WASHINGTON -- A team of FBI counter-terrorism agents has been deployed to a Marine camp in southern Afghanistan to find out what John Walker Lindh knows about Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, its ongoing operations and its plans for future attacks against the United States, government officials said Wednesday.
FBI agents also hope to use whatever information they glean from the 20-year-old American Talib to build a criminal case against him, the officials said.
"They'll want to get from him details of associates, plans, methods of operations," said one FBI official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"All the same protocols will apply (as in a domestic FBI interview)," the official said. "You interview the guy, Miranda-ize him. (You) find out how he came to work with the Taliban, al-Qaida, who the players are, their positions, their specific roles. You treat it like a criminal case. Like a Mafia case -- who reports to who. I wouldn't be surprised if they show him photos."
The Justice Department could consider making a deal with Lindh, perhaps offering leniency if he provides "hard" and valuable information, officials said. They cautioned, however, that many decisions have not yet been made, such as whether Lindh could be charged with treason and where and when he may be tried. U.S. authorities have said he will not face a military tribunal because he is a U.S. citizen.
FBI agents are expected to investigate exactly how Lindh came to be involved with the Taliban, including whether he fought alongside them against U.S. forces and whether he participated in the late November prison uprising of Taliban soldiers in which CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed. Lindh was found among Taliban captives at the prison before that revolt begun.
When Lindh was captured, he was said to be bearing a Taliban-issue AK-47 assault rifle, according to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The Marines are holding Lindh at Camp Rhino, in the Afghan desert about 70 miles south of Kandahar. He is being detained in a converted green shipping container just outside the walls of the compound, with barbed wire and armed Marines on the perimeter. By Wednesday evening, FBI agents were said to have landed and begun preparations for debriefing him.
Lindh has been classified as a "battlefield detainee" pending a determination of what charges he may face. He has already been questioned by the CIA, and possibly by an FBI agent stationed near Afghanistan as a legal attache, as a prelude to the more prolonged interrogation.
Both Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz have said that Lindh is being cooperative and providing information.
But no matter what Lindh may have already told questioners, the FBI needs to conduct its own investigation, because CIA intelligence information rarely, if ever, is permissible in a U.S. criminal trial, FBI officials said.
"They are an intelligence agency, and we are a criminal agency," said one FBI official. "We have to develop our information separately."
Lindh has reportedly said that al-Qaida is planning an attack on the United States using biological weapons before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this weekend.
On Wednesday, U.S. officials said he was likely passing on rumors heard in the Taliban trenches.
"It is hard to imagine how (he) could be in possession of such specific information or knowledge," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, though he added that the government "does have concerns, and that's why alerts have been made."
At some point, the FBI agents are expected to investigate a broader array of counter-terrorism issues in Afghanistan, including al-Qaida's influence on the Taliban, its operations and its role in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, officials said.
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