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Government Knew of Informer's Role in Slaying of U.S. Citizen

By R. Jeffrey Smith and John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

The U.S. government obtained information in October 1991 linking a paid CIA informer in the Guatemalan military to the slaying of a U.S. citizen there, but did not seek his prosecution inside Guatemala for the crime, U.S. intelligence sources said Thursday.

The CIA also failed to inform its congressional overseers until this year of its informer's alleged involvement in the slaying, a circumstance that provoked criticism Thursday from the Republican chairman and senior Democrat of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The officer accused of the slaying, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, was dropped from the CIA's payroll within months after his role became known to the agency but remained a clandestine CIA contact through July 1992. That was when he allegedly ordered another killing, the execution of a guerrilla fighter married to a U.S. citizen, the intelligence sources said.

The administration became convinced in January that Alpirez had links to the second slaying, and protested to Guatemala the following month, the sources said. Washington did so after an exhaustive intelligence-community probe of the two deaths that was sparked by Clinton administration embarrassment over a hunger strike by the U.S. wife of the guerrilla fighter, the sources said.

In a secret Feb. 3 cable, Secretary of State Warren Christopher ordered the U.S. ambassador in Guatemala to tell President Ramiro de Leon Carpio that "we believe that Alpirez as well as other officers" in military intelligence participated in the interrogation of guerrilla fighter Efrain Bamaca Velasquez "and may have first-hand information about Bamaca's fate."

But administration officials were struggling to explain Thursday why the State Department never passed along to the fighter's wife, Jennifer Harbury, what it knew about Alpirez's links to the killing or to the CIA. Instead, the CIA told only a few lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month after first swearing them to secrecy.

The CIA informer's link to the killings became public Wednesday night after Rep. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., accused the administration of deliberately misleading the public.

The revelation fits a pattern in which the CIA had on its payroll military and intelligence officers from Central American nations who were later implicated in killings, torture and other human-rights abuses. The CIA has previously said it merely paid for information from such persons and was not responsible for the abuses. But critics have accused the agency of promoting or tolerating brutal tactics as part of anti-leftist counterinsurgency programs.

Harbury has accused the administration of withholding the information about her husband to avoid embarrassment over the CIA connection. "They simply didn't want me to know because the person who ordered my husband's execution was a CIA agent," she said Thursday at a mobbed news conference on the Capitol lawn.

Harbury said she was ending her latest hunger strike after 12 days now that she was sure her husband was dead. She had been fasting, for the second time, to protest what she described as the U.S. government's failure to assist her adequately in finding out about her husband.