The CIA’s secret sites in Somalia

Jeremy Scahill writes:

Nestled in a back corner of Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport is a sprawling walled compound run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Set on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the facility looks like a small gated community, with more than a dozen buildings behind large protective walls and secured by guard towers at each of its four corners. Adjacent to the compound are eight large metal hangars, and the CIA has its own aircraft at the airport. The site, which airport officials and Somali intelligence sources say was completed four months ago, is guarded by Somali soldiers, but the Americans control access. At the facility, the CIA runs a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted “combat” operations against members of Al Shabab, an Islamic militant group with close ties to Al Qaeda.

As part of its expanding counterterrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu. While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners. The existence of both facilities and the CIA role was uncovered by The Nation during an extensive on-the-ground investigation in Mogadishu. Among the sources who provided information for this story are senior Somali intelligence officials; senior members of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG); former prisoners held at the underground prison; and several well-connected Somali analysts and militia leaders, some of whom have worked with US agents, including those from the CIA. A US official, who confirmed the existence of both sites, told The Nation, “It makes complete sense to have a strong counterterrorism partnership” with the Somali government.

The CIA presence in Mogadishu is part of Washington’s intensifying counterterrorism focus on Somalia, which includes targeted strikes by US Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations. The US agents “are here full time,” a senior Somali intelligence official told me. At times, he said, there are as many as thirty of them in Mogadishu, but he stressed that those working with the Somali NSA do not conduct operations; rather, they advise and train Somali agents. “In this environment, it’s very tricky. They want to help us, but the situation is not allowing them to do [it] however they want. They are not in control of the politics, they are not in control of the security,” he adds. “They are not controlling the environment like Afghanistan and Iraq. In Somalia, the situation is fluid, the situation is changing, personalities changing.”

According to well-connected Somali sources, the CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, the United States has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Somali sources with knowledge of the program described the agents as lining up to receive $200 monthly cash payments from Americans. “They support us in a big way financially,” says the senior Somali intelligence official. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

According to former detainees, the underground prison, which is staffed by Somali guards, consists of a long corridor lined with filthy small cells infested with bedbugs and mosquitoes. One said that when he arrived in February, he saw two white men wearing military boots, combat trousers, gray tucked-in shirts and black sunglasses. The former prisoners described the cells as windowless and the air thick, moist and disgusting. Prisoners, they said, are not allowed outside. Many have developed rashes and scratch themselves incessantly. Some have been detained for a year or more. According to one former prisoner, inmates who had been there for long periods would pace around constantly, while others leaned against walls rocking.

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2 thoughts on “The CIA’s secret sites in Somalia

  1. A.A

    Way to go Amerika..Somali’s who are willing to ‘work’ or save they’re country from terrorists such as Al-Shabaab, shouldn’t be motivated by a mere $200 dollars and if they are shouldn’t be trusted. Yes, i have considered the fact that they are poor and would do anything for money, but then what if the next terroist comes along to offer higher money? what then. A teenager being snatched from the street and put under such a filthy environment, then to watch him go mental just so you can fulfill your own stomach is truly disgusting. That there are no in side informants in Al- Shabaab is one thing i highly doubt. Theyre somali’s and trust me they know about eachother, you do not need and informant. You know where they are, get there, caputure them and if they resist well, then theres only thing to do ..shoot!It might not be easy but then no war against terror is. Sacrafice is what it takes for Somalia to recover. I mean sad as it is. these people are recruiting teenagers who hardly can lift up a rifle then train to kill another hman being cold blooded. Before they grow strong i believe if Somali’s work together, which i know they can, than Al-Shabaab can be eradicated.

  2. Colm O' Toole

    Is this another broken promise by Obama? He did say that all the “black sites” were closed. Sadly it appears that its a bit more blurry with the CIA stationed in this prison in Somalia “full time” while not actually running the site (which the CIA pays the local Somalia military to run) but they have carte blanche access and interogate prisoners, including at least one prisoner who was arrested in Kenya and flown over the border into Somalia (extraordinary rendition again).

    At the very least Obama and the US have been deceptive in the claim that all “black sites” have been closed down. At worst they lied (and didn’t even reveal this site to the Red Cross.

    Scahill Interview on the Somalia site on Russia Today.

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