Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, in an interview published Sunday, backed off his assertion that Vice President George Bush was responsible for putting Panama’s leader, Manuel A. Noriega, back on the CIA payroll.
In an interview with the New York Times, Turner contradicted previous statments made to United Press International, saying he knew of no involvement by Bush in the CIA decision to rehire Noriega.
In the New York Times interview, Turner said he could not recall making any decision to take Noriega off the CIA payroll but said he was certain a break had occurred and assumed that officials in the agency’s clandestine service had made the move.
Turner told UPI on Friday that he removed Noriega from the agency payroll when he became CIA director in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter because Noriega was an “unscrupulous character.”
In the interview with UPI, Turner said that, after he left the agency in 1981, “Bush then became vice president and met with Noriega and put him back on the payroll.”
Bush, who denied the charge, preceded Turner as CIA director for 11 months in 1976 and met with him once during that time.
Unidentified former intelligence sources told the New York Times that Noriega maintained a relationship with Army intelligence and other agencies throughout the Carter Administration.
Turner, who as CIA director oversaw the entire U.S. intelligence community, said he was unaware of any such relations.
Since Noriega was indicted by two federal grand juries Feb. 4 on drug trafficking charges, the Reagan Administration’s relationship with the Panamanian leader has become an issue in the presidential campaign.
In the Sept. 25 debate, Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis said: “Here we are with a government that’s been dealing with a drug-running Panamanian dictator. We’ve been dealing with him--he’s been dealing drugs to our kids, and governors like me and others have been trying to deal with the consequences.”
At that point, Bush, the Republican nominee, retorted that seven administrations had dealt with Noriega, who before taking power in Panama was head of that nation’s intelligence apparatus.