The agent who fell to earth

THE contra proxy war now under way in Central America, with all its tragic consequences and loss of life, is sounding more and more like a bad spy novel. But this tale needs a closer reading by the American people and the United States Congress. A privately owned C-123 cargo plane with apparent Central Intelligence Agency links is shot down inside Nicaragua. An American, Eugene Hasenfus, is captured -- and says his flight was under the supervision of that very same CIA. President Reagan, who compares Mr. Hasenfus to volunteers in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fighting Franco in the Spanish Civil War, says Hasenfus is merely a private citizen aiding Central American freedom fighters. Meantime, an aide to Vice-President George Bush, who was once director of central intelligence, is reported to have been linked to supply missions aiding the contras.

Lawmakers calling for a full congressional inquiry into the C-123 incident -- and the many other flights that apparently preceded that ill-fated mission -- are on target. If the operation was a CIA mission, it could hardly have been said to have been well directed. Fingerprints appear to be all over the woodwork. More than that, a number of US laws may have been broken.

If, on the other hand, the C-123 mission was merely a mercenary operation independent of the US government, as Mr. Reagan maintains, the question must still be asked: Should the American government be condoning private acts of war?

Coming in the wake of the purported disinformation campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi -- as well as national-security adviser John Poindexter's continued defense of the use of disinformation -- it is harder and harder to accept at face value denials from Washington of a government link to the C-123-Hasenfus incident.

Congress, which has yet to make final the new $100 million in aid for the contras, should follow through with a full inquiry into this latest tale of intrigue, and tragedy, coming out of Central America.

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