MIAMI -- The U.S. government obtained a crucial piece of evidence for its terror conspiracy case against Jose Padilla from a mound of documents dropped off at a secret CIA location in Kandahar, Afghanistan, by a tribal leader's driver, a covert agent testified yesterday.
The CIA operative - who identified himself under oath as Tom Langston - did not identify the tribal leader, the truck driver or the area where the material was seized. The driver, Langston said, told him it had come from an office used by Islamic militants before they fled shortly before the U.S. invasion in December 2001.
The document in question is Padilla's alleged application to undergo al-Qaida training, which prosecutors hope will link the 36-year-old former Chicago gang member and two co-defendants to the Islamic network headed by Osama bin Laden.
In cross-examining the CIA agent, defense attorney Orlando do Campo raised numerous questions about the document's validity and the chain of custody.
Langston - who was allowed to testify in disguise and under an alias - told the court that he had operated out of Pakistan and Afghanistan in late 2001, "collecting intelligence in support of military operations there."
About the second week of December, days after Taliban leaders abandoned Kandahar, the tribal leader's driver showed up, the bed of his Toyota pickup heaped with documents and supplies cleaned out of an office that had been "vacated by Arabs," the agent said.
Langston said that athough he spoke neither Pashtu nor Arabic, he recognized that a blue, loose-leaf binder full of Arabic forms was significant.
The agent said he leafed through the documents as he hauled them from the pickup to a padlocked storage room. He later packed the material into 22 boxes and footlockers, and delivered it to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
At the Islamabad embassy, FBI legal attache Jennifer Keenan testified, she had a few documents translated before sending the documents to FBI headquarters on Dec. 23, 2001.
Counterterrorism investigators did not link the application document to Padilla, a U.S. citizen, until months later.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke had ruled that the CIA agent could protect his identity by testifying in "light disguise."
Asked how he was able to identify the application forms - part of what he had described as a "haphazard" pile in the truck bed - as having intelligence value, Langston hesitated. "I'm a little uncomfortable answering the question because it gets into methods. I'm sworn to protect sources and methods," he said.
Attorneys for Padilla and suspected co-conspirators Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi indicated in opening arguments Monday that they would challenge the reliability of the application form on technical and security grounds.
Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.