US, Britain asked Poland to join clandestine program
Soviet-era compound in northern Poland was site of secret CIA
Larisa Alexandrovna and David Dastych
Wednesday March 7, 2007
POLAND -- The CIA operated an interrogation and short-term detention
facility for suspected terrorists within a Polish intelligence
training school with the explicit approval of British and US
authorities, according to British and Polish intelligence officials
familiar with the arrangements.
Intelligence officials identify the site as a component of a Polish
intelligence training school outside the northern Polish village of
Stare Kiejkuty. While previously suspected, the facility has never
been conclusively identified as being part of the CIA's secret
rendition and detention program.
Only the Polish prime minister and top Polish intelligence brass were
told of the plan, in which agents of the United States quietly
shuttled detainees from other holding facilities around the globe for
stopovers and short-term interrogation in Poland between late 2002 and
According to a confidential British intelligence memo shown to RAW
STORY, Prime Minister Tony Blair told Poland's then-Prime Minister
Leszek Miller to keep the information secret, even from his own
"Miller was asked to keep it as tight as possible," the memo said.
The complex at Stare Kiejkuty, a Soviet-era compound once used by
German intelligence in World War II, is best known as having been the
only Russian intelligence training school to operate outside the
Soviet Union. Its prominence in the Soviet era suggests that it may
have been the facility first identified but never named when the
Washington Post's Dana Priest revealed the existence of the CIA's
secret prison network in November 2005.
Reached by telephone Monday, Priest would not discuss the allegations
in her article beyond her original report.
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano would not confirm or deny any
allegations about the Polish facility. He maintained the rendition
program was legal and conducted "with great care."
"The agency's terrorist interrogation program has been conducted
lawfully, with great care and close review, producing vital
information that has helped disrupt plots and save lives," Gimigliano
said Monday. "That is also true of renditions, another key, lawful
tool in the fight against terror."
"The United States does not conduct or condone torture, nor does it
transfer anyone to other countries for the purpose of torture," he added.
US intelligence officials confirmed that the CIA had used the compound
at Stare Kiejkuty in the past. Speaking generally about the agency's
program, a former senior official said the CIA had never conducted
"We never tortured anyone," one former senior intelligence official
said on condition of anonymity. "We sent them to countries that did
torture, but not on this scale."
The official added that many agency staff had strong feelings about
the rendition program. "Career people were really opposed to this."
All intelligence sources interviewed said the CIA is no longer
operating a rendition or secret detainment program.
Polish intelligence officials declined to comment. Zbigniew
Siemiatkowski, the former head of Polish intelligence, told a Polish
news agency in 2005, however, that the CIA had access to two internal
zones at the Stare Kiejkuty training school. Current and former Polish
authorities have adamantly denied that Poland played any role in the
US, United Kingdom invited Poland to join program in 2002
In April 2002, according to British foreign intelligence sources
(MI6), senior officials in the Bush and Blair administrations decided
that the Bagram base near Kabul in Afghanistan could not operate
successfully in the Bush administration's "no holds barred" policy
towards suspected terrorists.
MI6 officials say the two administrations then decided to fly
high-value suspected terrorists to secret gulags in Eastern Europe.
The CIA-operated flights would pass through the air space of a number
of countries among them Britain, Germany, Spain and Poland. European
Union officials and human rights groups would later say these
interrogations may have violated the Geneva Conventions and the United
Nations Convention against Torture, to which the United States and
Poland are both signatories.
After a series of secret meetings chaired by MI6 chief Sir John
Scarlett in London and then-CIA Director George Tenet in Washington,
Polish intelligence was invited to join the project, British and
Polish intelligence sources say.
Authorities singled out a remote and infrequently used airfield in the
Northern Polish town of Szymany for transit flights; a near-by Polish
intelligence training school at Stare Kiejkuty would be used as an
eventual detention-interrogation center for temporary detention and
The White House did not return two calls seeking comment. Tenet could
not be reached.
