by Tim Weiner, The New York Times, March 5, 1998
WASHINGTON, March 4 - The Central Intelligence Agency has been training the security forces of the Palestinian Authority in the arts of espionage, information-gathering, interrogation and other techniques of the trade, United States Government officials say.
With Israel's knowledge, C.I.A. counter-terrorism and covert-operations officers have been instructing senior and mid-level Palestinian security officials in the United States since mid-1996, the officials said. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who work at the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorist Center have also helped train the Palestinians.
The program has two aims, the officials said. The first is to increase the professionalism of the Palestinian security forces and improve their ability to identify and arrest suspected terrorists, a task in which the officials said the C.I.A. had succeeded in part. The second is to increase the Israeli Government's confidence in the Palestinians, a political goal that has proved elusive.
The C.I.A. instructs its trainees in nonviolent interrogation techniques: its lessons prohibit torture. But the Palestinian security services have "commonly tortured" detainees, killing many of the 18 people who have died in their custody in the last four years, according to recent Human Rights Watch reports. Half those deaths took place after the C.I.A.'s training program began. The reports blamed pressure from Israel and the United States to crack down on Islamic militants as a driving force behind the violence of the Palestinian services.
The training takes place under a broader program of cooperation among the C.I.A., the Palestinian security services and the Israeli internal-security force known as Shin Bet. The C.I.A. station chief in Israel has been acting as a go-between and a referee under the agreement, which seeks to combat terrorism by militant Islamic resistance groups like Hamas, and ultimately strengthen the badly frayed peace effort in the region.
The Director of Central Intelligence, George J. Tenet, personally helped broker the agreement in 1996 when he was Deputy Director.
The Palestinian security forces regularly arrest suspected members and sympathizers of Hamas, a group whose suicide bombers have killed scores of people in Israel to undermine efforts at coexistence between the Palestinian Authority and the Jewish state.
The C.I.A. provides the intelligence and security services of many nations besides the Palestinian Authority with training and advice. One of the agency's aims is to teach methods of interrogating suspects without torturing them - how to extract information without extracting fingernails, so to speak.
A 1963 C.I.A. interrogation manual, recently declassified, discussed the uses of physical torture as a last resort. Twenty years later, the agency was telling foreign intelligence services that physical torture was counterproductive, but it still instructed them in the uses of mental torture and coercion.
The agency now teaches only non-violent methods of interrogation, which can include friendly persuasion, verbal trickery and psychological pressure. Its rules were revised in 1985 to exclude "the use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind as an aid to interrogation."
Whether these milder techniques work on suspected terrorists, or whether the Palestinian security services have learned the C.I.A.'s lessons, is questionable.
Palestinian officials acknowledge in 196 and 1997 that some members of their security apparatus had abused suspects under arrest. It is unclear whether any of those Palestinian security officials had been trained by the C.I.A. For its part, Israel has acknowledged using what it calls "moderate physical pressure" on political suspects; human-rights groups call that pressure torture.
Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, said he had seen no improvement in the performance of the Palestinian security forces regarding human rights over the last two years. "Widespread torture takes place in places like Gaza and Jericho, the torture is systematic, and we haven't noticed any change in the technique or the frequency" since 1996, he said.
No United States official would comment publicly on any aspect of the program.
The C.I.A.'s ties to the Palestinian services go back 25 years.
In 1973, Yasir Arafat sent an emissary to meet secretly with an American envoy, Vernon Walters, then the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, to discuss how to "prevent radical assaults on the early peace process" between Arabs and Israelis, according to the memoirs of Henry A. Kissinger, the former Secretary of State.
That Palestinian emissary was Ali Hassan Salemeh, the security chief of Al Fatah, who was on the most-wanted list of the Israeli intelligence service for masterminding the killing of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
From 1973 through 1978, Mr. Salemeh provided the United States and its allies with tips about the assassination plots of radical Palestinian groups.
In those years, the C.I.A. set up a network of contacts within Mr. Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization and various guerrilla groups in Lebanon. Its leading Middle East expert, Robert C. Ames, and its officers in Beirut reached an understanding with the P.L.O. through contacts with Mr. Salemeh under which the United States Embassy in Lebanon, which housed the Beirut station, was protected from harm.
In January 1979, Mr. Salemeh was killed by a booby-trapped Volkswagen parked in West Beirut. The Israeli foreign intelligence service, the Mossad, is thought to have set the bomb. In April 1983, Mr. Ames and at least six other C.I.A. officers were killed when Islamic militants blew up the United States Embassy in Beirut.
These killings damaged the agency's deepest connections with Palestinian organizations during the 1980's. Those connections and the insights they provided were difficult to recreate, retired agency officials said. The training program with the Palestinian security services may help re-establish them, other officials said.