Overseeing the Overseers

September 25, 2007

PATRICK LEAHY, DEMOCRATIC SENATOR from Vermont, ranking member of the Senate In- telligence Oversight Committee, votes against contra aid. In late 1982 or early 1983, he goes on an inspection tour of the Central America CIA stations. He is accom- panied by a military escort officer, a CIA officer whom others in the party refer to as "the eyes and ears of Langley" (the CIA's headquarters in Virginia) and four Senate staffers-one of them, Robert Simmons, is a former CIA officer (more about him later). Leahy de- vises an elaborate cover for the news media "so that the trip into Panama would not be linked to the contra operation." At the safe-house in Tegucigalpa where he is sta- tioned, Ray Doty, chief of the contra operation, briefs Leahy. Doty shows him a map of Nicaragua with a swath the length of the country shaded in, and explains that the contras coming from Honduras and Costa Rica are to meet somewhere in the middle of the swath, cutting the country in two. "This looks like you're plan- ning to overthrow the Sandinistas," says Leahy. No, Doty says, just interdicting arms (the activity authorized by Congress), keeping deliveries from Cuba and the Soviet Union from getting to Managua and thence to El Salvador. "How do you know the contras won't get out of control and overthrow the government?" "We'll work it out," Doty replies. When Leahy arrives in Panama, the station chief says he has been told by covert operations bigwig, Dewey Clarridge, not to tell him anything. The station chief won't let Leahy use secure communications to call Langley. Early the next morning Clarridge shows up at Leahy's hotel and tells him a little bit about the CIA's relationship with Gen. Noriega. Skipping El Salvador- Sen. John Kerry questions a witness at hearings on the contras and drugs REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 22 a"e iafter being told that rightists there are fixing to shoot down a liberal Senator's plane-Leahy flies back to Washington and presents a 15 minute summary to the committee. That spring Leahy lectures CIA Deputy Director John McMahon, saying that the Agency is going to get into trouble with its contra war. McMahon, in turn, browbeats the Senator, saying the reputation of the CIA is on the line, and that the committee needs to help protect the Agency. The contra war will get Congress into trouble too, he insists.' IN 1980, CONGRESS ALTERED THE NATION- al Security Act of 1947 by adding the Intelligence Oversight Amendment. The Amendment created intelli- gence oversight committees in the House and Senate, and required the heads of all intelligence agencies to notify them in advance of significant intelligence activi- ties. It stipulates that such operations must be author- ized by the President. It does not, however, require Congressional approval of these activities. Indeed, the only legal mechanism for Congress to stop such activi- ties is by refusing to authorize funds for them-during the following year's budget cycle! As the account of Sen. Leahy's tri--offered by Bob Woodward in his book on the CIA, Veil-illustrates, be- neath the formality of the 1980 rules, an intricate dy- namic has evolved. Under William Casey's direction, the CIA became adept at evading Congressional curios- ity. It developed methods of evoking an incapacitating love-hate response from its Congressional overseers, who are pledged to secrecy, and therefore cannot fight an operation by taking it to the public. FORMER REP. MICHAEL J. HARRINGTON, the Massachusetts Democrat who 15 years ago ex- posed the CIA's involvement in the overthrow of Salva- dor Allende in Chile, insists that members of Congress continue to believe that "the Russians really are com- ing," and are consequently reluctant to rein in the CIA. The message Congress gives the Agency, says Harring- ton, is: "Do it, but don't let us know too much about it and don't embarrass us." 2 Even though the CIA plays the oversight committees with skill, things sometimes get out of control. Committee members were so angry when they discov- ered that the CIA had mined Nicaragua's harbors in 1983 without their knowledge, they went public. They were similarly incensed when former contra leader Edgar Chamorro revealed how the CIA had taught the contras a series of tricks for lobbying Congress, includ- ing information on the personal lives of targeted legisla- tors. The Agency likes to have its ex-officers on the over- sight committees' staffs. Robert Simmons, who accom- panied Leahy to Central America, served ten years in