C.I.A. Police Training

By Bird, Kai; Holland, Max | The Nation, June 7, 1986 | Go to article overview

C.I.A. Police Training


Bird, Kai, Holland, Max, The Nation


C.I.A. Police Training

In 1970, Senator Tom Harkin, then a Congressional aide, achieved momentary fame for coming his way into South Vietnam's infamous political prison at Con Son Island, known for its "tiger cages." His photographs of tortured Vietnamese detainees appeared in Life and called attention to a little-known program run by the Agency for International Development and the C.I.A.: the Office of Public Safety (O.P.S.), which trained foreign police officers. The South Vietnamese officers running the tiger cages were alumni of this program. Harkin was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, and that same year Senator James Abourezk sponsored a law that abolished the O.P.S.

By that time 10,700 young foreign police and military officers had taken O.P.S. courses in preparation for careers in their home countries. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, we have obtained a list of the names of every officer who participated in the program in the United States, including those who were sent to the International Police Services school (I.P.S.), which the C.I.A. ran in Washington.

Last January, under the guise of "antiterrorism," Congress authorized the Administration to spend more than $4 million for police training in El Salvador. This month it will consider a measure to lift all restrictions on funding of foreign police training and to provide $21 million for that purpose in Central America. Before doing so, Congress should consider how many of the Central American officers that this country trained in the 1960s and 1970s subsequently became involved in death squad activities.

According to the Pike committee report, published by the Hosue Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976, the I.P.S. was used to evaluate "foreign cadets for pro-U.S. orientation, which might later enable C.I.A. to recruit them as intelligence assets." The course work included riot control, fingerprinting, surveillance and interrogation. Presumably as part of their study of terrorism, some students even learned how to make homemade bombs. (For a more detailed description of the O.P.S. program, see A.J. Langguth's definitive book, Hidden Terrors, and a forthcoming report from the Washington Office on Latin America.)

In 1969, Lieut. Col. Roberto Mauricio Staben left El Salvador to take a three-month course at the international Police Services school. What did Staben do with this training? In 1980 he was arrested and charged with plotting a right-wing coup with Col. Roberto D'Aubuisson, another graduate of the O.P.S. Papers found in Staben's possession inplicated both men in the March 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Subsequently he became executive officer of a cavalry unit that The Washington Post's Christopher Dickey reported was "responsible for patrolling--if not contributing to--the famous death squad dumping ground at El Playon a few miles from its headquarters."

More recently Staben was arrested by the Salvadoran government in a highly publicized crackdown on a kidnapping ring of army officers. …

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