NEWLY released findings of a bipartisan congressional inquiry
into the United States government's probe of illegally financed
Iraqi arms deals may have raised more questions than it answered.
Faulting the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice
Department for a mishandled investigation into the so-called Banco
Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) affair, the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence found "breakdowns in the relationship between
intelligence agencies and law enforcement, combined with serious
errors in judgment by government officials...."
BNL is the Italian bank whose Atlanta-based branch forwarded $4
billion in fraudulent loans that helped oil Iraq's war machine from
1984 to 1989.
In its 163-page report issued on Friday, the committee unearthed
"no direct documentary or testimonial evidence which showed that
officials intended to mislead the public or the court." But the
report offers disturbing proof that the CIA, acting on advice from
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, failed to share with the
Justice Department documents that could embarrass the federal
government or hurt its prosecution of BNL's Atlanta branch manager,
who faces US charges of masterminding the scheme.
One example of what was withheld was a December 1990
intelligence report, cited publicly for the first time by the
committee's report, that alleged "US, Italian, and Iraqi officials
had engaged in unlawful conduct in connection with the BNL-Atlanta
This and other claims of calculated wrongdoing were rebuffed by
CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who also released a report on
the BNL investigation on Friday.
He said that though "mistakes were clearly made by agency
officials," they were due to "carelessness and a number of
instances of poor judgment."
In December, then-Attorney General William Barr, who accepted
the recommendation of a special BNL investigator he appointed,
rebuked efforts to have an independent counsel pursue charges of
government obstruction of justice and coverup.
Mr. Barr's appointed special investigator, retired federal Judge
Frederick Lacey, called the Justice Department's action in the BNL
case "almost perfect" and attacked those alleging wrongdoing for
trying to undermine President Bush during an election year.
Dissenting members of the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence, as well as those who signed onto the committee's
report, say that what was unveiled needs further exploration, in
addition to many other elements that were not even covered by the
A committee member, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio,
complained that the report "did not cover the role of the Commerce,
Agriculture, Defense, and State Departments' possible wrongdoing."
Committee member Sen. …