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Fired CIA official to receive career medal


Activists and critics of the Central Intelligence Agency have expressed outrage that the CIA plans to honor an official fired from the agency for failing to inform Congress about human rights abuses in Guatemala.

Terry R. Ward, 62, former chief of the CIA’s Latin American Division, was to receive the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal in a March 23 ceremony. The award will recognize his “exceptional achievements” during his 30-year career with the agency, despite his 1995 dismissal for failing to report CIA ties to a Guatemalan colonel implicated in two murders in the early 1990s.

“The CIA is living down to its reputation in giving this award,” Jennifer Harbury, an American lawyer, told The Washington Post. Harbury’s Guatemalan husband, Efraín Bamaca Velasquez, was killed in 1992. “And they weren’t acting in good faith when they said they were cleaning up their act. Obviously, they didn’t mean what they said.”

Harbury held a hunger strike in the fall of 1994 demanding information about the death of her husband. Her protest led Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., then a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to disclose that the CIA had never told Congress that Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a paid CIA informant, had been linked to the killings of Bamaca and Michael Devine, an American citizen killed in 1990.

Torricelli had been informed of the cover-up by a senior State Department official, Richard A. Nuccio. Nuccio was subsequently stripped of his top-secret security clearance by former CIA director John M. Deutch, who also fired Ward.

Nuccio told The Washington Post March 9 that Ward’s firing was “entirely appropriate” and questioned the CIA’s decision to give him one of its highest honors. “If you don’t fire a station chief for lying to an ambassador and withholding information from the president, what do you fire someone for?” Nuccio asked.

However, some in the intelligence community praised the decision to honor Ward, who they believe was treated unjustly.

“Terry is one of the real good guys,” said Paul Redmond, who retired as chief of counterintelligence in 1998. “He was treated terribly.” Redmond said Deutch fired Ward for political reasons, to mollify critics.

Milt Bearden, former CIA station chief in Bonn, Germany, told The Washington Post, “It was, ‘Give us any head,’ and the head was Terry.” Bearden said he planned to attend the medal ceremony.

Another senior intelligence official told the Post, “He served in a number of places where the world was particularly dangerous. By virtue of what he did, he helped save lives.”

“But how many lives were destroyed?” asked School Sister of Notre Dame Alice Zachmann, director of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. Zachmann, who founded the Washington-based organization 19 years ago, told NCR that in light of the CIA’s role in Guatemala’s 1954 coup and its cooperation with the Guatemalan military, “I wonder how many lives actually were saved.”

Ward’s 30-year career included assignments in many Latin American countries in which human rights violations occurred, Zachmann said. Ward served in Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru and Honduras, and was deputy chief of the Latin American division in the 1980s before serving as chief of the division in the early 1990s. He was chief of a station in Switzerland in 1995 at the time of his dismissal.

In an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, Tom Blanton, director of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, cited declassified records of human rights violations in countries where Ward served. A CIA report showed that when Ward was deputy chief of the Latin American division, the CIA knew the Honduran military, including those on CIA payroll, had organized a death squad called Battalion 316, Blanton said. A State Department-funded investigation in 1986 and 1987, while Ward was deputy division chief for Latin America and Honduran station chief overseeing the Nicaraguan contra operation, said the contra’s CIA handlers “turned the other way” regarding the contras’ use of torture and murder.

“If all this makes for a ‘distinguished career,’ one can only ask the CIA: What qualifies as undistinguished?” Blanton wrote.

Harbury and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission announced plans for “a funeral Mass and silent vigil for the dead” to be held in front of CIA headquarters March 23, the day the award was to be presented.

National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2000