The suicide bombers who struck three Western hotels in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday also were targeting the increasingly important U.S. partnership with that country. Jordan's...
WASHINGTON — The suicide bombers who struck three Western hotels in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday also were targeting the increasingly important U.S. partnership with that country.
Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate, or GID, has surpassed Israel’s Mossad as America’s most effective allied counter-terrorism agency in the Middle East. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, its cooperation with the CIA has grown even closer.
The GID has aggressively hunted Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born head of the extremist group Al Qaeda in Iraq and suspected planner of Wednesday’s bombings. Last year, Jordanian agents arrested several Zarqawi associates, reportedly foiling truck-bomb attacks on the U.S. Embassy and government targets in Amman, the capital.
Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey called Jordan “a natural target for al-Qaida” and Iraqi insurgents.
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The U.S. provides secret financial assistance to subsidize the GID’s budget, former senior U.S. intelligence officials said, adding that the two intelligence agencies conduct sophisticated joint operations and routinely share information.
Jordan’s intelligence partnership with the U.S. is so close, in fact, that the CIA has had technical personnel “virtually embedded” at GID headquarters, said a former CIA official in the Middle East.
Most recently, Jordan has emerged as a hub for “extraordinary renditions,” the controversial, covert transfer of suspected extremists from U.S. custody to foreign intelligence agencies.
GID personnel are characterized as highly capable interrogators by Frank Anderson, a former CIA Middle East division chief. “They’re going to get more information [from a terrorism suspect] because they’re going to know his language, his culture, his associates — and more about the network he belongs to,” Anderson said.
But in two previously undisclosed cases, citizens of Yemen claim they were detained in Pakistan and Afghanistan, then transported to Jordan and held by the GID. One said he was tortured.
The State Department praised Jordan for combating terrorism in one report this year and accused it of human-rights abuses in another.
The latter report is particularly sensitive as the Bush administration argues for war in Iraq, in part, to bring democracy to the Middle East. Washington’s intelligence partner in Jordan has been criticized for political repression and human-rights violations.
The State Department credits cooperation between the CIA and the GID with disrupting “numerous terrorist plots” and intercepting insurgents attempting to cross the Jordan-Iraq border.
But according to a State Department report released this year, Jordanian security agents also “sometimes abuse detainees physically and verbally during detention and interrogation, and allegedly also use torture.” It said Jordan’s reported torture methods include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, prolonged suspension with ropes in contorted positions and extended solitary confinement.
Such allegations have not hampered the CIA’s collaboration with the GID.
“Jordan is at the top of our list of foreign partners,” said Michael Scheuer, who resigned from the CIA last year, ending a 22-year career that included four years heading a unit tracking Osama bin Laden.
“We have similar agendas, and they are willing to help any way they can.”
“A wider reach”
Although the Israeli Mossad is commonly considered the CIA’s closest ally in the region, Scheuer and others interviewed said the GID is as capable and professional as the Mossad — and as an Arab nation, Jordan is more effective combating predominantly Arab militant organizations.
“The GID … has a wider reach (in the Middle East) than the Mossad,” the former CIA terrorism expert said.
The GID, with authority to track both internal and external security threats, plays a leading role monitoring opponents of King Abdullah II’s’ authoritarian regime, including human-rights advocates.
The agency has arrest powers and runs a network of detention centers. Students applying to universities need a good-behavior certificate from the GID, according to the State Department human-rights report. The directorate can also deny passports to its citizens on national-security grounds.
Political repression has increased in Jordan, partly in response to local opposition to the nation’s role in the Iraq war. Human-rights advocates have accused Amman of cracking down on free speech and assembly and report growing numbers of political prisoners.
Jordan receives about $450 million annually in economic and military aid from the U.S. It is one of only two Arab states to sign a peace agreement with Israel. The other is Egypt.
“The United States has had no closer ally than Jordan in the war on terror, and Jordan will find no better friend than the United States at this difficult hour,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday after the attacks in Amman.
The Amman government backed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has since allowed American forces to establish military bases on its territory. The Jordanian military is helping train Iraqi security forces.
Although Jordan supported Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, it later provided refuge for political foes of Iraq President Saddam Hussein, including Ayad Allawi, who became the interim prime minister under the American occupation.
Adept at infiltration
The GID has a long record of successfully targeting and penetrating extremist groups. In the 1970s, it played a leading role in a crackdown against Palestinian radicals who at one point threatened to topple the monarchy.
In the 1980s, the CIA and GID collaborated in a sophisticated campaign to subvert and ultimately cripple the Abu Nidal group, considered the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization at the time.
According to the former Middle East station chief, Nidal was extremely fearful of infiltrators. To feed that paranoia, the GID set up bogus foreign bank accounts to falsely show his top aides receiving mysterious payments from overseas.
Scheuer, who in the mid-1990s helped start the CIA’s rendition program, said Jordan was one of just a few countries — including Egypt and Morocco — willing to accept suspects from the agency.
The former agency official emphasized that the original rendition program was presidentially approved and vetted by government attorneys.
Larry Johnson, a former State Department counter-terrorism official, said Jordan was an ideal partner for the program.
“Of all of our allies, which country would you want to question a terrorist suspect in his own language and who you trust not to blow smoke?” he asked. “Jordan wins hands down. They are the most professional and sophisticated interrogators we can rely on.”
The Times has identified at least six cases in which Jordan aided the U.S. in handling detainees, according to interviews and legal documents.
In at least two previously unreported cases, the U.S. is alleged to have delivered detainees to the GID, which later returned them to American custody after concluding their interrogations.
In late-September 2001, Jamal Mari, a Yemeni citizen, was seized by Pakistani security forces in Karachi. He was held at a secret police prison for several weeks and then turned over to American intelligence officials, who flew him to Jordan.
Mari was held at a GID facility, according to an account he gave to his American attorney, Marc Falkoff. Mari said he was not physically abused by the GID but was kept hidden from visiting Red Cross inspectors.
Falkoff said Mari was returned to U.S. custody after four months in Jordan.
He is being held at Guantánamo Bay.
The U.S. government has accused Mari of working for a charity group in Pakistan with ties to al-Qaida. He denies the charge and says he has no affiliation with terrorists.
Another Yemeni, 17-year-old Hassan bin Attash, was turned over to American forces in Pakistan and sent to a U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan. His story was relayed to a Libyan detainee whose lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, shared his notes with the Times.
According to bin Attash, U.S. officials sent him to Jordan in 2002. He claims enduring GID torture over a four-month period before he was returned to U.S. authorities. He, too, is being held at Guantánamo Bay.
Falkoff, who recently agreed to represent bin Attash, said U.S. government attorneys have refused to turn over a summary of the case.
“All I know is that the government has identified him as an enemy combatant,” he said.
The Jordanian embassy in Washington did not reply to questions about the GID-CIA relationship or about renditions to or through Jordan.
However, the GID denied torturing detainees in an e-mail to Amnesty International last August.