AS President Clinton and Congress weigh their next moves in trying to help bring Haiti's political wildfire under control, one step needed is to open hearings on the Central Intelligence Agency's information-gathering efforts in the country.
Recent reports indicate that from the mid-1980s at least through 1991, the CIA bought information from several top Haitian military and political officials who now are blocking President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return. The agency also wanted to channel money covertly to candidates running for president of Haiti in 1987-88 who were critical of Aristide. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence refused to authorize the plan. These reports follow recent congressional testimony from the CIA's top Latin America analyst, Brian Latell, who described President Aristide as unstable and having a history of mental problems.
Aristide supporters have reacted with outrage. They contend that reports of CIA efforts prove that the agency's primary sources of information were Aristide's enemies. That charge may be premature, but for the sake of the integrity of US policy, it should be tested.
Washington needs timely, accurate data about other countries to inform US foreign policy. To learn that the CIA paid informants at top levels of the Haitian government - at the moment loaded with anti-Aristide forces - is not surprising, especially given the political turmoil. In addition, as reported in this newspaper yesterday, evidence is growing almost geometrically that Haiti's military rulers are involved up to their bandoliers in drug trafficking, a legitimate subject for US intelligence efforts.
Nor would it be surprising, however, if the CIA was infused with the Reagan/ Bush suspicion of Aristide and the liberation theology that drives his politics. The relevant issue is whether this suspicion still clouds the CIA's lens.
The deadline for Aristide's return to Port-au-Prince has passed without his arrival. Right-wing elements there are calling on Aristide, Prime Minister Robert Malval, and UN negotiator Dante Caputo to resign. International sanctions have been tightened. And 650 US Marines sit aboard ship off Haiti in the event they need to evacuate or protect US personnel.
The public, Haitian democrats, and policymakers who are trying to support democratic rule in Haiti need to be confident of the quality and balance of the information the president and Congress are getting.