Rendition programs were first employed by the Clinton administration
in order to target suspected elements of al Qaeda. These covert
operations, run out of the CIA, were used intermittently and on a
limited basis. It was not until the Bush Administration that the use
of extraordinary rendition became a matter of policy and was employed
on a large scale.
The Szczytno-Szymany Airport
Szczytno-Szymany used to be a military airfield in northeastern
Poland, one of many such airstrips that could accept the large
Soviet-made military planes of the Warsaw Pact; before that, it had
served as an airstrip for German Luftwaffe bombers targeting Warsaw in
the Second World War. In 1996, seven years after Poland's communist
government fell, the military airfield was turned into a private
company: Airports "Mazury-Szczytno."
However, traffic wasn't heavy enough to provide decent income to the
state and private owners of the airfield, so motorcycle and car races
were organized on the tarmac; small-scale production and repairs also
buttressed the company's budget.
But after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom the US military
campaign against Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks
everything changed. In the years that followed, American planes
began arriving from Afghanistan, continuing on to Morocco, Uzbekistan
and Guantanamo Bay, according to Szymany locals and airport staff.
Then-Szymany airport manager Mariola Przewlocka told European Union
investigators the flights were likely linked with the intelligence
complex at Stare Kiejkuty, about 12 miles away from the airport.
Przewlocka said that whenever one of the suspected flights was
scheduled to land, "orders were given directly by the regional border
emphasizing that the airport authorities should not approach
the aircraft and that military staff and services alone" would handle
"Money for the services was paid in cash, sometimes as much as four
times the normal charge," the former airport manager added. "Handling
of the passengers aboard was carried out in a remote corner of the
Szymany airstrip. People came in and out from four-wheel drive cars
with shaded windows."
The cars were seen traveling to and from the Stare Kiejkuty
intelligence facility, where British and Polish intelligence officials
say US agents conducted short-term interrogations before shuffling
prisoners to other locations.
Przewlocka also spoke in detail with the Chicago Tribune, whose
correspondent traveled to Szymany last month.
"Secret prisons" were likely temporary "black sites"
Former European and US intelligence officials indicate that the secret
prisons across the European Union, first identified by the Washington
Post, are likely not permanent locations, making them difficult to
What some believe was a network of secret prisons was most probably a
series of facilities used temporarily by the United States when
needed, officials say. Interim "black sites" secret facilities used
for covert activities can be as small as a room in a government
building, which only becomes a black site when a prisoner is brought
in for short-term detainment and interrogation.
For example, detainees could be shuffled from a temporary black site
in one country to a temporary black site in another country, never
staying long enough at either to attract notice. Such an arrangement,
sources say, would allow plausible deniability by the host country as
well as the US. Investigators looking for a permanent facility would
never find one. Such a site, sources say, would have to be near an
Washington-based security expert and president of Global Security John
Pike says short-term detention in already existing facilities would be
"sensible tradecraft" and a more likely scenario than a network of
specific, long term prisons.
"A short-term operation does not develop a big signature and you don't
have a continual parade of people," said Pike. "When it becomes
noticeable, they move it all."
"It's a shell game," he added.
Pressure from US and Britain to keep quiet
In the wake of the Washington Post expose, member countries of the
European Union began to demand answers.
According to British and Polish intelligence officials, foreign
journalists, and EU sources interviewed for this article, the
countries participating in the US rendition and detention program and
their governments were kept largely out of the loop. Officials say
Bush and Blair administration contacts selectively chose politicians
in the EU and other countries, keeping their respective governments in
Having only a select few members of the European Union aware of the
program, coupled with the transience of the prison network, made it
difficult for European Union investigators to verify allegations of
secret detention sites.
A ten-member EU delegation traveled to Poland in November 2006 to
investigate Szymany airport and the facility at Stare Kiejstuty. The
team's report indicates that key government officials first agreed to
meet with the delegates, but declined to do so after their arrival.
