CIA chief calls Honduras a lesson in what not to do

September 13, 1995|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- CIA Director John M. Deutch said yesterday that the current review of abuses committed by a CIA-trained Honduran military battalion would provide lessons for the agency on "how not to do things" in the future.

Responding to a question after a speech to the National Press Club, Mr. Deutch predicted that the internal probe would yield "new information" but did not say whether it had uncovered wrongdoing by Central Intelligence Agency officials.

Mr. Deutch ordered the agency in mid-June to review the history of its relationship with the Honduran military during the 1980s. His order followed the publication of a series of articles in The Sun detailing how the CIA equipped and trained a secret Honduran military unit known as Battalion 316 that engaged in torture and execution of Honduran citizens.

A high-level CIA official, Christine Williams, was put in charge of the review. Ms. Williams had previously chaired the National Intelligence Council, which produces reports and analyses for the director based on information developed by U.S. intelligence agencies.

"We do have an independent group looking at what happened in Honduras in the mid-'80s," Mr. Deutch said. "I expect that we will learn lessons from that, lessons about how to not do things while I'm director and in the future. I do also believe that there will be new information produced by that independent review."

Mr. Deutch's comments that the internal review would yield new information suggested that Ms. Williams' investigation has already gone beyond the findings of the agency's inspector general. The inspector general looked into the CIA's relationship with the Honduran military in 1988 and found no wrongdoing by CIA officials.

A CIA spokesman, Mark Mansfield, declined to elaborate. He said the review should be completed this fall.

In the four-part series, The Sun reported that the CIA and State Department worked with Battalion 316 even though U.S. officials knew of its abuses.

The Sun reported that in order to keep up public support for the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America, U.S. officials deliberately misled Congress and the public about the Honduran military's activities.

In addition to actions in Washington since the articles appeared, the Honduran government has filed indictments against 10 present and former military officers implicated in specific cases of brutality and murder in the 1980s. A Honduran judge taking further evidence in the cases must ultimately decide if the officers will be arrested and brought to trial.

While the CIA is looking into activities in Honduras in the 1980s, Mr. Deutch said, "We cannot spend all of our energy and all of our time looking to the past. We have to also consider those things which are necessary to assure that we're going to have a responsible and effective intelligence community in the future."

In addition to the explosive spy case involving Aldrich H. Ames, a CIA operative who sold highly sensitive U.S. secrets to the Soviets for years, the agency has also been rocked by the disclosure of its past connection to Guatemalan military officials accused in the deaths of an American and of a Guatemalan guerrilla who was the husband of Jennifer Harbury, an American lawyer.

In a speech elaborating on his plans to reshape and improve intelligence production, Mr. Deutch insisted that the CIA had no choice but to rely from time to time on unsavory characters.

This is particularly true, he said, in trying to gather information on international terrorists and narcotics peddlers.

But he said he had instructed the CIA to assess the value of all its foreign intelligence sources to determine whether the information they provide is worth putting up with their criminal activities or violations of human rights.

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