The acting CIA director acknowledged Wednesday that the agency committed serious errors in two controversial murder cases involving a paid source within the Guatemalan military, and lawmakers angrily charged that senior agency officials misled and perhaps lied to Congress about the CIA’s role.
Acting CIA director William Studeman told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the CIA failed to provide Congress with information about the alleged involvement of a senior Guatemalan army officer who was on the CIA payroll at the time of the killing of an American citizen and the disappearance and presumed murder of the husband of another American.
Led by committee member Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, and vice chairman Sen. Bob Kerry, D-Neb., several senators charged that the CIA had purposefully misled or lied to the panel to divert attention from the involvement of the CIA source, Guatemalan army Lt. Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez.
The committee is investigating the June 1990 murder of Michael Devine, an American citizen, near his Guatemala ranch by the Guatemalan military, and the 1992 disappearance and apparent murder of a Guatemalan guerrilla, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who was married to an American citizen.
Studeman’s comments were the CIA’s first public statement about the mounting controversy surrounding the killings. Studeman said he doesn’t believe the CIA deliberately lied to Congress, but he said the agency’s inspector general is still investigating.
“I want to acknowledge that we failed to inform the intelligence committees in the House and the Senate about the specific information we acquired,” Studeman said as widows of the two men killed in Guatemala listened quietly.
Cohen and others were dismayed by the apparent failure of the CIA to control its sources in Central America, and its decision not to brief either the House or Senate oversight committees.
“I’ve been through this before, and that was in Iran-Contra,” Cohen complained.
Studeman admitted that the agency did not reveal to Congress information it received about the Devine killing in 1991, and also did not recognize the “potential significance” of information it received in mid-1994 about the death of Bamaca.
Bamaca’s widow, Jennifer Harbury, who conducted a lengthy hunger strike in Guatemala and in Washington to force U.S. officials to acknowledge their failures, believes her husband was captured alive and was tortured by the Guatemalan army.
President Clinton has suspended most remaining U.S. military and intelligence assistance programs for Guatemala since the controversy erupted. But U.S. officials have still not been able to pressure the Guatemalan government to arrest Alpirez, who is still on duty in the army.
Alexander Watson, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, defended the administration’s handling of the cases, arguing that the U.S. Embassy put constant pressure on the Guatemalan government to prosecute members of the army. Watson also said U.S. Ambassador Marilyn McAfee pressed Guatemalan President Ramiro de Leon Carpio as recently as Tuesday night for a full investigation.
But while five enlisted soldiers and a captain were tried and convicted in the Devine case, the captain escaped and Alpirez was never detained. U.S. officials are not certain Alpirez was actually present during the killings, but they are convinced he was involved in a high-level cover-up.
Studeman refused to answer in the public session questions about reports that the CIA paid up to $44,000 to Alpirez several months after the agency had learned of his alleged involvement in the Devine case.