The CIA shadow on the outskirts of Vilnius

  • 2009-12-09
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - It is possible that Lithuania could be the first country officially confirming the existence of a secret CIA prison for al Qaeda suspects on its territory. Despite the Council of Europe’s suggestions, and indirect proof about the existence of such prisons in Poland and Romania, top officials of those countries were in total denial of the issue. The official conclusion by the Lithuanian parliament’s Committee on National Security and Defense on the issue of the alleged existence of a secret CIA prison is expected on Dec. 22 after on-going hearings in this committee. According to Lithuanian LNK TV, some officers of the Lithuanian State Security Department confirmed the existence of such a prison, though no names were mentioned.

Arvydas Anusauskas, MP of the ruling Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats and chairman of the committee neither approved, nor denied statements made by the LNK.
LNK TV was the first to point out the alleged site of the secret prison - a former horse riding center on the outskirts of Vilnius in the building complex with address Antaviliu Street 11a. This info was followed later by a U.S.-based ABC News TV report on Nov. 18 and The Washington Post report on Nov. 19 about this site.

According to the locals living in the neighborhood of the site who were shown on LNK TV, this former riding center and cafe were reconstructed by English-speaking construction workers into some mysterious and guarded building in 2004. The workers excavated large amounts of soil. It could mean that part of the facility was underground. According to ABC News, the workers installed prefabricated pods to house prisoners. All the electrical outlets in the renovated structure were 110 volts designed for American appliances (European appliances use 220 volts), states ABC News.

According to The Washington Post, the property was bought in March 2004 by Elite LLC, an unincorporated U.S. firm registered in Washington D.C. Records in Lithuania and Washington do not reveal the names of individual officers for Elite but identify its sole shareholder as Star Finance Group and Holdings, Inc., a Panamanian corporation. There is no record of Elite owning other property in Lithuania. The company, which has since had its registration revoked by D.C. authorities, in turn sold the property to the Lithuanian government after a couple of years. Now it is a training center for Lithuanian State Security Department officers.

On Oct. 20, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, speaking at a press conference at her presidential office, said that she has “indirect suspicions” about the existence of the alleged prison. “If this is true, Lithuania has to clean up, accept responsibility, apologize, and promise that it will never happen again,” Grybauskaite said.
The scandal started in August when ABC News TV, citing unnamed ex-CIA officials, claimed Lithuania hosted a prison for “high-value” al Qaeda suspects, from Sept. 2004 through Nov. 2005.

On Nov. 20, the Lithuanian parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense did start hearings on the issue. More than 40 high-ranking Lithuanian officials were invited to the hearings. On Dec. 4, among others, Mecys Laurinkus, current Lithuanian ambassador to Georgia and former head of the State Security Department from 1998-2004, and Alvydas Medalinskas, former adviser to President Rolandas Paksas from 2003-2004, were questioned by the committee in the Lithuanian parliament. During spontaneous briefings in the parliament near the room of the hearing, both men also answered some journalists’ questions about the alleged existence of the CIA prison.
Laurinkus was answering journalists’ questions with a large amount of laughter, and not many words. “Now the committee is answering those questions. I would answer you if there would be no hearings,” Laurinkus said, laughing.

Medalinskas was more talkative. “Only the State Security Department officers could know what was going on. They should be asked about it. It is very important for Lithuania to have a strong trans-Atlantic relation with America. However, during President Valdas Adamkus’ second term in office [July 2004-July 2009], Lithuania obeyed everything that was said from Washington. Taking into account that such prisons were in Poland and Romania, there is a possibility that it was in Lithuania as well,” Medalinksas, former adviser on foreign affairs in President Paksas’ office, told journalists.

Paksas was the highest official in Lithuania from January 6, 2003 to April 6, 2004 when the property on Antaviliu Street 11a was bought by Elite LLC. In April, after a corruption scandal, he was impeached by the parliament, led by Speaker Arturas Paulauskas. The parliament’s move was backed by Laurinkus and his State Security Department. Paulauskas replaced Paksas as interim president until the second victory of Adamkus in the presidential election in June, 2004.
Paulauskas was questioned by the committee on Dec. 7. Paksas is expected to arrive to the hearing from Brussels, where he is a member of the European Parliament.

Gediminas Kirkilas, now Social Democrat MP, member of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense and former defense minister from 2004-2006 and prime minister in 2006-2008, is in a rather ambiguous situation now. He criticized the parliamentary hearings’ idea because it could “worsen Lithuania’s relations with its strategic partner, the United States.” According to LNK, he participated in the official ceremony of the now notorious building on Antaviliu Street 11a, when it was handed by the Americans over to Lithuanians a couple of years ago. Albinas Januska, the former powerful adviser to President Adamkus and Prime Minister Kirkilas, is also expected to be questioned this week.

On Dec. 7, former President Adamkus and Algirdas Brazauskas, prime minister from 2001-2006, were answering the committee members’ questions in the top officials’ residential area of Turniskes, on the outskirts of Vilnius.
On Dec. 7, President Grybauskaite again spoke on the CIA prison issue suggesting that it could be a deal between a few persons in the Lithuanian secret services with the CIA. “Lithuania should not be afraid to estimate its mistake openly. It is important to draw a conclusion. Is it allowed for one or another service to be a state within a state? Is it allowed for two or three persons to make a decision which is above the law and their competence?” Grybauskaite asked rhetorically at her press conference in her presidential office.

She said that she is especially happy about the law, which she signed on Dec. 7. The law makes it a crime to lie to parliamentary commissions and imposes penalties of up to two years in jail for giving false evidence. The media speculates that the committee plans to question Arvydas Pocius, former head of the State Security Department, and Povilas Malakauskas, current head of the State Security Department, for a second time after the law on false evidence is signed. During the press conference of Dec. 7, Grybauskaite said that she especially waits for answers to the committee’s questions to one particular person. She refused to name that person. Grybauskaite said that she will answer in written form to the committee’s questions after that unnamed person attends the hearings at the parliamentary committee investigating the CIA secret prison issue.