the Directorate of Operations (DO), the agency's covert action branch. Shortly after Sen. Barry Goldwater ap- pointed him to be the Senate committee's staff director, Simmons worked to deflect an investigation of Casey's finances. Ted Ralston, Leahy's own aide on the committee (later fired for improper handling of classified material) had a close personal relationship with Bobby R. Inman, Casey's first deputy director. Simmons determined that Ralston "had been Inman's spy on the Senate Intelli- gence Committee about committee activities and plans." He termed the relationship merely "careless" and "unseemly." Simmons himself had a regular monthly lunch with DO Deputy Director Clair George. At one such meet- ing, after the flap over the mining of Nicaragua's har- bors, Simmons realized George was treating Congress like the host government in a foreign country, where he had been sent to spy. Simmons told George, "I don't consider you my case officer and I hope you don't think of yourself as my case officer." "No, no, no," George replied. Nonetheless, later, in a conversation with CIA Deputy Director McMahon, Simmons agreed to "tone down the rhetoric" over the mining flap, in the interest of the "trust and confidence" built during the years.' The Agency kept tabs on the Iran-contra committee in a similar manner. Thomas Polgar, Jr., a legislative aide to Sen. Warren Rudman, the New Hampshire Re- publican who was vice chair of the Senate Iran-contra committee, served in the CIA for 30 years; his stints included Saigon and station chief in Mexico City. Cit- ing a need for intelligence expertise, Rudman put Polgar on the committee staff. Polgar apparently reassured Donald Gregg, Vice-President Bush's national security adviser, that the hearings "would not be a repeat of the Pike and Church investigation," referring to the inquir- ies into CIA activities in the 1970s. (Gregg himself was CIA liaison to the Pike committee.) 4 Perhaps it is not so surprising that few members of Congress came to the defense of House Speaker Jim Wright this year, after he disclosed that the CIA had deliberately used the Nicaraguan opposition to provoke that country's government. Nor did Congress get very excited when it was revealed that the FBI had targeted domestic opponents of U.S. foreign policy. Even in the Iran-contra scandal, when it became clear that the CIA and the NSC had played Congress for a fool, the investi- gating committee still took pains to spare the CIA full scrutiny. It was in part to avoid embarrassing the Agency, said Chairman Daniel Inouye, Democratic Senator from Hawaii, that he didn't call Deputy Director Robert Gates to testify in public. Iran-contra committee leaders interviewed by the New York Times said that "one of their main goals" had been to avoid damaging the coun- try's intelligence capacity, especially that of the CIA, and to avoid the "low morale and bureaucratic timidity" which resulted from the investigations of the 1970s.5 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1988 23THE RIGHT AFTER REAGAN HONDURAS ALL OVER AGAIN JUST AS PEACE WAS SETTLING OVER NICARA- gua last spring, as if ordained by some cosmic see- saw, the Reagan Administration began to pay increased attention to the situation in Angola. The familiar signs of intervention appeared. The Angolan government identi- fied six bases in Zaire that the United States was using to train and supply Unita. European diplomats there saw a "tremendous upsurge in American material going to Unita through Zaire," and said this was part of an effort to move the group headed by Jonas Savimbi into Zaire, where the United States could "control them better."' In the months ahead the war in Angola could show that the reciprocity the CIA developed with Israel, South Af- rica and "private" operatives in Central America was not an ad hoc arrangement, but an evolving strategy for avoid- ing interference with its activities: When Congress bars the CIA from a certain war, its allies can slip smoothly into place and the operation goes forward. The CIA main- tains contact with its proxies, if not with its former clients, so that as soon as the coast is clear it can slip back in again. That strategy has already been put into play in Africa as well as in Central America, drawing the two theaters of operations together. It was first evident in a series of meetings between South Africa, Israel, Unita and the CIA beginning in 1983, one of which resulted in the signing of an agreement, presumably to cooperate against Angola at a time when the CIA was still restricted by the Clark Amendment. 