Police at the University of Washington have opened an investigation into an alleged burglary which occurred in the offices of the school’s Center for Human Rights last week.
Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, a University of Washington professor and the director of the center, claims that a computer and a hard drive were filched in a super-stealthy break-in, reports The Seattle Times.
The computer and the hard drive contain confidential information concerning a freedom-of-information lawsuit the human rights group filed earlier this month against the Central Intelligence Agency.
The break-in occurred at some undetermined time between Thursday and Sunday, Godoy said.
The now-disappeared hard drive held “about 90 percent” of a set of El Salvador-related research which is at the heart of the lawsuit, the professor also claimed.
Godoy admitted that the alleged burglary may have been nothing more than a “common crime.”
However, a press release from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights suggests that clandestine government espionage could be afoot.
The burglary has all the earmarks of professional job against the tiny center (which has a staff of two), the center says. Signs of forced entry are absent. The office was not ransacked. Thus, the center alleges, the bandit (or bandits) must have delicately rooted around the office for the hard drive and computer. Also, the culprit carefully relocked the door upon leaving.
These are “characteristics that do not fit the pattern of an opportunistic campus theft,” a press release obtained by the Times concludes.
The Center for Human Rights also questions the timing of the incident because the group filed its lawsuit against the CIA just weeks ago.
Additionally, the alleged theft happened around the same time that CIA director John O. Brennan was speaking at a law symposium on the University of Washington campus — the perfect time for the CIA to snatch a hard drive when no one would ever suspect it.
The human rights group’s lawsuit asks a federal district court in Seattle to release records relating to an alleged massacre of scores of civilians during the long 1980s-era civil war in El Salvador between the government and communist insurgents. The military commander involved had once attended military training sessions in the United States.
“We believe that the CIA is unlawfully withholding documents regarding a commander of the military operation that resulted in the Santa Cruz massacre, as well as files on a U.S. citizen caught up in the operation,” Godoy explained in a Center for Human Rights press release (also available in Spanish).
Godoy said she has all the data backed up on an external hard drive.
“What worries us most is not what we have lost but what someone else may have gained,” the Center for Human Rights declared. “The files include sensitive details of personal testimonies and pending investigations.”
The Center is concerned that the pilfered information could now imperil the lives of human rights advocates in El Salvador.
Officials with University of Washington warned against connecting the alleged theft to CIA Director Brennan’s campus visit.
“Connecting those dots” might not be prudent but the school is taking the theft “very seriously,” school spokesman Norm Arkans told the Times. He called the incident “suspicious.”
Citing the ongoing investigation, Godoy refused to comment on the alleged burglary.
University of Washington police are also tight-lipped.
“Right now, we just know that we have some missing hardware,” police spokesman Steven Rittereiser told the Seattle newspaper.
Under Executive Order 12333, signed by Ronald Reagan in 1981, the CIA is prohibited from collecting intelligence or spying within the United States.
“Collection within the United States of foreign intelligence not otherwise obtainable shall be undertaken by the FBI or, when significant foreign intelligence is sought, by other authorized agencies of the Intelligence Community, provided that no foreign intelligence collection by such agencies may be undertaken for the purpose of acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons,” the order reads.
According the taxpayer-funded University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights website, Godoy’s interests include Latin America, labor rights, “health as a human right” and environmental justice.