Sunday, October 17, 2021

CIA removes controversial operations chief amid concussion allegations

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The chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s operations in Russia and Ukraine was sent to Vienna for undisclosed reasons this week, the agency said Friday.

The departure of Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Silva comes amid criticism of his handling of unexplained illnesses that many former and current CIA employees and contractors say have left them in debilitating physical and mental pain.

Silva was reassigned in October amid allegations of safety concerns. But a CIA inspector general’s report released Friday raises new concerns, according to two people familiar with the report who spoke on condition of anonymity. The CIA said the changes in Silva’s responsibilities were “taken at the direction of the CIA’s management.”

“The disruption caused by this news regarding the redeployment of Gen. Silva has obviously had an impact on the professional functioning of CIA Russia and Ukraine staff and on the operations at CIA-led training centers,” the agency said in a statement.

Silva has “extensive experience abroad with operational and security services,” according to a CIA profile. He served a range of assignments around the world, most recently in the agency’s National Clandestine Service, which oversees intelligence collection and operations.

Silva’s move is expected to put extra strain on the N.C.S. personnel in Moscow and Kiev. The agency remains short of some key positions there.

The CIA has declined to specify Silva’s specific role at the agency.

The nation’s spy agency had to be rescued from the crippling fear of a terror attack in 2011, when one of its female employees left a damning file about the CIA’s clandestine operatives in Moscow, according to the 2011 book “The Reluctant Spy.” And five years ago, Silva was central to a high-profile effort to transfer elite U.S. troops into Ukraine during the fraught and soon-to-be-rebuffed revolt against Russia’s corrupt government.

In October, a group of more than 200 former and current CIA employees and contractors filed a lawsuit against the agency claiming that they have been subjected to debilitating physical and mental pain as a result of their work with the agency.

Several of the plaintiffs stated in their suit that they believed Silva or another CIA official was behind the inexplicable paralysis and ailments that they describe. The suit cites a 2015 article that asserted Silva was responsible for ordering the transfer of undercover U.S. operatives from Ukraine to Moldova, a move that a CNN investigation found occurred to reduce the risk of U.S. agents being kidnapped in Ukraine. Silva has denied the allegations.

The lawsuit contends that members of the legal team retained by the plaintiffs used pseudonyms and covert pseudonyms to communicate with the accused spies — documents and devices, such as cell phones, were stolen, but intelligence was often gleaned, according to the suit.

The CIA has previously acknowledged that some CIA employees suffer from symptoms similar to those described in the lawsuit.

Two of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit are retired CIA officers. A retired chief financial officer for the agency said in the suit that he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after leaving the agency. A former money manager for the agency said he suffered hearing damage from a water gun fight when he took a tour of the CIA’s training center in Ukraine. A former procurement specialist says he feels less than 100% after doctors found a blood clot next to his optic nerve. A former Spanish-language translator for the agency said she had “lost all capacity to talk.”

The plaintiffs allege that they haven’t received medical treatment for their symptoms, nor that the agency has provided any further detail regarding the ailments or provenance of the illnesses.

The CIA declined to comment on the specific accusations in the lawsuit, and said its employee handbook and ethics code prohibits employees from discussing concerns over medical treatment with one another.

By Barbara Starr, CNN. Copyright 2019, CNN. All rights reserved.

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