September 19, 2013

Guantánamo tech chief says computer system safe enough for 9/11 trial

The head of computer systems on the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo says the network is secure enough to protect the defendants’ attorney-client privilege.

The man in charge of the war court computers system on this base testified Thursday that despite a series of file disappearances, the Pentagon’s computer system is safe enough to protect alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s attorney-client privilege in the death-penalty trial.

“The inherent capabilities of the network, and by the defined way in which you deal with the network, there’s always those file permissions, to protect information from other sources,” said Scott Parr, the Guantánamo-based branch chief for military commissions information technology.

Defense lawyers want the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, to freeze pretrial proceedings in the five-man death-penalty case until the Pentagon buys them an independent email system and server following episodes of lost files and email incursions they say violate confidentiality in trial preparation.

The men, delivered to Guantánamo by the CIA in 2006, are to face a complex conspiracy trial in a special soundproofed tribunal chamber to protect against spills of national security information.

“Whether it’s, in this case, defense, prosecution, or whatever the situation may be, there’s always those file permissions in place to ensure security,” said Parr, who is not a lawyer but an IT specialist. “And security can be to a certain degree attorney-client privilege, because they sort of provide so you can’t see it, it’s just not open to everybody.”

Parr said somehow headquarters failed to back up Office of Military Commissions data files — both defense and prosecution as well as the management teams — between late December and March. But a Pentagon technical team later found a backup tape at the military commissions Washington, D.C., headquarters made on the eve of successive cataclysmic mirror failures in December and January and had restored lost files to the prosecution.

One issue is whether Pohl will pause the hearings long enough for the chief defense counsel, Air Force Col. Karen Mayberry, to choose one of two proposed Pentagon systems that would wall off the work of the 150 staff in her office — including the legal defense teams for six Guantánamo captives facing death-penalty trials.

Operations chief Wendy Kelly said one fix would take 65 days once chosen and funded, another would take 111 days.

Judge Pohl cut her short when she offered to say how much each fix was projected to cost, and noted that a new budget year starts Oct. 1. It is currently not funded and awaiting a continuing resolution from Congress. Kelly said, however, the work might be covered by a current war court information technology contract.

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