U.S. Seeks Increase in Covert Activity in Latin America

The New York Times, July 25, 1983

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WASHINGTON, July 24, 1983

 

The Reagan Administration is preparing a major expansion of covert intelligence operations in Central America as part of a plan to increase American military activities in the region, senior Administration officials said today.

The plans, which the officials said are being refined but have been approved in general by the White House, include stepped-up support for anti-Government insurgents in Nicaragua and a campaign of sabotage directed against Cuban installations in Nicaragua.

The expanded program of paramilitary action, the officials said, would make the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency in Central America the most extensive covert operations mounted by the United States since the Vietnam War.

 

Intelligence officials said that under the plans, the rebel forces in Nicaragua that are supported largely by the C.I.A. would grow significantly beyond the current total of about 10,000 men.

Reduce Readiness of U.S. Forces

Administration officials said the Defense Department, which will provide military equipment and other supplies for use by the C.I.A. as it increases operations, expects that the demand for certain kinds of assistance may be great enough to affect the combat readiness of some regular American forces.

Specifically, they said the C.I.A.'s need for air transport to carry ammunition, weapons and other military equipment to Central America is likely to require the diversion of Air Force cargo planes from other high-priority missions.

 

The C.I.A. is also expected to use large quantities of communications equipment as well as parachutes and rigging for cargo, and to call on the Defense Department for specialists in psychological warfare and advisers for special projects.

A White House spokesman, Sheila Dixon, said the White House would have no comment on reports about expanded covert operations in Central America.

 

House to Vote on Cutoff Bill

The planning for increased covert action comes as the House is nearing final action on legislation that would cut off covert American support for the Nicaraguan rebels. Debate on the bill is scheduled to begin Tuesday and a vote is possible before the end of the week.

The Administration has not officially informed either the Senate or House intelligence committees about its plans for expanded covert action, members of both committees said today.

Administration officials said they had hoped to delay notifying the panels until after the House acts on the cutoff legislation. Federal law requires executive branch officials to keep Congress ''fully and currently informed'' about covert intelligence operations.

Since the planned activities are an extension of covert operations approved by President Reagan in 1981, and Congress has frequently been briefed on the operations as they evolved, the officials said the Administration has no legal obligation to notify the committees immediately about new developments.

Information about the plans for covert action was obtained from officials familiar with the preparations who said they oppose expanded United States involvement in Central America. The information was confirmed by other Administration officials.

 

No Comment From C.I.A.

A spokesman for the C.I.A., Dale Peterson, said today that the agency as a policy does not discuss intelligence operations and would have no comment about activities in Central America.

The proposed legislation, which is named after its two chief Democratic sponsors, Representative Edward P. Boland from Massachusetts, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Representative Clement J. Zablocki, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, would end American financial and military support for the rebels that began in 1981.

Instead, it would allocate $80 million in overt assistance over the next 14 months to Central American nations for use in trying to block the transfer of Soviet and Cuban arms that the Administration has repeatedly said flow through Nicaragua to guerrillas in El Salvador.

Even if the bill is approved by the House - Congressional leaders say the vote is too close to call - Administration officials said they will be able to continue to support the insurgents because the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass the same legislation.

 

Growing Support for Sandinistas

The Administration's plan to expand covert activities also comes at a time when reports from Nicaragua suggest that the C.I.A-supported rebels have made little headway against the Sandinista Government and appear to have galvanized popular support for the Government rather than undermining it.

After more than a year of intense activity, the insurgents have failed to achieve significant military gains or to cause a serious political threat to the Nicaraguan Government, according to foreign diplomats and government officials in Nicaragua.

Reagan Administration officials, however, contend that the rebels, by forcing the Government to divert military forces and other resources into combating the insurgents, have hurt the Sandinistas and pushed them toward joining negotiations aimed at reducing regional tensions.

Last week, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, the coordinator of the governing Nicaraguan junta, proposed regional negotiations on ways of easing military tensions, the ending of military support for insurgents in El Salvador and elsewhere and the banning of foreign military bases and training in the region.

 

'Serious Shortcomings'

The Reagan Administration described the proposal as a ''positive step,'' but noted ''serious shortcomings,'' including the apparent assumption by Mr. Ortega that the guerrillas in El Salvador should be treated on the same level as the democratically elected government.

The planned increase in covert activities directed against Nicaragua is likely to add to the debate in Congress about the aims of American intelligence operations in Central America.

When the Administration began aiding the rebels in 1981, intelligence officials told Congress that the primary purpose was to create a paramilitary force that could interdict arms shipments from Nicaragua to El Salvador. Later, as rebel operations grew, intelligence officials told Congress that the insurgents would also harass the Nicaraguan Government.

Congressional opponents have argued that the true aim of the Administration's Nicaraguan operation is to overthrow the Sandinistas, a goal that would be in violation of a law passed in 1982 that prohibited any American support for efforts to oust the Nicaraguan Government. The Boland-Zablocki bill grew out of this concern.

 

'Modify Its Behavior'

The United States Ambassador to Nicaragua, Anthony C. Quainton, said today that United States policy ''is not to topple the Sandinista Government.'' Speaking on the ABC News program ''This Week,'' Mr. Quainton said, ''Our policy is to try and modify its behavior in some substantial ways which are consistent with our interests and out vital security concerns throughout Central America.''

Mr. Quainton said that there are ''at least 6,000 Cubans in Nicaragua today.'' He added that several thousand are ''engaged in direct training for the security service, for the military forces of the Nicaraguan Government.''

​© 1983 The New York Times Company