CIA says no bars to recruitment of people with unsavory backgrounds for spy work

Monday, September 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Contrary to the assertions of some lawmakers, there are no barriers to CIA recruitment of people, including those with unsavory reputations, who are needed to infiltrate terrorist groups, the CIA said Monday.

Spokesman Bill Harlow commented in response to repeated calls in recent days for an easing of perceived recruiting constraints so the CIA can collect information on those responsible for last week's terrorist hijackings and attacks.

``The CIA has never turned down a field request to recruit an asset in a terrorist organization,'' Harlow said. ``Furthermore, the CIA does not avoid contact with individuals, regardless of their past, who may have information about terrorist activities.''

Another official, asking not to be identified, said the guidelines simply require field officers to obtain approval from headquarters before establishing a relationship with an individual who had engaged in human rights abuses or other disreputable activity.

The official added that there seems to be a misunderstanding about whether the guidelines hamstring CIA recruiting efforts.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last week, ``We are not going to find the kinds of spies we need in monasteries.''

Sen. Richard Shelby. R-Ala., suggested Sunday that the agency needs unsavory characters in its ranks if it is to make headway.

``Are they people you wouldn't want to invite to your home? Absolutely,'' Shelby said. ``But we have to deal with these people to get at the bottom of a lot of information we want like terrorist cells.''

The CIA recruiting practices made headlines in the mid-1990s following allegations that several CIA agents in Guatemala ordered, planned or took part in human rights abuses, including assassination, since 1984.

The most publicized cases involved the killings in Guatemala of an American innkeeper, Michael Devine, in 1990, and of a Guatemalan guerrilla leader, Efrain Bamaca, who was married to an American lawyer. Bamaca was killed in 1992.

In 1996, the Intelligence Oversight Board, a presidential panel, found the allegations against CIA personnel in Guatemala to be credible.

Then-CIA Director John Deutch took a number of actions, including the dismissal of the chief of the Latin American Division of the CIA's Directorate of Operations.

In addition, a former CIA station chief in Guatemala was asked to retire.