Related topics

FBI Wants To Avoid Replacing CIA As Handler Of Defectors

January 28, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ FBI officials are not interested in supplanting the CIA as the primary handlers of foreign defectors, even though some White House aides think a shift could remedy some blunders that surfaced in the Vitaly Yurchenko affair.

Responding to White House official’s private assessment earlir this month that such a shift would be ″a great move,″ two Justice Department officials explained the FBI’s view this week in separate interviews this week on condition that they not be identified by name.

Spokesmen for the FBI, CIA and Justice would not comment. At the White House, spokesman Edward Djerejian has acknowledged that a review of defector handling is under way.

″It’s a bucket of worms,″ said one Justice official describing the task of handling and resettling defecting officials, most of whom come from Communist countries and who may not speak fluent English but need new jobs, homes and, sometimes, even new identities.

Justice officials say such a change could re-ignite old rivalries between the CIA and the FBI that have been largely been put aside in recent years. They add that the FBI, like every other federal agency, is not looking for extra work at a time when it faces budget cuts imposed by the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction law.

Furthermore, FBI officials have watched another Justice agency, the U.S. Marshals Service, struggle with a domestic version of defector handling, the witness protection program which provides new identities for those who testify against organized crime figures. Congress has repeatedly investigated the witness program.

The FBI officials are well aware that some of the witness program’s worst problems - like how to allow divorced spouses continued visitation rights to their children - were turned into a popular movie, ″Hide in Plain Sight,″ in which department officials received a less-than-sympathetic portrayal.

One Justice source said, ″The bureau doesn’t want the witness protection program, why would they want this. They’re not pushing it.″

Another Justice official laid out two reasons for the FBI’s lack of interest: ″First, we feel we’ve got good relations with the CIA and we want it to stay that way. ″Second, the bureau’s got enough to do. This is not strictly their area; it would be a new field for them.″

One knowledgeable observer says CIA Director William Casey does not want to give up the responsibility, though CIA sources say only that a presidential executive order laying out the duties of the two agencies poses some legal problems for such a shift.

U.S. officials believe that Yurchenko, a KGB general-designate, decided to return to the Soviets last fall just three months after he had defected to this country in part because he was upset over how his CIA handlers treated him.

At the White House, the National Security Council staff has received a recommendation from the Jamestown Foundation, a private group set up to work with top-level defectors, that the duties be shifted to the FBI, which participates in interrogating all defectors.

Jamestown director William Geimer said most defectors found their CIA handlers insensitive and untrained while the FBI agents were seen as friendly, unpretentious and more sensitive.

Update hourly