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CIA agents insure against torture lawsuits

Francis Harris / London Telegraph | September 12 2006

Worried CIA agents are taking out torture insurance as fears grow that they will be targeted by alleged terrorists and their victims in American courts.

The £160-a-year policies will provide the spies with about £106,000 in legal costs and about £530,000 towards awards made by the courts if they are sued and lose.

The policies cover suits lodged for torture, human rights abuse and professional failings in the lead-up to the September 11 atrocities.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield told The Washington Post: "It's fair to say that more employees have chosen to get this insurance, including those who work in counter-terrorism."

CIA lawyers have advised staff to take out policies offered by a firm linked to the Special Agents Mutual Benefit Association, a financial services firm established by former FBI officials.

The agency has reimbursed premiums for some officers.

In the event of legal action, agents would normally be provided with government-funded legal cover, but many worry that in cases of alleged severe wrongdoing that assistance could be withdrawn.

The dash for insurance was described as a "barometer of uncertainty".

The spy agency said that its employees were not the only government officials taking out the policies.

But they are likely to be the first targets in the courts, largely because the CIA has led the global war on terror.

Fear of legal action has risen in tandem with the belief that Democrats are likely to take control of one or both houses of Congress in November's midterm elections.

There have been numerous suggestions that the Democrats will use the fearsome investigative powers of congressional committees to hold hearings on President George W Bush's conduct of the anti-terrorist struggle.

"People are worried about a pendulum swing," one retired spy told the Post.

Mr Bush last week proposed that Congress pass legislation protecting officials including CIA officers from prosecution for prisoner abuse and deny terrorist suspects alleging maltreatment access to American courts.

But it is far from clear that the Bill will get through Congress before November.

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