CIA Postpones Release of Papers

By John Diamond
Associated Press Writer
Friday, July 17, 1998; 3:02 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The release of classified CIA files on covert operations in Italy, France, Tibet and elsewhere will have to wait, the agency says. Higher priorities such as release of files on the Kennedy assassination will come first.

The decision by CIA Director George Tenet, reached in late May but made public this week, appears to step back from a commitment made by two of his predecessors to make the release of files on covert operations from the 1950s and '60s an agency priority.

Material on the Bay of Pigs mission in Cuba and CIA activities in Guatemala will be released soon, to supplement material already made public on those operations. Papers on operations in North Korea during the Korean War, and in the Congo, Laos and Dominican Republic during the 1960s will be made public soon thereafter.

But declassification of CIA documents about five other covert actions, in Indonesia, Tibet, France, Italy and Iran, has been postponed until sometime after papers on the other operations are released.

``The fact is, we do not have sufficient resources to review the documentation involved in these five remaining operations at the current time,'' Tenet said.

Other issues, such as the safety of CIA sources and present-day relations with allies and other countries, weighed in the decision, Tenet said. That was a possible reference to concerns about what might be revealed in papers on operations in France and Italy, and how Beijing might react to the details of operations in Tibet.

``We must take care not to violate the confidence of any foreign government who chooses to work with us,'' Tenet said. ``A mistake on our part can put a life in danger or jeopardize a bilateral relationship integral to our security.''

Top CIA declassification priorities include release of records relating to the assassination of President Kennedy, documents used in the State Department's ``Foreign Relations of the United States'' series, freedom-of-information requests, POW-MIA issues from Vietnam and previous wars, Gulf War illness, and Nazi gold. Most of this work is being done under legislative mandate. The CIA has a staff of 350 working on these projects.

In addition, the CIA is required to review between 40 million and 60 million pages of classified material under a 1995 executive order that requires declassification by the year 2000 of records 25 years old and older. The agency considers the 90 million pages in its files on covert actions to be exempt from this order.

John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists rejected the cost argument.

``The notion that they don't have enough money just doesn't wash,'' said Pike, whose Washington-based group follows intelligence issues. ``There's always money to do things they want to do.'' Pike said the real concern appears to be the substance of the documents. ``Politically, there's a lot of stuff there they'd just as soon let sleeping dogs lie,'' he said.

The commitment to declassify documents on covert actions was initiated in the early- and mid-1990s by then-Directors Robert Gates and James Woolsey.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press