The CIA is reviewing whether to abandon 1995 restrictions that limit the recruitment of agents with unsavory backgrounds.
“The matter is under review,” said a U.S. intelligence official, who noted that “the guidelines have already been relaxed.”
The 1995 rules require all CIA officers in the field to obtain approval from CIA headquarters before recruiting foreign agents with histories of human rights abuses. They were passed by Congress under pressure from Democrats.
CIA clandestine service officers opposed the rules, saying they would hamper efforts to recruit agents and have a chilling effect on their spying activities. CIA spokesmen have said there hasn’t been a negative effect on recruitment.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the rules were modified to permit CIA officers to again recruit foreigners with questionable pasts without first checking with Langley headquarters. But they are still required to report the recruitment efforts.
“The decision to use an individual with an unsavory background, because that individual committed serious crimes or human rights abuses, can be made in the field if that individual has insights about terrorist activities and threats,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
However, CIA headquarters must be informed within several days of the recruitment attempt or information-collection effort, “and a formal decision with respect to continued use rests with the deputy director for operations,” the official said. The deputy director for operations is the CIA’s senior official in charge of espionage operations.
“The restrictions have not been rescinded, but modified in a way that will speed our ability to obtain information that might be useful in the fight against terrorism,” said a U.S. official.
The October decision was made by CIA Director George J. Tenet due to “the urgency of the situation.”
A section of the fiscal 2002 Intelligence Authorization Act, signed into law by President Bush on Dec. 28, calls on Mr. Tenet to “rescind the existing 1995 CIA guidelines for handling cases involving foreign assets or sources with human rights concerns.”
The law states new guidelines are needed that will “allow for indications and warnings of plans and intentions of hostile actions or events, and ensure that such information is shared in a broad and expeditious fashion so, that to the extent possible, actions to protect American lives can be taken.”
In 1995, the restrictions were instituted after a Guatemalan army colonel on the CIA payroll was linked to the murder of an American. The CIA then fired about 1,000 of its agents and imposed the recruitment restriction.
The fired agents included Middle Eastern sources who could have provided information about terrorist operations.
L. Paul Bremer, head of a blue-ribbon commission that investigated terrorism policies in 2000, said the commission heard testimony from several CIA officers who said the restrictions hampered efforts to recruit terrorists and other intelligence sources.
The commission’s report made public in June 2000 stated that “complex bureaucratic procedures now in place send an unmistakable message to Central Intelligence Agency officers in the field that recruiting clandestine sources of terrorist information is encouraged in theory but discouraged in practice.”
The panel included 10 national security specialists, including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and former FBI Assistant Director John F. Lewis Jr.