The delegates requested interviews of 20 Polish government officials,
journalists and others, but were allowed to speak with only nine. Of
those interviewed, only a handful could offer any substantive information.
One of the more interesting interviews came from former
Szczytno-Szymany Airport chairman Jerzy Kos. According to the report,
Kos stated that at the time the airport was under his authority, it
belonged to the Military Property Agency and was leased by his company.
Kos stated that after a Boeing 737 landed on Sept. 22, 2003, a
standard military procedure came into force under which Polish Border
Guards determined the character of incoming flights and expedited
"The military procedure was a simplified one, including provision for
no customs clearance," Kos told investigators. He said he had "no
information about the passengers as procedure was undertaken by
soldiers and not the civilian airport staff."
Kos asserted that during his tenure from 2003 to 2004, Gulfstream
planes transferring through the airport were treated as military
flights in the same fashion as the Border Guards had handled the
Boeing 737 in September 2003.
Air traffic controllers "had been informed by the Warsaw-based Air
Traffic Agency that Gulfstream planes would land at the airport by
fax," Kos told investigators.
Polish public television journalist Adam Krzykowski added more detail.
Krzykowski alleged that the September 2003 Boeing 737 carried a crew
of seven and was joined at the Szymany airfield by five passengers who
declared themselves businessmen. According to the EU report,
Krzykowski maintained that all twelve "were American citizens."
"The Boeing flight was not subject to standard border control
procedure, but to a
simplified procedure [which] meant that no
customs officers were present during the control and passengers were
checked only on basis of a list delivered to the Border Guards," he
said. "According to the Border Guards, such a procedure is used when a
person has already been checked up on previously."
The final report of the European Union's investigation into Poland as
well as the other countries alleged to be part of the rendition
program can be read here. Most of those the EU sought to question did
not cooperate with investigators, including suspected governments,
journalists and key officials in the United States.
Dana Priest, the Washington Post reporter who received a Pulitzer
Prize for her article exposing the CIA's secret detention centers,
declined to speak with EU investigators.
"The Post never allows its reporters to testify to government
inquiries no matter what government it is, so there was nothing
unusual in that regard," Priest said Monday.
The only member of the Bush Administration given leave to discuss the
program with the EU was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said
she expected American allies to co-operate and keep quiet about
sensitive anti-terrorism operations."
The Reopening of Szymany Airport
The "prime-time" for Szymany International Airport seems to have ended
in 2006, when the investigation by the European Parliament was
finished without a clear result or definitive proof of "CIA secret
prisons" existing in Poland.
Polish officials refused to cooperate and vehemently denied any role
in the CIA program. The airport company had to suspend its activities,
due to a dispute over the ownership of the Szczytno-Szymany airfield.
In November 2006, the company signed a lease agreement with the
Military Property Agency, which still owns the land and the
facilities. This agreement opened the way for financing of the airport
by the regional administration and the Polish government.
The Szymany airfield, now in civilian hands and allegedly free of
"rendition flights," will soon become a regional airport. Its
beautiful location in the Masurian Lakes Region will likely kindle its
development, and the fame of its history surrounding secret CIA
flights could certainly become an attractive tourist-catching slogan.
Muriel Kane contributed research for this article and John Byrne
Larisa Alexandrovna is Managing Investigative News Editor and
intelligence and national security correspondent for Raw Story. She
can be reached at: larisa@...
David Dastych is a former Polish intelligence operative, who served in
the 1960s-1980s and was a double agent for the CIA from 1973 until his
arrest in 1987 by then-communist Poland on charges of espionage.
Dastych was released from prison in 1990 after the fall of communism
and in the years since has voluntarily helped Western intelligence
services with tracking the nuclear proliferation black market in
Eastern Europe and the Middle East. After a serious injury in 1994
confined him to a wheelchair, Dastych began a second career as an
investigative journalist covering terrorism, intelligence and
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