WASHINGTON — The CIA has stopped using contractors to interrogate prisoners and fired private security guards at the CIA's now-shuttered secret overseas prisons, agency Director Leon Panetta said Thursday.
Panetta told agency employees in an e-mail message that the guards will be replaced with CIA officers at the sites, which President Barack Obama ordered closed on his second day in office.
Terminating the private security guards who watched over the secret sites would save the agency $4 million, Panetta said. The CIA refused to provide details about the contract, including its total value and the company or companies that were fired.
The secret prisons are now empty, Panetta said, and the agency has not taken any new prisoners since he became director in February.
The CIA is now preparing plans for the prisons to be permanently shut down. An intelligence official said the facilities have to be cleaned of any potentially sensitive materials before they can be closed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the process of shutting down the secret sites.
The CIA, however, still has the authority to hold and interrogate prisoners for short periods. Panetta said they will be interrogated by agency employees, not private contractors, and then quickly handed over to the U.S. military, or to their home countries or countries that have legal claims on them.
Between 2002 and 2006, the CIA held and interrogated fewer than 100 prisoners, former CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress last year. It used harsh interrogation methods on about a third of them. Three prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.
Hayden also confirmed to Congress that private contractors had been used to conduct interrogations, especially in the months immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when the CIA did not have interrogators of its own.
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee in January that the CIA would only use its own cadre of trained interrogators to conduct interrogations.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has been pushing for the formal abandonment of using contractors in interrogations.
Both the White House and Congress have launched reviews of the Bush-era CIA detention program to determine their its authority and exactly what occurred. The reviews are ongoing.