2 In June 1985, columnist Robert Novak told the South African press that at a meeting of right-wing guerrilla groups from several continents, Unita's Jonas Savimbi announced he would send "advisers" to the con- tras. 3 Then, in early 1987, after the Secord-Hakim Enter- prise was grounded, it was reported that at least 15 South African pilots and cargo handlers were operating contra resupply flights from CIA facilities in Honduras, and us- ing intelligence provided by the CIA. 4 Next came the airlifts on St. Lucia Airlines. During the frenetic contra resupply period. of 1986 the flights went from Bradley Field in Connecticut to Panama, Honduras or St. Lucia, and then on to Johannesburg or Windhoek, Namibia, via Ascension Island or Cape Verde. Headquar- tered in Frankfurt and registered to the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia, the airline is believed to be a CIA proprie- tary. Government officials in St. Lucia said that in 1986 the airline had made at least half a dozen flights with arms for Unita which landed to refuel at St. Lucia. They traced the path of one flight from St. Lucia to Miami to Cape Verde. When asked about an April 17, 1986 flight from Kelly Air Force Base in Texas, base officials said the airline was under contract to the United States and its operations were classified. 5 Although it was legal for the CIA to supply Unita at the time, flights carrying arms to Johannesburg would be in violation of the arms embargo against the white regime. JOHANurM O" SOUTH AICA Suspected contra and Unita supply flight paths The stops in Panama and Honduras suggest a logistical connection between the Central America and southern Africa operations. N OW, WHEN IT LOOKS AS THOUGH SOUTH Africa might have to abandon Namibia-through which it supplies Unita-the CIA is setting up its alternate supply system in Zaire. For over a year St. Lucia cargo flights full of U.S. weapons have been landing at Kamina, the old Belgian air base in Shaba province, adjacent to Angola. In a pattern reminiscent of the contra.airlift from Ilopango Air Base in El Salvador, a C-130 flies the weap- ons to Unita positions in Angola. 6 It seems like Honduras all over again. Israel, which in 1982 began training a 5,000-man Zairian unit in Shaba province that was to be stationed along the border with Angola, 7 is well-positioned to take over advising Unita should the U.S. public ever force Congress to halt aid, as it did in 1975 and more recently with the contras. As one of the major right-wing guerrilla armies still in the field, Unita is almost certain to attract the covert action funds Saudi Arabia continues to wish to bestow upon Washington. In addition to whatever Saudi funds he may be receiving, Jonas Savimbi gets $75 mil- lion annually in South African aid.' And though "the Enterprise" has been put out of business, the fronts run by retired military and intelligence officers that competed to sell arms to the contras are still open for business to supply Unita. mJH REPORT ON THE AMERICASWHEN IT CAME TO DEALING WITH THE Administration's foreign allies in the Iran-con- tra affair, Congress found itself equally tied up in knots. "Every time the intelligence committees asked about something in Central America, they [the NSC and CIA] would just tell them: 'you don't want to hear about it- Israel's hands are all over it,"' recollected a member of an intelligence service who participated in the Iran- contra activities. 6 Due to the constant blandishments of the pro-Israel lobby and the absence of any countervail- ing voices, members of Congress have become as fear- ful of being called hard on Israel as being called soft on communism. To fully open the Saudi issue would have raised a host of questions about Congress's commitment to Is- rael. Even opening the question of Saudi aid to Unita at a time when the CIA was barred from providing such assistance seemed to make people uncomfortable. In June 1987, while the Iran-contra hearings were in prog- ress, Rep. Howard Wolpe met with Rep. Lee Hamilton, Chair of the House Iran-contra committee, to discuss the possibility of hearing testimony on the involvement of the Saudi royal family in the Administration's clan- destine activities. Twelve days after the meeting Hamil- ton informed Wolpe that "it has been determined that...