The Spy Who Cracked Up in the Cold

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On Saturdays, inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution Ashland get a meatball sub for lunch, a major weekly treat for the approximately 12,000 prisoners locked up in the two-story brick low-security prison near the border of Ohio and West Virginia. Among the prison population, ironically, are both Warren and Rafiq Sabir, a doctor linked to Al Qaeda who is serving 25 years on terrorism charges. After spending time in solitary upon arrival, Warren now resides in Cell Block D, dressed in a tan jumpsuit like every other inmate.

In January, I went to Ashland to interview Warren. We had been e-mailing for almost six months, and I had explained to him that I didn't think his story had been fully told and that it sounded like he'd had a fascinating Zelig-like career, witnessing or participating in historical events, from enhanced interrogation and 9/11 to Iraq and Afghanistan. I wondered, "Could he have actually been set up?" Or was the simplest answer the most likely, that he was a sex criminal? His defenders, like an Algerian official who worked at the embassy, insisted "the Algerian chief did this to him." Dozens of his friends testified to his character and remain in complete disbelief that he could have committed the crimes he was accused of. At least I wanted to ask him these questions and how he felt about them.

To start the correspondence, I wrote Warren a letter, asking for permission to be added to his Bureau of Prisons e-mail contact list, through a system called Corr-Links. He gave me his approval, and we sent half a dozen e-mails to each other. I sent him copies of my books and articles; he mentioned that he reads Rolling Stone, including a recent piece on solitary confinement. He told me about the challenges he faced in solitary, of the "roaches and rats" he claims he saw while in the hole: "Solitary confinement…was not a good experience," he wrote. "It was not because of any punitive reason but because they did not know what to do with me because of my skill set…. I was locked down for 23 hours a day, which was a challenge for someone with PTSD."

Warren's e-mails generally displayed the intelligence his friends consistently mentioned. Then, like a good case officer working a source, he started to mirror my language, beginning his e-mails with the same salutations I used. "Dear Mr. Warren," I wrote him. "I hope this letter finds you well." "Dear Michael," he wrote back, "I hope this email finds you well." He referred circumspectly to months spent in Iraq before 2003 and "sensitive issues" he wasn't at liberty to discuss yet, apparently fearful of more CIA retribution and disclosing classified information. I got the strong sense he felt betrayed by the government.

In December, his sister confirmed he'd sit down for an interview at the beginning of the new year. He e-mailed me he'd been working on his own memoir: "I continue to write parts of my story – Kuwait, Afghanistan, working with the FBI/ NYPD in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Iraq, Egypt, Algiers and a myriad of other places," he wrote. "My fall has been the greatest teaching experience of my life, and I want to give you the flavor of where I have traveled, both mentally and spiritually. I am not the same individual who was arrested on 26 April 2010."

In early January, I headed to Ashland as we had arranged. I was halfway there when he sent me a panicked e-mail, canceling the visit. Before all this, Warren told me he'd just lost an appeal – his secret hope had been to do the interview once he was out of prison. He also said that any publicity would put his life at risk. "I did not want to have a story written while I was still incarcerated because of the safety factor," he wrote me. "Being incarcerated with individuals who are convicted of terrorism crimes as well as some here who have no love of former government officials or those associated with the government would put me in a potentially volatile and dangerous situation."

I suggested we see each other in person to discuss the story. Me and my colleague Matt Farwell were allowed into the prison, escorted through three security doors and given a neon-yellow stamp on our hands. We were not allowed to bring anything but a pen and paper. Then we waited in the visiting room for Warren to come out. He didn't. I was surprised – he'd e-mailed me that he had reservations about discussing sensitive material in the visitors' room, but I had expected after months of e-mailing he'd at least meet me in person. I asked the guard how often prisoners refused visitors. "It's the second time I can remember it in over 20 years," the guard said. Later that day, a lawyer claiming to represent Warren and his family telephoned me. "Cease and desist," he told me. "You will not be getting a statement from Andrew Warren." The former CIA spy has 22 months left on his sentence.

This story is from the March 28th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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