Not far from the administrative offices of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA built eight small houses that were named as the Marriott because of the amenities offered. Those amenities were significantly superior to the ones imposed on the cells of the common prisoners.
With hundreds of prisoners arriving at the naval base in Cuba-USA, the CIA designed a program to turn prisoners into double agents. These prisoners were some of the most dangerous terrorists of Al Qaeda, who were baptized as Penny Lane.
The plan, executed between 2003 and 2006 – was designed to infiltrate these prisoners in terrorist cells that operated in their respective countries. The double agents would then become informants of the U.S. government, as retired and active officials have reported.
The plan was not without risk, high risk, as there was always the possibility that once released in their countries, these men betrayed the CIA and conspired against America. That was the case in many occasions.
The program was created during the years of George W. Bush in the White House and also posed the danger that these agents decided to give another twist to their status and become triple agents, passing false information to CIA Headquarters in Langley. This also took place, with informants providing erroneous information which ended up in massive homicidal drone attacks on civilians in Yemen and Afghanistan.
There are no exact figures on the total number of prisoners who were recruited for Operation Penny Lane, at least not publicly. However, it is estimated that only a dozen were considered and a small fraction of that number ended up working for the CIA. At the largest peak of occupancy, Guantanamo was home to 779 prisoners. Today there are 166 men locked up in that facility.
The eight small houses that made part of Penny Lane were hidden behind a small hill and were out of sight due to the high density of weeds and cactus. Penny Lane was the counterpart of another Guantanamo secret facility known as Strawberry Fields, another song from the legendary British band, ‘where “high value” prisoners were kept never to see the light of day until further notice.
Those who were in the program had an existence that can be considered privileged in the Guantanamo gulag. Those conditions included simple things such as having a bed, something lacking regular prisoners. The bungalows had private kitchens, showers, their own TV and a small patio. According to AP reports, some prisoners requested and received pornographic material.
Although the number of double agents recruited was very small, the program attracted the attention of President Bush, who met with a young man who had returned from Afghanistan, where they usually met with CIA agents. Barack Obama also had knowledge of the CIA plan, although in his case it was after taking office in 2009. The organization of drone attacks based on flawed information coming from the double agents kept on going despite the fact the result was usually the murder of innocent people.
The infiltration of Al Qaeda has been one of the goals to which most effort has been devoted by the CIA. Candidates who joined the ranks of Penny Lane, a compound still visible through satellite photos, had to have legitimate ties to terrorism and to be of value to the CIA. The man had to be able to restore those links with the terrorist network.
The U.S. government had such hopes on Penny Lane that a former intelligence official recalled discussing releasing secrets even of a couple of Pakistanis in the United States on student visas or as entrepreneurs, in a supposed attempt to establish links with Al Qaeda. Another former senior intelligence official said that such a release never happened, according to AP.
The prisoners agreed to be captured by the CIA for different reasons, but among them were promised security and financial comfort for their families. The CIA paid millions of dollars to these agents through a bank account dubbed as Pledge.
Despite the costly investment, it is unknown whether these double agents provided information of value to the U.S. or whether the espionage resulted in the capture of members of Al Qaeda. Over time, some agents, simply stopped passing information and disappeared from radar.
Officials interviewed recognize that Al Qaeda was always aware that such a program existed, so they were suspicious of those who returned to their ranks with the credentials of having been at Guantanamo.
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute. Read more about Luis.