Latin American Report
White House Feuding with CIA Over Guatemala Killings
By Tim Shorrock
WASHINGTON, Jun 14 (IPS) - The administration of President Bill Clinton is feuding with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) over its alleged defiance of U.S. attempts to bring peace to Guatemala, says former US State Department official Richard Nuccio.
Nuccio, the man who exposed the CIA's covert support for Guatemalan death squads, said last week that tension between the White House and the CIA also had complicated US and United Nations attempts to identify war criminals in Yugoslavia. He said the argument had resulted in the string of unprecedented ''leaks'' of highly classified intelligence documents that were printed recently in right-wing publications here that were opposed to Clinton's foreign policy toward China and Russia.
Nuccio is now a visiting scholar at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He spoke about ''the uses and abuses of intelligence'' at a conference on U.S. defense strategy, sponsored by the New America Foundation of Washington, D.C., and the Japan Policy Research Institute of San Diego.
A CIA spokeswoman refused to speculate about the origin of the leaked intelligence documents and said the CIA's Office of Inspector General had previously concluded that the agency ''performed its mission in Guatemala in accord with legitimate intelligence requirements set by the U.S. government.''
Not so, said Nuccio in his talk here. In 1997, the former college professor was forced to leave his position as senior adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs after exposing links between the CIA and Guatemalan paramilitary groups responsible for numerous atrocities during Guatemala's long civil war. Nuccio made his discovery while he was trying to broker a peace agreement between the Guatemalan government and a leftist resistance movement.
''The CIA systematically defied U.S. policy to end Guatemala's civil war by refusing to end its ties with torturers in the Guatemalan intelligence service,'' he said. Yet the Clinton administration refused to confront the agency - a failure of nerve that ''flows from the weak control of the White House over the CIA and is based on the Democrats' vulnerability to intelligence criticism.''
According to Nuccio, Clinton's senior advisers openly admitted their vulnerability to criticism on security issues when they refused to overrule a 1997 CIA decision to revoke Nuccio's high-level security clearance. ''I was told: 'you're being screwed, but what can we do? This is the CIA','' recalled Nuccio. ''That's something you would hear only from Democrats. A Republican administration would never put up with public dissent from the CIA.'' As a result of Clinton's reluctance to take on the CIA, Nuccio said, the agency had become even more brazen in its opposition to official policy.
In 1996, the State Department asked the CIA for help in identifying war criminals in Bosnia but, according to Nuccio, the CIA refused to go along because that would ''undermine its ability to recruit'' agents and other sources of information. That policy could come back to haunt the United States if a new government in Serbia discovered that the CIA has placed war criminals on its payroll, he said.
The most obvious example of CIA defiance, Nuccio said, was the recently published book 'Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security.' Written by Bill Gertz, national security correspondent of the conservative Washington Times newspaper, the book uses leaked intelligence reports to argue that President Clinton's ''naive'' strategies of ''appeasement'' with China and Russia have compromised U.S. interests and left the United States ''weaker militarily as its enemies grow stronger and the world becomes more dangerous.''
What was striking about Betrayal, Nuccio said, was Gertz' access to highly classified documents from the last three years, including records of electronic surveillance that were among the most closely held secrets of the intelligence community. While leaks to the press were common in the nation's capital, ''the leaks to the Washington Times are unprecedented in the level of intelligence,'' he said. ''I would go to jail if I discussed the contents of those kinds of documents with you.''
The leaks are also unusual because they flow directly from the intelligence community and are ''pointed at attacking specific White House policies,'' said Nuccio. ''The intelligence community is not supposed to have policies. The CIA was created to develop analysis for policy-makers,'' he declared.
The CIA spokeswoman denied that agency officials were selectively leaking material to discredit the Clinton administration. ''It's very unfortunate that someone is providing to Gertz classified documents,'' she said. ''That is very damaging because it has revealed our sources and methods.'' She noted that the leaked materials were not exclusively CIA documents but included classified data from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency as well. ''If we knew where these were being leaked from, we would prevent that individual from leaking any further.''
Nuccio became a public figure in 1995 when he discovered the identities of the CIA ''assets'' in Guatemala who had been involved in the murders of Michael Devine, an American innkeeper, and Efriam Bamaca, a Guatemalan resistance leader who was marriedto a US citizen, Jennifer Harbury. When the CIA refused to provide the names of her husband's killers to Harbury (who had launched a hunger strike in protest) Nuccio provided the information to Democratic Rep. (now Senator) Robert Torricelli, of New Jersey. Torricelli subsequently leaked the information to The New York Times. The media uproar forced the CIA to conduct an internal investigation of its role in Guatemala, which led to the firing of two former CIA station chiefs and official reprimands against seven other CIA officials. The revelations deeply angered the CIA, which stripped Nuccio of his security clearance. The State Department restored Nuccio's clearance, but that decision was overruled by the CIA. Nuccio appealed to the White House, and CIA Director John Deutsche appointed a panel that included Clinton attorney John Podesta to hear Nuccio's case. Nuccio recently filed a lawsuit to force the panel to restore his security clearance but, when his attorneys filed a request with the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act for records of the White House panel, they were told that the request would have to wait for other FOIA searches.
The CIA is notorious among government agencies for dragging its feet on declassifying information and recently ''discovered'' that its files on the agency's role in Iran had been destroyed.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News