[such testimony] is not needed during the second phase of the Committee's work."' Why the Iran-contra investigators were so delicate about South Africa's role is harder to fathom. Commit- tee member Rep. Louis Stokes asked Robert McFarlane if after the second Boland Amendment was passed, prohibiting CIA actions against Nicaragua, a request had been made to South Africa to assist the contras. When McFarlane answered "No," Stokes promptly dropped the matter. Later in the hearings, Secretary of State Shultz's protestations that the State Department had killed efforts to seek South African aid were not challenged. UST AS THE DISCUSSION WAS DEFICIENT, so were the remedies offered. In December 1987- with Administration backers fighting tooth and claw against it-the House voted 215-200 to forbid the White House from using foreign aid as a lever to extort money from allies to support the contras. Democrats argued that this would prevent the Administration from "hiring other parliamentarians, kings and fiefs to run our for- eign policy."' The measure died in the Senate. This failure to express a clear rejection of foreign participation in unsanctioned interventions made the conclusion of the Iran-contra committee all the more unrealistic. In its final report, the committee accepted that covert operations are "a necessary component of our nation's foreign policy," and argued that "covert operations are compatible with democratic government if they are conducted in an accountable manner and in accordance with law." House Speaker Jim Wright: No one jumped to his defense The committee also concluded that such actions must either be funded by Congress or Congress must be informed of the source of financing, and that: Congress must have the will to exercise over- sight over covert operations. The intelligence committees are the surrogates for the public on covert action operations. They must monitor the intelligence agencies with that responsibility in mind.' The problem is that Congress had already abdicated that responsibility. The CIA read the message from Congress loud and clear: Don't embarrass us! In December 1987 William H. Webster, the new director of central intelligence, an- nounced that he had taken action. Two officers were dismissed: Joe FemAndez, who had been station chief in Costa Rica under the name of Tomis Castillo, and the chief of base in Honduras, a paramilitary specialist named Jim Atkins.'o Dewey Clarridge was demoted from his position at the head of the "counter-terrorism" unit. Alan Fiers, chief of the Central America Task Force, and Charles Allen, a national intelligence officer, were reprimanded. They would not be eligible for a bonus or a promotion for two years. Several lower level agents were also reportedly in line for reprimands." The behavior for which the five CIA men were disci- plined was, with minor variations, not testifying fully and honestly to Congress. They were not disciplined for the activities about which they lied, which not only involved law-breaking, but also the taking of the law into their own hands and the taking of many lives. What Jim Atkins did in Honduras is not known. In addition, Webster said he had laid down new rules on CIA testimony to Congress, on untainted analysis SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1988 0 C a, I 25THE RIGHT AFTER REAGAN and regular review of covert actions. Webster told an interviewer that he hoped his "corrections" would help the CIA regain its momentum. "This agency had it, but was in danger of losing it because of the Iran-contra affair." Webster also said that he was working to rebuild public and Congressional trust in the Agency-and to head off moves in Congress to set up an independent Inspector General, opposed by the CIA for "security" reasons." 2 Sen. David Boren, who chairs the Senate intelligence committee and served on the Iran-contra committee, voiced Congress's reactions. He said Web- ster's actions "send a strong signal that the leadership of the CIA is firmly committed to the rule of law.""' I NTHE DOUBLE MAN, A SPY NOVEL WRIT- ten about the Senate intelligence committee by Sen. William Cohen and former Sen. Gary Hart, the CIA director contemptuously describes the book's hero, a liberal senator on the Committee, as always expounding on the need to safeguard the privacy and liberties of the American people. He worked relentlessly to prevent the Agency's car- rying out its covert activities, especially those aimed at destabilizing unfriendly regimes.4 For opposing Agency assassination programs, the novel's CIA director thought the President, was just like all the moralists up on Capitol Hill....Why couldn't they see the equation in its complete perspective? The death of one man could save hundreds, maybe hundreds of thou- sands of lives....Was it any more unconscion- able to spend thirty or forty billion dollars on a Rapid Deployment Force to ship soldiers off to...the jungles of Central America...? 