CIA's Misadventures: To Blow the Whistle Or Keep the Secret

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It can be argued that the CIA can't work if its activities can be exposed by self-appointed whistle-blowers violating regulations.

It can also be argued that democracy can't work if the CIA can shield its misdeeds from exposure. Let me stipulate that a journalist may not be completely disinterested on this issue.

In the case of Richard Nuccio the basic facts are undisputed. As an official of the State Department's Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, he had advised members of Congress in 1993 that the CIA had no connection with the murder in Guatemala of an American, Michael DeVine, and a Guatemalan guerrilla commander, Efran Bmaca, married to an American.

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When Mr. Nuccio discovered that a Guatemalan colonel on the CIA's payroll might have been responsible for the murders, he took it upon himself to inform Rep. Robert Torricelli (D) of New Jersey, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who then took it upon himself to go public with the information.

Such whistle-blowing has happened before. In 1971, Rep. Michael Harrington learned, from secret files of the Armed Services Committee, of the CIA's involvement in the toppling of President Salvador Allende of Chile, and he was instrumental in exposing it. In 1975 a leak, presumably from Congress, exposed a CIA covert operation in Angola, which was then aborted. A leak from a CIA inspector-general's report exposed illegal CIA surveillance of antiwar dissidents in this country. And thanks to a leak, I was able to expose the CIA's instigation and later abandonment of a Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

IN each case somebody violated regulations. In each case the CIA - under presidential instruction - was doing something it shouldn't have done. Without exposure there probably would have been no remedial action.

If power corrupts, then nothing is more corrupting than power exercised in secret. Former CIA Director Richard Helms has said that he felt as though he had "a marshal's baton in my knapsack" when he left the Oval Office in 1970 with President Nixon's instructions to get rid of Mr. Allende. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying that a country should not be allowed to go communist "because of the stupidity of its people."

William Colby, the late former CIA director, once told me that some of the agency's misadventures - assassination plots and drug experiments on unsuspecting American subjects - would not have been possible had secrecy not overcome a sense of reality.

In the case of Mr. Nuccio, he told Mr. Torricelli something the congressman (now senator) was entitled to know, but Nuccio was not the designated person to tell him. It was an act of conscience and a violation of regulations. The CIA has had Nuccio's security clearance suspended while an outside committee considers his fate.

So the issue now is whether it is worse to violate a regulation or to stay buttoned up about an alleged murderer on the public payroll.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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