American's death blamed on Guatemala CIA agent

March 23, 1995|By Tim Weiner | Tim Weiner,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A Guatemalan military officer who ordered the killings of an American citizen and a guerrilla leader married to an American lawyer was a paid agent of the CIA, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence said yesterday.

The intelligence agency knew about the killings ordered by the Guatemalan colonel on its payroll, but concealed its knowledge for years, the committee member, Democratic Rep. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey said in a letter he sent to President Clinton yesterday.

Moreover, the State Department and the National Security Council learned the facts months ago but did not tell the guerrilla's widow, Jennifer Harbury, who has been petitioning the White House to disclose her husband's fate, the letter said.

A member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which has been briefed on the two killings, confirmed the gist of Mr. Torricelli's statement.

"The direct involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in the murder of these individuals leads me to the extraordinary conclusion that the agency is simply out of control and that it contains what can only be called a criminal element," the letter to the president said.

A CIA spokesman said the agency had no comment.

In an interview, Mr. Torricelli said, "There were no U.S. security concerns in Guatemala that justified a CIA presence there, much less the murder of citizens, including our own."

He added, "This is the single worst example of the intelligence community being beyond civilian control and operating against our national interest."

The congressman said Ms. Harbury, a Harvard Law School graduate, wept when he told her that her husband, a leftist guerrilla named Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, had been killed while a prisoner of the Guatemalan military in 1992. She had undertaken hunger strikes in front of the presidential palace in Guatemala City last fall and last week across the street from the White House to try to learn the truth about his disappearance.

Ms. Harbury, born in Baltimore 43 years ago, said last night, "They say, 'The truth shall make you free,' " citing the inscription from the Gospel of John engraved on the wall of the CIA headquarters' lobby.

"And now I feel free," she said. "At least I know my husband is free of torture, and I am free of the nightmare that he's suffering somewhere.

"I was told nothing except lies for 2 1/2 years. There is no way out of this for the Guatemalan army and the State Department and the CIA. They've been caught, for once and for all."

Mr. Torricelli identified Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez as the Guatemalan military intelligence officer who was behind the killings of Mr. Bamaca and Michael DeVine, an American who ran a hotel in Guatemala and who was murdered in 1990.

The military and intelligence services in Guatemala have been fighting and killing leftist guerrillas and civilians in the Central American nation for most of the last 30 years in what human rights groups have described as one of the most violent campaigns of political repression in the Western Hemisphere. An estimated 140,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

In 1990, "at the time of the Michael Devine murder, Colonel Alpirez was a contract employee of the CIA," Mr. Torricelli said in an interview. He still had a relationship with the CIA at the time of the death of Mr. Bamaca in 1992, although it is unclear if he was still a paid agent at the time, the congressman said.

"The CIA had direct information about the deaths of both individuals at the time of the murders and there has never been any question about what occurred," he said. "That information was contained in U.S. government cables and extensive internal memorandums. There was never any doubt about who was responsible."

The case of Mr. Devine, the congressmen said, raises the question of whether the CIA had been "withholding material evidence regarding the murder of an American citizen."

Mr. Devine's widow, Carol, lives without a telephone in a village in the Guatemalan rain forest. Efforts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Her husband was kidnapped, bound and nearly decapitated by Guatemalan soldiers. In 1991, the United States stopped its military aid to Guatemala, ostensibly as a consequence of the Devine case.

In 1993, a Guatemalan army captain, Hugo Contreras, was sentenced to 20 years in the case, but he escaped from custody.

The account of the case of the CIA agent disclosed by Mr. Torricelli had been under investigation for months by staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate and House intelligence committees. Mr. Torricelli said he had learned the facts not from an intelligence committee briefing but through other means.

Two senior administration officials said last night that they had received "new reporting" on the case from the CIA in January, after Ms. Harbury's hunger strike in Guatemala City. The new information, they said, revealed the role of the one-time CIA agent, Colonel Alpirez.

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