last year that prisoners were shifted from eastern Europe to North Africa just before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to Europe for a visit.

Swiss intelligence authorities want to know how SonntagsBlick received the top-secret fax, evidently intercepted by its Onyx satellite surveillance system on Nov. 10, three days after the Council of Europe started to investigate charges that the CIA was running secret prisons -- so-called "black sites" -- in Europe.

Dick Marty, head of the Council of Europe's investigation, said he wasn't sure if the fax was authentic. "It seems inappropriate to me to talk of absolute proof," he told the Swiss news agency swissinfo. "It is the kind of scoop I was expecting to see and I'm sure there will be plenty more." But if the fax is real, he said, it will support charges that certain European governments –- Switzerland's, in this case –- aren't fully cooperating with his investigation.

"How is it that the Swiss intelligence services are intercepting messages between Cairo and the Egyptian embassy in London?" he asked. "Or is it another foreign [security] service that passed on the information to Switzerland and then to the SonntagsBlick?"

All governments in Europe have denied harboring any "black sites," where the CIA or its proxies allegedly torture terrorist suspects. The EU's Commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security, Franco Frattini, has threatened member states with strict sanctions –- including loss of voting rights in the European Council –- if any reports of black sites in Europe turn out to be true. But so far nothing's been verified.

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