CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (Senate - January 23, 1990)

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Mr. SIMON. Mr. President, in Newsday, David Wise, the author of a book about the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], has an article which admonishes us not to use the CIA for assassinations.

His advice is sound.

I believe my colleagues in the House and Senate would find his article of real interest. I encourage Members and their staffs to read the article.

I ask to insert it into the Record at this point.

The article follows:

From New York Newsday, Oct. 22, 1989


No License To Kill


Early in 1961, the Central Intelligence Agency fed gelatin capsules containing botulinum toxin to a group of monkeys. The monkeys died.

This result, while predictable, pleased the CIA officials who had ordered the laboratory experiment. Because the deadly poison would next be administered, they hoped, to Fidel Castro, Cuba's prime minister.

To that end, the CIA contacted John Rosselli, a dapper Chicago mobster regarded as an expert in the elimination of objectionable persons. At a meeting at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, the capsules and a bundle of cash were delivered by a CIA representative to Rosselli. The mobster was cautioned that the poison would not work in `boiling soups.' Rosselli in turn gave the capsules to a Cuban who worked in a restaurant frequented by Castro, and who was supposed to slip the poison into the Cuban leader's food.

The plot failed--Castro stopped going to the restaurant--as did a number of other CIA schemes to incapacitate or murder Castro, several of which seemed to have been invented by Woody Allen: a plan to impregnate Castro's cigars with something like LSD, in the hope he would smoke one before delivering a speech; another plan to dust his shoes with thallium to cause his beard to fall out, thus ruining his macho image, and an effort to sprinkle his diving suit with a fungus that would produce a hideous chronic skin disease known as Madura foot.

The CIA was involved, directly or indirectly, in plots against seven foreign leaders: Castro, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, President Salvador Allende of Chile, President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, President Francois Duvalier of Haiti and President Sukarno of Indonesia. Four of these leaders died violently, with the CIA's level of complicity and involvement varying widely.

All of this, including the details about the monkeys, the botulinum pills and the mob, is set forth in one of the most remarkable documents ever issued about the U.S. government, `Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders.' The 347-page report was made public in 1975 by the Senate intelligence committee then headed by Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat.

The committee also revealed that the CIA had a unit called Executive Action, which was in charge of planning to bump off foreign leaders, and something called the `Health Alteration Committee,' the purpose of which was exactly what its name stated. It was just such ghastly details--including the CIA's effort to infect Lumumba's toothbrush with a deadly African disease--that led President Gerald Ford to issue an executive order on Feb. 18, 1976, banning assassinations by U.S. agencies.

From that day forward, the United States, on paper at least, has been out of the assassination business. Every subsequent president--Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush--has continued the ban. The Reagan executive order on intelligence, issued in 1981, still stands. It states: `No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.'

That 22-word prohibition, is, of course, at the heart of the debate over the Bush administration's handling of the failed coup in Panama earlier this month against dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Only last week, CIA director William Webster called on Congress and the president to give the intelligence agency greater freedom to deal with coup plotters, even if there is risk--and there usually is--that the target will be murdered. While the United States does not engage in `selective, individual assassination,' Webster said, the CIA's authority to deal with plotters should be more clearly defined.

Stung by congressional criticism that the administration muffed an opportunity to rid the hemisphere of the Panamanian strongman, White House officials have blamed the Senate intelligence committee for interpreting the ban on assassination to mean that the United States could have virtually no contact with coup plotters in Panama.

Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security advisor, went on television in the wake of the coup attempt and excoriated the Senate committee--the permanent successor to the Church panel--for `micromanagement of the executive branch going clear back to the executive order prohibiting assassinations, which was forced by the Congress.'

Behind Scowcroft's complaint was the committee's objection in 1988 to a proposal by the Reagan administration that the CIA support a group of Panamanian officers plotting a coup against Noriega. The senators said the plan might violate the assassination ban. The CIA covert operation was ended, although officials disagree about whether the CIA or the Senate committee caused the plan to be abandoned.

But the political maneuvering and fingerpointing over the Panama coup has raised, in the starkest possible terms, the larger question of whether the United States is prepared to use political assassination as an instrument of foreign policy. Does the ban on assassination mean that the U.S. government cannot encourage, or even talk with, coup plotters? It isn't clear, which makes Webster's call for better guidelines understandable.

The White House, in fact, has supported Webster's position and is reportedly drafting just such new guidelines for American officials in Panama. The new rules are not likely to be restrictive, given Bush's repeated exhortations to Panamanians to overthrow Noriega, who has been indicted on drug-trafficking charges in the United States.

`I'd like to see him out of there,' the president reiterated after the coup attempt.

One difficulty is that the executive order on intelligence does not define `assassination.'

Unlike most laws, executive orders do not always spell out the meaning of the terms used. Although hiring a Mafia hit man to plug Fidel Castro would fairly clearly be prohibited by the president's order, it is much less clear whether a conversation between a CIA officer in Panama and a dissident colonel planning a coup--which might or might not result in the death of its target--would violate the order.

As Gen. Maxwell Taylor put it, after the murder of South Vietnam's Diem in a coup supported by the Kennedy administration, `a coop is not like a tea party.' Once it begins, in other words, people may get killed.

Trying to define assassination, and attempting to spell out what kind of activity by U.S. officials might be permissible without violating the ban, is to set foot on what lawyers call a `slippery slope.' In the coup in Vietnam, Diem was killed, but Johnny Rosselli might argue that it was not a hit directed by the CIA. Except that Rosselli cannot make that point because his body was found wrapped in chains inside a 55-gallon oil drum floating in Biscayne Bay in 1976, not long after he testified to the Church committee.

To an extent, the presidential ban on assassination appears to conflict with, or certainly to restrict, the authority claimed by presidents since Harry Truman to conduct covert operations under the National Security Act of 1947. Although that law, which created the CIA, does not explicitly authorize such operations, it allows the president to order the agency to carry out `other functions and duties.' That loophole has been cited as the legal basis for covert operations that have ranged over the years from the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba to the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages scheme.

As a practical matter, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers talk to opposition leaders around the world. No one would suggest that the president issue a blanket ban on such contacts, although the White House has complained that congressional interference could have that result. Beyond mere talk, however, when the United States encourages coup plotters, or channels money or arms to them, it risks violating the presidential assassination ban.

There was good reason for that ban, as the 1975 revelations of CIA murder plots demonstrated. No one appointed the president of the United States to overthrow the governments in peacetime, much less to assassinate their leaders, as nasty or corrupt as they may be. The government should confine itself to collecting intelligence about potential coups, but it should not instigate them or promise military aid. Aside from all other reasons, and there are many, there is the risk that assassination of a head of state could lead to retaliation against our own leaders. In the absence of a declaration of war by Congress, the Constitution would not seem to provide for hit men operating out of the White House.

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