U.S. Diplomat Quits, Charges ‘McCarthyism’
A veteran of 31 years in the Foreign Service who retired last week as the State Department’s deputy director of intelligence said Monday that he quit to protest what he called “McCarthyism” in the department’s response to his bureau’s analysis of Central American issues.
Francis J. McNeil, 54, said he retired as a deputy assistant secretary of state in the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research after recurring problems with Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and a key architect of the Reagan Administration’s Central American policy.
McNeil blamed Abrams for initiating a security investigation, which eventually exonerated him, and for blocking his expected nomination as ambassador to Peru.
The difficulties began, McNeil said, in 1985 after his bureau reported that the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contras faced problems in their war against the Marxist-led Sandinista regime in Managua. Abrams, who has vigorously supported the contra cause publicly and within the department, took strong exception to this reporting and cut back on cooperation between his inter-American bureau and McNeil’s intelligence bureau, McNeil said.
Early in 1986, McNeil said, he came under investigation on two charges. The first was that he had leaked a classified document to the Washington Post. The second was that he had disparaged Otto Reich, who was awarded the ambassadorship to Peru after Abrams, charging that McNeil was untrustworthy, blocked a departmental board’s recommendation that the post go to him.
McNeil, who was cleared on both counts, said Monday that he has “nothing against Otto Reich,” and as for leaking the document, “I first read about its existence in the Post.”
‘Blame the Messenger’
“Abrams didn’t like the bureau’s reporting on Central America and sought to blame the messenger,” McNeil said. “He could have told us there were things they didn’t like without calling me disloyal.”
McNeil sounded the same theme in a note to Abrams he wrote in November after he reached his decision to retire. He disclosed the note’s contents Monday.
“I thought you should hear directly from me as well as from elsewhere that I am leaving the Foreign Service in response to your exercise in McCarthyism,” the note said in part. “Confusing candor with disloyalty is a disservice to American interests and tradition.”
McNeil said he has yet to receive a response from Abrams, who could not be reached for comment Monday.
An Abrams aide attributed the problem to a “bureau-to-bureau disagreement within the State Department” growing out of a belief by the intelligence bureau that “it has an obligation to give an independent view,” while the Latin American bureau feels that reporting that fails to take its knowledge into account “doesn’t give a complete picture.”
In a telephone interview, McNeil drew a parallel between this attitude and the chilly reaction of Washington officialdom to critical reporting on developments in the war in Vietnam. He said it reflected “a misunderstanding on the part of Mr. Abrams of what we in the intelligence bureau were charged to do by the secretary.”
Secretary of State George P. Shultz is “death on policy recommendations” from the intelligence bureau, McNeil said, adding that the bureau was established in the late 1940’s to “provide the department with dispassionate analyses and to keep out of politics.”
“The bureau may not have been always right,” McNeil said, “but it tried to live up to its charter and provide intelligence. The Bureau of Inter-American Affairs provides the policy.”
Recalling that he joined the State Department in 1956, in the wake of the era when the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) bullied bureaucrats with indiscriminate charges of communist sympathies, McNeil said it is “still wrong for people to confuse honest interpretation of events abroad with disloyalty, and every time this has happened in this country there has been trouble.”