Albion Monitor /News

CIA Whistleblower Says Clinton Won't Confront Agency

by Jim Lobe

CIA refuses to carry out orders from other agencies to hand over certain kinds of information
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is unwilling or unable to control the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to a senior official who was punished for informing Congress about CIA wrongdoing in Guatemala.

Richard Nuccio, who resigned as a senior State Department policy advisor Feb. 25, two months after the CIA suspended his security clearance, said the implications of his case for civilian control of the agency were "scary."

"The vendetta carried out against me for my part in the revelations by then Congressman Robert Torricelli about CIA misconduct in Guatemala is breathtaking in its audacity and alarming in its implications for the role of the CIA in our constitutional democracy," Nuccio told reporters on Feb. 26.

He added that the CIA was even now refusing to carry out orders from other agencies to hand over certain kinds of information, such as documents relating to what the agency knows about repression in Honduras in the 1980s.

The scandal helped lift the shroud of secrecy that characterized CIA ties with military and intelligence organizations
Nuccio said he had given up on his efforts to persuade the White House to overrule or modify the CIA's action against him and would now focus his efforts on gaining support in Congress and possibly in the courts.

Nuccio, a top advisor on Latin America on Clinton's National Security Council who subsequently worked for the State Department, lost his security clearance last December when CIA director John Deutch found that he had improperly informed Torricelli in March 1995, that a long-time paid CIA informant, Guatemalan Col. Roberto Alpirez, had ordered the killings of a U.S. innkeeper and a captured guerrilla commander married to U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury in the early 1990s.

Torricelli went public with the information, blasting the CIA for lying to Congress about what it knew about both cases, and accusing the agency of employing some of the worst human rights abusers in Latin America.

The scandal and subsequent investigations resulted in Deutch firing two former Guatemala CIA station chiefs and disciplining seven other senior officers, some of whom had already retired. The sanctions against the spies were among the strongest in the agency's history.

The scandal also helped lift the shroud of secrecy that characterized CIA ties with military and intelligence organizations during the Cold War. In its wake, for example, new disclosures were made regarding CIA backing for a military intelligence battalion in Honduras accused of abducting, torturing, and "disappearing" suspected dissidents during the 1980s.

But the revelations also made Nuccio himself a marked man.

Nuccio has long claimed he did nothing wrong in informing Torricelli who, as a member of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee at the time, was entitled to the information. Nuccio also insists that he consulted with his State Department superiors before informing Torricelli.

Under a 70-year-old law known as the LaFollette Act, government workers seeking to provide information to Congress "may not be interfered with or denied." The Act is explicitly acknowledged in the standard secrecy agreement signed by Nuccio when he began dealing in sensitive national security matters.

After its own investigation of the matter, the State Department refused to censure Nuccio. But it was overruled by Deutch who relied on a Justice Department opinion that the LaFollette Act was unconstitutional. Despite appeals by influential lawmakers, the New York Times, and human rights groups, the White House refused to get involved and has let the CIA ruling stand.

The case itself is unprecedented, according to Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at the independent National Security Archive. "There are no known examples of a member of the Executive Branch being investigated and punished for sharing information with Congress," said Kornbluh.

Noting that the CIA's investigation was cursory and that the agency did not even bother to interview the State Department supervisor whom he consulted before seeing Torricelli, Nuccio himself compares his ordeal to a "Star Chamber proceedings worthy of a (Franz) Kafka novel."

But Nuccio's fate has much larger implications for civilian control over the CIA and for the ability of officials who learn about CIA misconduct to denounce abuses, according to Nuccio and groups which have rallied behind him.

"Congressional access to information is crucial to preserving democratic accountability, especially of the CIA and covert activities carried out in secret," says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies here.

"The principle espoused by the administration is an extraordinary usurpation of congressional authority, which if allowed to stand, will eviscerate congressional oversight in the area where it is most needed," she added.

The United States, he said, was an "active participant to repression, going back over 40 years"
Stephen Rickard, director of the Washington office of the U.S. section of Amnesty International, says the Nuccio case will make it far less likely that officials who learn about serious rights abuses will come forward with that information. "The message conveyed is that the administration will not protect anyone who confronts the intelligence community's shameful association with torturers and murderers," he said.

Nuccio sees his case as resulting directly from what he called "a mutiny" in the CIA's operations division after Deutch censured the nine officials implicated in the Guatemala scandal. "Deutch felt compelled to act against me," he said.

But the result is that the CIA is now refusing to heed orders from other agencies, like the State Department, to declassify and hand over information "if it feels it may interfere with intelligence collection," says Nuccio.

"No one in the White House is confronting what is really a mutiny," he said, noting that the CIA's position will make it impossible for the administration to comply with public commitments to make available to Honduras' Truth Commission reams of documents about human rights abuses by the military there during the 1980s.

"What are we going to do when we get to Guatemala's (Historical Commission of Clarification)," which is to be established under last year's peace agreement, asked Nuccio. The United States, he said, was an "active participant to repression, going back over 40 years."

As a witness of honor to the Commission, he said, Washington has pledged to turn over relevant documents. "The CIA will say, 'Not on your life,'" Nuccio said.

As for his own future, Nuccio has been hired by Torricelli to study and recommend ways to improve the Congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies.

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Albion Monitor March 2, 1997 (

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