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CIA Giving Fired Agent Top Award
Decision Outrages Critics of Agency

By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2000; Page A01

The highest-ranking CIA official fired in a 1995 scandal for failing to inform Congress about human rights abuses in Guatemala will be awarded one of the Central Intelligence Agency's highest honors, the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, at a closed ceremony later this month.

CIA officials confirmed yesterday that Terry R. Ward, 62, former chief of the Latin American Division, will receive the prestigious award March 23 for "exceptional achievements" during a 30-year covert career despite his dismissal for failing to report on CIA ties to a Guatemalan colonel linked to two murders in the early 1990s.

One senior intelligence official said Ward's medal was recommended by former colleagues within the CIA's Directorate of Operations and personally approved "without hesitation" by James Pavitt, the CIA's deputy director for operations, even though the award was sure to be controversial.

The honoring of Ward illustrates the continuing and bitter divide between CIA career professionals and their critics in Congress and the human rights community over the agency's performance in the Cold War conflicts of Latin America.

The effort to rehabilitate Ward's reputation comes at a time when the man who fired him, former CIA director John M. Deutch, finds himself mired in scandal on Capitol Hill and under investigation by the Justice Department for serious home computer security violations.

Numerous current and former operations officers say they cannot help but see the reversal of fortune as a measure of poetic justice, given their intense dislike of Deutch, whose firing of Ward in September 1995 helped fracture his relationship with the agency's powerful clandestine service, a service Deutch publicly criticized.

"Terry is one of the real good guys; he was treated terribly," said Paul Redmond, who retired as CIA chief of counterintelligence in 1998. Redmond said Deutch fired Ward for purely political reasons to mollify critics and then leaked his name to the media at a time when he was serving undercover overseas. "That hurt Terry's family terribly," Redmond said.

"It was, 'Give us any head,' and the head was Terry," added Milt Bearden, a former CIA station chief in Bonn who now frequently clashes with his old employer but said he intends to "break his rule" and attend the medal ceremony for Ward.

But human rights activists and other CIA critics expressed outrage over the agency's decision to recognize Ward for career service after his transgressions in reporting on abuses in Guatemala.

"I'm not surprised," said Jennifer Harbury, an American lawyer who triggered the CIA scandal by waging a hunger strike outside the White House in the fall of 1994. Harbury wanted the CIA and other agencies to reveal what they knew about the 1992 death of her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Guatemalan leftist guerrilla.

"The CIA is living down to its reputation in giving this award," Harbury said. "And they weren't acting in good faith [five years ago] when they said they were cleaning up their act. Obviously, they didn't mean what they said."

Spurred by Harbury's protest, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.), then a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, disclosed in March 1995 that the CIA never shared with Congress allegations that Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a paid CIA informant, had been involved in the killings of Bamaca and Michael Devine, an American citizen slain in 1990.

Torricelli learned of the CIA's reporting failures from Richard A. Nuccio, a senior State Department official. Deutch later stripped Nuccio of his top-secret security clearance. Nuccio claims he broke no law or regulation by sharing sensitive intelligence data with a member of Congress.

Now a foreign affairs consultant, Nuccio said yesterday that Ward's firing was "entirely appropriate" and that the CIA's decision to reward him with one of its highest honors is hard to swallow.

"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 said.

CIA officials responded that Ward's firing, if anything, was proof that the agency is neither above the law nor out of control. They noted that Deutch, even in firing Ward, recognized his career service and said the dismissal would "involve no loss of benefits or of appropriate recognition for previous service."

"He served in a number of places where the world was particularly dangerous," said one senior intelligence official. "By virtue of what he did, he helped save lives. He did some really, really good things."

Ward's career began in Laos in the early 1960s but then shifted to Latin America, where he served in Argentina from 1965 to 1968, the Dominican Republic from 1968 to 1970, Bolivia from 1970 to 1972, Venezuela from 1973 to 1975, Peru from 1975 to 1977 and Honduras from 1987 to 1989. He then served as chief of the Latin American Division in the early 1990s and was chief of station in Switzerland in 1995 at the time of his dismissal.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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