Both House and Senate intelligence committees plan to investigate the extent to which the CIA may have played a role in Haiti's domestic politics, congressional officials said Monday.
Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Times that he plans "vigorous oversight" into news reports that the CIA sought to play a role in support of some of the candidates in Haiti's 1987-88 elections and that it financed some of the military leaders ultimately involved in the 1991 coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
"I'm concerned about this," Glickman said. "We need to do general oversight into the relationship between the (U.S.) intelligence community and people around the world who may not be shining examples of virtue. . . . We have held a hearing (on U.S. intelligence in Haiti), and we will have further hearings soon."
Asked whether the Senate Intelligence Committee will be looking into the CIA's role in Haiti, a staff member replied: "It's just a matter of when we can do it. . . . Probably sometime this week."
The Times reported Sunday that the Senate Intelligence Committee once killed a covert-action program proposed by the CIA that would have channeled money to some of the candidates in Haiti's 1987-88 elections. Such an action would have undercut the political strength of Aristide, Haiti's current president, who was not a candidate in those elections but was calling for a boycott of the polls and for a "revolution."
"We were engaged in covert action on behalf of the National Security Council," The Times quoted one former U.S. intelligence official as saying. "We were involved in a range of support for a range of candidates."
On Monday, the New York Times reported that key members of the military regime who are now controlling Haiti and blocking Aristide's return from exile in the United States were paid by the CIA from the mid-1980s until at least the 1991 coup. The payments were said to have been part of the CIA's normal intelligence-gathering activities.
Seizing upon these news reports, congressional supporters of Aristide on Monday criticized the CIA for its actions in Haiti.
"These disclosures help explain why the CIA conducted a slanderous campaign to portray President Aristide as unfit to lead his country. . . ," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Government Operations.
"The most appropriate action President Clinton could take to restore confidence in his Administration is to relieve of their jobs the individuals in the CIA responsible for the vicious campaign against Aristide."
Two weeks ago, on the eve of a Senate vote on Haiti policy, a senior intelligence official gave a closed-door briefing to congressional leaders in which he suggested that Aristide is mentally unstable.
The allegations are contained in a psychological profile of Aristide compiled by the CIA in 1992. The information was supplied to Congress on earlier occasions, but this time it was widely disseminated by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and his staff, who are staunch opponents of Aristide.
Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) called on the House Intelligence Committee to conduct "a thorough investigation" of U.S. intelligence agencies' involvement in Haiti. He said the recent news reports "raise serious questions about the relationship between U.S. intelligence agencies under the direction of the Reagan and Bush administrations and the military and civilian leaders who overthrew the legitimately elected government of Haiti."
U.S. intelligence officials have maintained repeatedly that the briefing they gave to Congress about Aristide's mental condition was merely an attempt to respond to congressional inquiries and to give lawmakers the most accurate information possible.
Former CIA Director Robert M. Gates argued that the new stories about the agency's past role in Haiti are irrelevant and represent an effort to discredit the intelligence reports.
"What you are seeing is an effort to evade what is a tough policy question and decision, and it is entirely beside the point," he said.
"How do you promote free elections in Haiti?" Gates asked. "And what do you do if you have a free election and the result is civil chaos and the election of a leader who may have had some personal problems in the past?"
He said Haiti serves as "a classic case where intelligence information is used not for purposes of information but for ammunition."