CIA Denies Involvement in Deaths in Guatemala Agency Misled Congress, Senators on Panel Say

Article excerpt

As the widows of two men killed in Guatemala listened Wednesday, acting CIA Director William O. Studeman denied complicity by the agency in the deaths. But key Senate Intelligence Committee members accused the CIA of misleading Congress.

Studeman also denied reports that the CIA had increased funding for its clandestine programs in Guatemala to make up for President George Bush's cutoff of military assistance at the end of 1990.

In the first detailed response to criticism of CIA ties to the Guatemalan army, Studeman acknowledged that the CIA had:

Failed to give Congress information that it had in the fall of 1991 about the death of Michael Devine, an innkeeper from Belleville, Ill., who had lived in Guatemala for many years.

Not recognized the "potential significance" of information received in mid-1994 about the death of Efrain Velasquez Bamaca, a rebel leader.

Recalled its station chief in Guatemala in January after a key report was delayed for six days - "a management lapse," Studeman said.

President Bill Clinton said at a news conference Wednesday that there were still "open questions" on whether CIA actions in Guatemala were appropriate and whether the White House and Congress were kept properly informed.

Clinton said he would "get to the bottom of it" through a series of investigations that he has ordered.

Studeman did not specifically discuss the agency's relationship with Lt. Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, purportedly a paid CIA informant implicated in the deaths of Devine and Bamaca. Those questions, said to deal with classified material, were left for a private session with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But Studeman told the committee in public that the CIA was diligent in providing other U.S. government agencies information it obtained about Alpirez' alleged involvement in the deaths of Devine in June 1990 and Bamaca around March 1992.

Studeman and Assistant Secretary of State Alexander Watson both said the administration believed that Alpirez was at least involved in a cover-up of Devine's death at the hands of the Guatemalan army and was believed to know about or to be involved in Bamaca's death.

"The CIA is not complicit in the murder of Mr. Devine, nor in the apparent killing of Mr. Bamaca," Studeman said. The CIA asked the Justice Department in November 1991 if Alpirez could be prosecuted in the killing of Devine and in March 1992 received a ruling from the department that no U. …