Using the Wi-Fi connection at Starbucks was a better bet than risking putting confidential defence documents on a glitch-prone Pentagon computer network, a senior Defence Department official testified on Thursday at the Guantanamo trial of five prisoners charged with plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks.
The Internet link at the local Starbucks was "the best bad option that we had," Air Force Colonel Karen Mayberry, the chief defence counsel for the war crimes tribunal, told the judge.
Defence lawyers have asked the judge to halt pretrial hearings in the death penalty case of the alleged plotters at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba until the computer system can be fixed to ensure that outsiders cannot access confidential defence documents.
Mayberry ordered her team of lawyers to stop putting sensitive documents on that system in April, citing their ethical obligation to protect confidentiality.
The lawyers have since been using personal computers to email documents from coffee shops and hotel lobbies. Mayberry said it was possible these networks were not secure, but she was certain that the Pentagon network had been compromised.
Mayberry cited evidence that defence files had been lost or altered, prosecutors and defence lawyers were temporarily given access to some of each other's emails, and outside monitors tracked defence researchers' work as they visited terrorism-related sites to prepare for the case.
"It's not speculative or hypothetical. It happened," Mayberry said.
The network security debate has dominated the week-long hearing for the suspects, who could be executed if convicted of conspiring with al Qaeda, hijacking and murdering 2,976 people in the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Prosecutor Ed Ryan has scoffed at the notion that using Starbucks Wi-Fi was safer than using the Pentagon network.
"You're not concerned about the nice man in the green apron looking over the major's shoulder as he's typing these emails?" Ryan had asked Mayberry on Wednesday.