CIA action in Georgia had Clinton OK Agent Woodruff slain by bullet

August 10, 1993|By Newsday

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton secretly approved a CIA operation in the republic of Georgia, where a U.S. aide was killed Sunday. The clandestine U.S. program was designed to support vTC an embattled Eduard Shevardnadze's civil war struggle in the former Soviet state, according to administration sources.

The operation, including the deployment in Georgia of U.S. Army Special Forces as security advisers this spring, was confirmed in the aftermath of the assassination of an American described as a U.S. Embassy officer from Moscow detached to Mr. Shevardnadze June 3.

Killed by a single shot was Fred Woodruff, 45, of Herndon, Va., who had been scheduled to return home in a few days, U.S. officials said.

Senior administration officials told the New York Times Mr. Woodruff was a CIA agent.

While details were sketchy, U.S. and Georgian officials in Tbilisi said Mr. Woodruff was riding in a car driven by Eldar Gugusladze, the Georgian leader's chief bodyguard, who was uninjured. According to State Department spokesman Mike McCurry, Mr. Woodruff was on an unofficial, personal tour to a specific but unidentified town, 15 miles outside Tbilisi.

[A jet arrived today in Tblisi from Moscow to take Mr. Woodruff's body home to the United States, said Mr. Shevardnadze's press office.]

Mr. Shevardnadze said criminals or mobsters were probably to blame. "There are Mafioso structures and criminal elements, which are very active," Mr. Shevardnadze said in his weekly radio address. He called the killing a "murder" and said he was "deeply distressed."

Interior Ministry spokesman Valerian Gogolashvili speculated that the motive could have been auto theft. But Mr. McCurry said it was not yet known whether Mr. Woodruff was the target of the attack. "I think that's one of the things that they are looking at very deliberately at the moment," he said.

Administration officials said Mr. Shevardnadze and his bodyguard, Mr. Gugusladze, had been working with CIA officials to combat what was viewed as a series of assassination plots against the Georgian leader by Abkhazian separatists.

U.S. government sources familiar with intelligence from the region said several members of the vaunted Delta anti-terrorist team from the Fort Bragg, N.C., Special Forces center were deployed to Georgia to assist Mr. Shevardnadze, who was Soviet foreign minister during the term of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The deployment of Special Forces to Georgia was first reported last month by the Washington Times and denied by the Pentagon.

But yesterday, senior government officials confirmed that Mr. Clinton approved the CIA operation -- the first in the former Soviet Union that has been acknowledged -- which included use of the Russian-speaking Special Forces, in the spring. According to one senior defense official, former President Bush had supported the idea of the CIA effort but never officially approved it.

"Clinton provided the finding," said a U.S. official, referring to the presidential authority required for such clandestine operations. At the White House, Don Steinberg, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said, "We do not comment on such findings, whether they are secret or public."

Mr. Clinton also is considering a new initiative with Georgia and other former Soviet states in which both the United States and the United Nations would seek to mediate ethnic disputes that threaten civil war, according to officials.

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