Tape Probe: CIA Workers Get Lawyers

Attorney general Michael Mukasey's decision to launch a full-scale FBI probe into the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes has sent several alarmed agency employees scrambling to find lawyers. To lead the probe, the A.G. named John Durham, a hard-nosed veteran prosecutor who is assembling a team of deputies and FBI agents. Some CIA veterans fear the move is tantamount to unleashing an independent coun sel on Langley. "A lot of people are worried," says one former CIA official, who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. "Whenever you have the bureau running around the building, it's going to turn up some heads. This could turn into a witch hunt." Justice officials say Durham was assigned to investigate the 2005 decision to destroy the tapes—not the activities recorded on them, including the use of waterboarding on Al Qaeda suspects. But at this point, Durham has no formal mandate on the probe's scope, giving him the freedom to ex pand it if he chooses. "We're going to follow this wherever it leads," says one Justice official, who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe.

One key figure, Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA chief of clandestine services who gave the order to destroy the videotapes, has retained Robert Bennett, a renowned defense lawyer who represented Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones lawsuit. Another potential witness, George Tenet, who was CIA director when the tapes were made, will be represented by former FBI general counsel Howard Shapiro. Roy Krieger, a Washington lawyer who has represented about 100 CIA employees, says that two agency officers have approached him about representation, though neither has retained him yet.

For the CIA spooks in volved, cost is a serious issue. Krieger says legal expenses for each employee could reach "hundreds of thousands" of dollars; the CIA will not foot the bill. In anticipation of just such a scenario, however, the agency some years ago began encouraging its employees to purchase special liability-insurance policies from Wright & Co., a Virginia firm that specializes in coverage for government investigators. A Wright spokesman had no response to questions about whether claims have been filed for legal fees in connection with the tapes inquiry. CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano confirmed the agency does not pay its officers' legal bills, but added "only a very, very small subset of agency activities ever become the subject of litigation or investigation."