Panama's strongman, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, received "intelligence reports" prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council on the political and personal views of U.S. senators and their aides, Jose I. Blandon, a former top Noriega political adviser, told a Senate panel yesterday.
Blandon said the information included reports on two leading critics of Noriega, Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), and on two of their aides. He said the data about Kennedy included material on the senator's "personal problems."
"We had all types of information on him," Blandon said, referring to Kennedy.
The CIA yesterday denied that it furnished any information to Noriega about U.S. public officials.
Blandon, who has become a leading Noriega critic, did not provide a complete account of the alleged reports' contents and did not specify which U.S. government agency may have supplied them.
Testifying under oath before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on terrorism, narcotics and international communications, Blandon said he read the CIA and NSC reports in connection with serving on a special Noriega political intelligence team that had access to information from Panama's intelligence agencies.
"As part of the political intelligence team in Panama, documents which were drafted in the area of political intelligence on individuals coming to Panama came into my hands," Blandon said. "And the CIA did prepare reports."
Under questioning by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), subcommittee chairman, Blandon said the documents he saw were "clearly" from the United States and "marked 'classified.' "
Kerry said it would be "reprehensible" if the allegation is true and called it "as disturbing a revelation as I've heard in the course of a lot of disturbing revelations over the past year and a half."
Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), who has interviewed Blandon extensively, said that if true, the "charges are very serious . . . outrageous." D'Amato called Blandon a "very credible source" and said it would be illegal for the CIA to turn over reports on U.S. officials to Noriega.
D'Amato said he and Kerry have asked the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate Blandon's allegations.
Sven E. Holmes, staff director and general counsel to the Senate intelligence panel, said he has asked the CIA, NSC and Department of Defense to provide a quick response to Blandon's testimony.
In a statement, Kennedy said, "It is unconscionable to think that the CIA knew about Gen. Noriega's drug-trafficking activities and continued to work with him for such a long time, but it is even worse to think that the CIA would provide information about Noriega's leading American critics to the general himself."
"One can only wonder who the CIA is working for," Kennedy added.
The CIA said in a statement that it "categorically denies Blandon's assertions that it furnished any such information regarding U.S. senators and their staffers to the government of Panama."
A CIA spokesman said the agency is prohibited by law "from collecting or retaining information on the personal lives of U.S. officials and U.S. citizens. The CIA does not engage in this practice."
Blandon, 44, fired by Noriega last month as Panama's consul general in New York, also testified on Noriega's alleged links to international drug traffickers and said Noriega has received millions of dollars in payoffs.
Noriega, Panama's military commander and de facto ruler, was indicted last week by two U.S. grand juries on charges that he provided government protection and other services to drug smugglers.
Noriega has denied the drug allegations and has publicly labeled Blandon a "Benedict Arnold," or traitor.
Blandon said the Reagan administration's push to force Noriega to resign is undermined by the support Noriega still has within the U.S. government, which results in "mixed signals" being sent to Noriega.
Blandon testified that a top Noriega supporter is Nestor D. Sanchez, a former career CIA official who until last year was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Latin America. Blandon said Sanchez has a "very close friendship" with Noriega and that Sanchez believes that any criticism of the Panamanian military is counter to U.S. interests.
Sanchez, now a Defense Department consultant, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
An informed source said Blandon has said the CIA and NSC reports were provided through the Panamanian Embassy in Washington.
Among the reports Blandon cited were ones on two Senate aides, Deborah DeMoss, a Helms assistant, and Gregory Craig, a Kennedy staffer. DeMoss and Craig have traveled to Panama and assisted their bosses in winning a congressional ban on virtually all U.S. aid to Panama.
DeMoss and Craig said yesterday that the government-controlled Panamanian press has written articles about them as well as articles critical of Helms and Kennedy. They speculated that the detailed information may have come from the U.S. reports Blandon alleges were provided to Panama.
Blandon also testified that political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.'s organization supplied Noriega with reports on U.S. senators. "Mr. LaRouche works for Noriega," Blandon said. LaRouche and his group have publicly praised Noriega and denounced his critics as drug dealers.