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AMERICAN MORNING

Gitmo Espionage

Aired September 24, 2003 - 09:06   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Turning now to a man who helped to develop the Defense Department's policy on the detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo, Mark Jacobson now, a visiting scholar for international security and public policy at Ohio State University, live with us today in Columbus, Ohio.
Thank you, Mark. Good morning to you.

MARK JACOBSON, INVOLVED IN DOD POLICY ON GUANTANAMO SECURITY: Good morning.

HEMMER: Right now, there are allegations. If true, what does that mean?

JACOBSON: Well, I think this is a matter of serious concern for the U.S. government. There are always individuals who are willing because of their beliefs to betray the United States. I think the good news story is that the Department of Defense was able to catch these individuals, certainly in the case of Captain Yee, and it looks like in the case of Al Halabi as well, before they were able to pass sensitive information on to foreign governments or foreign agents.

HEMMER: What does it say that it can happen in a place that is considered to be one of the most secure locations on the planet today?

JACOBSON: Well, again, we are talking about human beings here, and even though we conduct background investigations and take a look at all the individuals who are not only down at Guantanamo Bay, but who have access to classified information, you can't find every one of these individuals or weed them out, especially if they've shown no prior indications of intent to commit espionage. And that's why we do have robust counterintelligence efforts. As I said, in this case, although it is very early in the investigation, this may be a good news story after all.

HEMMER: When you consider, Mark, the chaplain and the translator in this case, do you know as to whether or not they were being monitored at the time, as they were either consulting or talking with detainees?

JACOBSON: Well, I don't know specifically, but I will say that all members of the U.S. military are trained in what's called counterespionage, counterintelligence activities, in terms of being able to look at suspicious activities, things that may not seem right, such as someone who doesn't have access to classified information seeking out that information. So it's clear here that something tipped off the investigators. Something just didn't look right, and it very well could have been just one of the soldiers on the ground or another airman who said, I'm not sure this individual is doing what they're supposed to be doing.

HEMMER: Well, listen, we had Colonel Pat Lang on with us earlier today here on AMERICAN MORNING. He levels the charge that the United States defense department has not built up its own supply of Arabic speakers and translators, and oftentimes the Pentagon will grab the first Arabic speaker it finds to go ahead and do a job which, in his estimation, is not the best policy, and it may take years for the United States to catch up with Arabic culture, language, items like that. If that's the case, how does the U.S. military go about picking the people it chooses to have contact with detainees?

JACOBSON: Well, I think to answer that question, I would have to agree with Pat. It's very difficult to pick, hand-select Arabic linguists and linguists in other languages, such as Dara (ph) or Pushtan (ph), because we do have a dearth of specialists in that area. Often we have to go outside the military to get individuals who are able to adequately translate for that.

What the department and what the U.S. government overall will need to do over the next several years is ensure that programs are in place to encourage the study of underrepresented languages and to make sure that we do get enough individuals who are qualified, and who also can get security clearances so that they can work as translators in such secure facilities as Guantanamo Bay.

HEMMER: As you point out, that may take a while.

Mark Jacobson, thanks for talking with us from Columbus, Ohio.

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