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2 CIA Agents Fired Over Iran Scandal : Webster Also Reprimands 4 Others for Aiding North in Contra Resupply

December 18, 1987|MICHAEL WINES | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — CIA Director William H. Webster, apparently concluding a monthlong house-cleaning of agency officials tainted by the Iran-Contra scandal, has fired two Central America undercover officers and demoted or reprimanded four other agency employees, sources familiar with the actions said Thursday.

Webster ordered the dismissal of the CIA's former Costa Rica station chief, Joe Fernandez, and the chief of paramilitary operations in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, after concluding that the two had improperly aided Lt. Col. Oliver L. North's secret program to supply the Contras inside Nicaragua.

Suggests Early Retirement

He reprimanded and demoted Duane (Dewey) Clarridge, head of a highly successful CIA counterterrorism program, and suggested that Clarridge retire early from the agency, sources said.

Webster also wrote a letter of reprimand to Alan D. Fiers, who headed the CIA Central America Task Force--the locus of CIA efforts to aid the Contras--during the time that North's resupply program was in operation.

Additionally, Webster reprimanded Charles Allen, the former national intelligence officer for counterterrorism, and another agency employee believed to have served in Central America.

The actions came days after Russell Bruemmer, an internal CIA special counsel, completed a three-month analysis of the agency's role in the Iran-Contra affair and turned over a set of findings to Webster.

The findings were disclosed in a six-page press release issued by the agency Thursday, which said only that the CIA director had punished employees who engaged "in improper activities." The press release did not name those who were disciplined.

An eight-point CIA summation of Bruemmer's findings suggested that agency officials in Washington were unaware that undercover agents in Costa Rica and Honduras were aiding North's arms-resupply effort at a time when Congress had prohibited U.S. military assistance to the Contras.

It cited several examples of misbehavior by agency employees, however, on which the disciplinary actions appear to have been based:

--Two agency field managers, apparently Fernandez and the Honduras paramilitary operations official, "violated agency policy or legal guidelines" between September, 1986, and February, 1987, in aiding the arms pipeline operated by North, a former National Security Council staff member. The violations ranged from transporting Contra supplies in CIA helicopters to providing logistical data and other aid to private pilots who were flying supplies inside Nicaragua.

One field manager, apparently the Honduras agent, whose name was not disclosed, authorized CIA employees to undertake the actions, and the second, apparently Fernandez, participated in them personally.

Testimony Cited

--Two agency headquarters officials, apparently Fiers and Clarridge, "testified to Congress in a manner that was not candid or forthcoming" about their knowledge of the North resupply effort.

--Five employees did not cooperate or "were not candid" in giving information to CIA Inspector General Carroll Hawver when he first began probing allegations of improprieties by Central America agency officials in late 1986.

The agency also noted that Web ster has tightened procedures governing CIA approval of covert operations and congressional testimony by CIA employees, two areas singled out for improvement in Bruemmer's report.

Webster's actions appeared well received in Congress, where lawmakers had demanded quick improvements in the agency after a damaging summer of televised hearings into the scandal.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David L. Boren (D-Okla.), who served on the Senate Iran-Contra panel, called the punishments "strong, but balanced and fair" and said Webster had shown that "the leadership of the CIA is firmly committed to the rule of law."

However, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a Senate Intelligence Committee member, said the punishments were inadequate.

"I've already introduced legislation calling for mandatory jail terms where the evidence shows there was a willful falsification of information to the intelligence committee," he said, "and those (CIA) sanctions are totally insufficient" for any employees shown to have lied.

Inside the CIA, observers said, the reaction appeared mixed. Sources outside the agency said that Clarridge and Fiers strongly protested the disciplinary actions levied against them, and Clarridge was said to be uncertain whether he would resign, as Webster has asked.

'Testing Chapter'

Webster said in a prepared statement that he hoped the actions would put to an end what he called a "testing chapter" in the agency's history.

"I am proud to note that evidence in the record suggests that the overwhelming majority of our employees acted in a professional manner within the policy and legal guidance with which they were provided," he said.

The actions come less than a month after two top agency officials, Hawver and deputy director for operations Clair George, resigned in apparent reaction to CIA and congressional disapproval of their performance.

Hawver had come under attack for failing to thoroughly probe allegations of improprieties made against Fernandez. George, the top CIA official in charge of covert operations, had been accused of making incomplete statements to Congress on the agency's role in the affair.

In addition, CIA general counsel David Dougherty, the top legal officer during much of the period in question, said this week that he is resigning to take a senior post at the New York Stock Exchange.

A CIA spokesman said that no replacement has been chosen, but Bruemmer, Webster's special counsel, is reported to be a top contender for the job.

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