A third European country has been identified to ABC News as providing the CIA with facilities for a secret prison for high-value al Qaeda suspects: Lithuania, the former Soviet state.
Former CIA officials directly involved or briefed on the highly classified program tell ABC News that Lithuanian officials provided the CIA with a building on the outskirts of Vilnius, the country's capital, where as many as eight suspects were held for more than a year, until late 2005 when they were moved because of public disclosures about the program. Flight logs viewed by ABC News confirm that CIA planes made repeated flights into Lithuania during that period.
The CIA told ABC News that reporting the location of the now-closed prison was "irresponsible."
"The CIA does not publicly discuss where facilities associated with its past detention program may or may not have been located," said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. "We simply do not comment on those types of claims, which have appeared in the press from time to time over the years. The dangers of airing such allegations are plain. These kinds of assertions could, at least potentially, expose millions of people to direct threat. That is irresponsible."
Former CIA officials tell ABC News that the prison in Lithuania was one of eight facilities the CIA set-up after 9/11 to detain and interrogate top al Qaeda operatives captured around the world. Thailand, Romania, Poland, Morocco, and Afghanistan have previously been identified as countries that housed secret prisons for the CIA.
According to a former intelligence official involved in the program, the former Soviet Bloc country agreed to host a prison because it wanted better relations with the U.S. Asked whether the Bush administration or the CIA offered incentives in return for allowing the prison, the official said, "We didn't have to." The official said, "They were happy to have our ear."
Through their embassy in Washington, the Lithuanian government denied hosting a secret CIA facility.
"The Lithuanian Government denies all rumors and interpretations about alleged secret prison that supposedly functioned on Lithuanian soil and possibly was used by [CIA]," said Tomas Gulbinas, an embassy spokesman.
According to two top government officials at the time, revelations about the existence of prisons in Eastern Europe in late 2005 by the Washington Post and ABC News led the CIA to close its facilities in Lithuania and Romania and move the al Qaeda prisoners out of Europe. The so-called High Value Detainees (HVD) were moved into "war zone" facilities, according to one of the former CIA officials, meaning they were moved to Iraq and Afghanistan. Within nine months, President Bush announced the existence of the program and ordered the transfer of 14 of the detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al Shihb and Abu Zubaydah, to Guantanamo, where they remain in CIA custody.