Police are investigating the theft of material related to a recent lawsuit filed against the CIA. It is missing after a suspicious break-in at the UW’s Center for Human Rights.
University of Washington police are investigating a break-in at the offices of the director of the school’s Center for Human Rights after a computer and hard drive containing sensitive information about a recent lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency were stolen.
The center says that the office of Angelina Godoy was burglarized sometime between Thursday and Sunday. Godoy reported that the hard drive contained “about 90 percent of the information” relating to research in El Salvador that is the foundation of a freedom-of-information lawsuit the center filed Oct. 2 against the CIA.
The lawsuit alleges that the CIA has illegally withheld information about a U.S.-supported El Salvador army officer suspected of human-rights violations during that country’s civil war in the 1980s against leftist rebels.
Godoy, in a statement, said the center has backups of the stolen data.
Most Read Local Stories
- Coronavirus daily news updates, May 26: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state, and the nation
- Coronavirus daily news updates, May 27: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state, and the world
- New analysis may rewrite the history of Washington state’s coronavirus outbreak
- Washington houses of worship allowed to hold services under Inslee's coronavirus guidance plan
- How missed 'red flags' helped Nigerian fraud ring 'Scattered Canary' bilk Washington's unemployment system amid coronavirus chaos
“What worries us most is not what we have lost but what someone else may have gained,” the center wrote in a news release about the thefts. “The files include sensitive details of personal testimonies and pending investigations.”
Godoy acknowledged that the theft could be a “common crime,” but said in the statement that there are disturbing and suspicious elements to the burglary.
The break-in coincided with a campus visit by CIA Director John Brennan, who spoke Friday at a symposium at the UW law school. However, Norm Arkans, the UW’s associate vice president for media relations and communications, cautioned against “connecting those dots.”
Only Godoy’s office was targeted in the break-in and there was no sign of a forced entry, according to the news release. It appeared that the office was carefully searched rather than ransacked and the door was relocked upon exit, “characteristics that do not fit the pattern of an opportunistic campus theft,” the release says.
Finally, the timing of the theft — just weeks after publicity surrounding the CIA lawsuit — “invites doubt as to potential motives.”
Contacted Wednesday by The Seattle Times, Godoy declined to comment, citing the continuing investigation.
UW police Maj. Steven Rittereiser confirmed the burglary and said a detective has been assigned to the case. He confirmed that there was no sign of a forced entry.
“Right now, we just know that we have some missing hardware,” he said.
Arkans said the school is taking the theft “very seriously,” adding that the circumstances are “suspicious.”
The release says officials have contacted sources in El Salvador, “many of whom have emphasized parallels between this incident and attacks Salvadoran human-rights organizations have experienced in recent years.” A concern at the center is that the stolen information could endanger rights workers in that country.
The lawsuit was filed by the UW, the Center for Human Rights and Mina Manuchehri, a fellow at the Center for Human Rights and a third-year law student at the UW. It alleges the agency has illegally withheld records regarding retired Salvadoran army Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, who is under criminal investigation in that country for alleged involvement in massacres of civilians.
It also alleges the CIA has withheld documents pertaining to UCLA professor Philippe Bourgois, a survivor of a 1981 massacre of hundreds of civilians that was allegedly led by Ochoa Perez in the El Salvadoran town of Santa Cruz.