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Tenet denies leaking name of CIA informant

March 21, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ As George Tenet made courtesy calls on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, aides to President Clinton’s new nominee to lead the CIA were denying that he had leaked the name of a CIA informant linked to two murders in Guatemala.

Tenet, now the CIA’s acting director, was thrust into the spotlight after the sudden withdrawal earlier this week of Clinton’s first pick for the job, Anthony Lake, following a bruising confirmation fight.

Lawmakers did not appear overly concerned Thursday by the first difficulty to confront Tenet _ the allegation by a Senate aide that Tenet had leaked to the media the name of a Guatemalan colonel accused of human rights abuses. Tenet denies it.

The accusation surfaced last November on CBS-TV’s ``60 Minutes″ program. Richard Nuccio, a former State Department specialist on Guatemala who was himself accused of leaking classified information, made the allegation. The CIA stripped Nuccio of his top-secret security clearance last year for allegedly exposing CIA secrets.

Nuccio said on the program that he never disclosed to reporters the Guatemalan colonel’s relationship with the CIA. He said he believed that Tenet, who was then on Lake’s National Security Council staff, did.

Now an aide to Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., Nuccio declined to comment Thursday.

In fact, it was Torricelli who, a year ago, disclosed in a letter to Clinton that Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a Guatemalan intelligence officer, was a paid CIA informant. Torricelli linked Alpirez to the murder of an American citizen in Guatemala and of a Guatemalan married to an American. Torricelli provided The New York Times, and later other news organizations, with a copy of his letter.

CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said Tenet had denied Nuccio’s charge prior to the airing of the ``60 Minutes″ segment. ``He stands by that statement,″ Crispell said.

In Helsinki, Finland, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Tenet has acted properly, regardless of CBS’ account of the Guatemala controversy.

``We’re confident that Mr. Tenet has conducted himself in a way that fulfills his obligation to protect national security information,″ said McCurry, in the Finnish capital for President Clinton’s summit meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, ``I do expect this matter to be raised in confirmation hearings but unless evidence emerges against Mr. Tenet, it will not damage his chances.″

Andrew Rosenthal, Washington Editor of The New York Times, said there was no mystery about the source of Alpirez’s identity _ it came from Torricelli and was confirmed by two administration officials.

``His version of events was confirmed by two administration officials, which our story said, and we have no intention of telling anyone who those sources were,″ Rosenthal said.

While the flap might seem minor, the leaking of classified information by a senior administration official would be a serious matter if that official were then named to head the CIA, custodian of all the government’s clandestine foreign intelligence sources.

The Intelligence Committee plans confirmation hearings in April, after the Senate returns from the Easter recess.

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