President Reagan, accepting the recommendation of the CIA inspector general and the Intelligence Oversight Board, today agreed to discipline several workers at "lower levels" in the agency for "poor judgment and lapses in oversight" in the publication of a manual for Nicaraguan rebels on guerrilla techniques.
The White House announced that the CIA workers would given letters of reprimand or suspensions. A spokesman, Peter Roussel, said he did not know if any would be fired.
It was learned from other sources that a CIA "contract" employe who wrote the manual, operating under the pseudonym John Kirkpatrick, has been let go by the CIA. It could not be determined when Kirkpatrick was dismissed or whether the action was taken after the investigations.
Roussel said he would not identify the employes disciplined or provide further information about the extent of the disciplinary actions.
Roussel said this would be Reagan's final comment on the matter. Last week, at his post-election news conference, Reagan said the controversy over the manual was "much ado about nothing."
Today's announcement was made in a low-key manner. White House spokesman Larry Speakes released a written statement that acknowledged that portions of the 90-page manual, "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare," could be "misinterpreted."
Among other things, the manual advocated "selective use of violence" by Nicaraguan rebels fighting the Sandinista government to "neutralize" political targets. Critics have said this meant assassinations, in violation of a Reagan order against such killings. But the president has denied that assassinations were intended. Rather, he said, the manual was suggesting removal from office.
The White House statement today said the CIA inspector general and the oversight board, a three-member citizen's group appointed by the president, conducted "detailed and extensive inquiries into the conceptual motives and administrative procedures surrounding the preparation" of the manual.
"Both bodies noted that despite portions that could be misinterpreted, the manual had worthy purposes -- instilling in Nicaraguan freedom fighters the knowledge of how to promote understanding of their goals among the people and counseling them on appropriate behavior in dealing with civilians," the statement said.
"Both reports found that there has been no violation by CIA personnel or contract employes of the Constitution or laws of the United States, executive orders or presidential directives. The IG report identified instances of poor judgment and lapses in oversight at lower levels in the agency.
"Recommendations for corrective measures to strengthen management and oversight within the CIA were approved as well as disciplinary action where lapses in judgment or performance occurred." Speakes was unavailable for comment on the statement. Roussel said CIA director William Casey will brief Congress this week.
The statement's reference to "freedom fighters" was unusual. Although Reagan has used the term previously to describe the anti-Sandinista "contras," the administration has claimed that the rebels were seeking only to interdict the flow of arms out of Nicaragua.
Congress has cut off funding to the contras, but Reagan is expected early next year to ask that the money be restored.
Roussel said the White House has no plans to make public the two reports. Previously, officials had said they would be made available before the election, but the release was delayed until afterward.
"The president feels he has cleared the air about it," Roussel said.
Roussel said Reagan has instructed Casey to take steps to make sure such an episode does not recur.
However, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has criticized the CIA reports as insufficient, and he insisted that the manual intended to refer to assassinations.
Reagan was given the CIA reports Nov. 8 by national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane. Reagan then approved today's statement by Speakes. McFarlane was unavailable for comment today.
Officials said Reagan "received, approved and concurred" in the CIA report.