5 No longer a CIA "proprietary," but still in business "SOUTHERN AIR TRANSPORT INO THRU TRAFFIC" , I- U The director pays one of the committee's staffers to report to him. The liberal hero is told by the committee chair, "there is nothing you say on the phone that goes...unnoticed."'6 The hero's ex-father-in-law is a secret but big-time drug pusher. The FBI has no doubt that Fouchette is being protected by the Agency. Here's a guy who may have been running people for the CIA in the sixties-when the Agency definitely was tied to the mob. Now maybe he's being patriotic again, running people into Nicaragua for them. And so he gets protection for his business, whatever that might be." And the hero's own staff aide, a former intelligence officer, "wanted to see the United States regain a repu- tation for reliability with governments throughout the world...but without Congressional oversight, intelli- gence could become a dark, closed, violent circle, where arrogance would inevitably lead to abuse.""' Despite the travails of his fictional characters, for- mer Sen. Gary Hart, who served on the Church Com- mittee which wrote the oversight legislation, claims there have been "fewer abuses" since the oversight process was established. "Ninety percent of covert op- erations," he said in an interview, "include such things as getting books published in Third World countries, helping journalists print the truth." Moreover, the "CIA got out of bounds when they felt they were under pres- sure" from the president or the State Department. The notion that the CIA was operating outside its mandate in the Iran-contra affair, Hart said, was "overly dramatic." CIA Director Casey was simply responding to the wishes of the President.' 9 Surprising as the contrast is between The Double Man and its author's support of the current system for regulating covert foreign policy, Sen. Hart is hardly unique. The Iran-contra committee made it plain that the punishment-institutional and personal-attached to secrecy is minimal. Why should the CIA and other intelligence agencies not take this as a signal to step up their undisclosed activities? The Iran-contra committee endorsed the conclusion of the Church Committee that "covert actions should be consistent with publicly de- fined United States foreign policy goals." But when has the CIA's covert arm, the Directorate of Operations, been able to boast of its democratic or humanitarian achievements? Moreover, under the new order of battle developed during the Reagan years, even when the CIA is hauled back from its tentative missteps, the denizens of the international Right rush in to carry out their own version of U.S. policy. Unless the CIA's covert capacity is abolished and right-wing governments and organiza- tions are given a loud signal that the party is over, all future wars begun as foreign policy errors will continue after those errors are corrected. Overseeing the Overseers 1. Account from Bob Woodward, Veil (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), pp. 229-237. 2. Author's interview with Rep. Harrington, Oct. 25, 1988. 3. Woodward, Veil, pp. 170, 196-200, 327, 334. 4. Leslie Cockburn, Out of Conterol, (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987), pp. 239-240. 5. Stephen Engelberg, "Aides Say Inquiry Hurt U.S. Spying," New York Times, Aug. 9. 1987. 6. Author's sources. 7. Letter reproduced in U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Possible Violation or Circum- vention o the Clark Amendment, July 1, 1987 (Document 80-011), p. 5. 8. Remark by Rep. Sam Gejdenson during debate on HR 3100, U.S. House of Representatives, CongressionalRecord, Dec. 9, 1987, p. H 11071. 9. U.S. Congress, Congressional Committees Investigatintg the Iran-Con- tra Affair, 100th Congress, 1st Session, Nov. 1987, pp. 383-384. 10I. Atkins is named in Stephen Engelberg, "Iran-Contra Aside, Webster Asks for Trust," New York Times (News of the Week in Review), Jan. 3, 1988. I1. Stephen Engelberg, "5 Dismissed or Disciplined by Webster," New York Times, Dec. 18, 1987. 12. Engelberg, "Iran-Contra Aside." 13. Engelberg, "5 Dismissed." 14. William S. Cohen and Gary Hart, The Double Man, (New York: Avon, 1985), p. 18. 15. Ibid., p. 122. 16. Ibid., p. 134. 17. Ibid., p. 167. 18, Ibid., p. 187. 19. Author's interview with Sen. Gary Hart, Oct. 27, 1988.

Tags: US politics, CIA, Iran-Contra

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