March 1, 1999
EX-DOJ OFFICIAL CLAIMS BID TO KEEP CIA OUT OF POLICE TRAINING PROGRAM COST HER A JOB By Sam Skolnik
The former director of the Justice Department program that trains foreign police officers has alleged that she was forced from her post after raising concerns that department officials refused to protect her office's law enforcement mission from possible CIA encroachment. Janice Stromsem, until last month director of the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, has filed a grievance with the department's equal employment opportunity office, claiming that her efforts to implement a policy preventing ICITAP's staff from engaging in intelligence activities resulted in her ultimately being removed from her job. The ICITAP program has spawned several complaints from disgruntled employees. But the issues raised by Stromsem are especially sensitive, given Cold War- era concerns about keeping domestic law enforcement free of international espionage. That historic divide is a flashpoint at ICITAP, a 13-year-old program whose staffers work to win trust among newly emerging, often unstable democracies many of which have been of great interest to American intelligence in the past. The line between law enforcement and intelligence has been blurring in recent years, causing tensions among U.S. government agencies. The most recent: allegations that U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq were working in concert with the CIA. Stromsem filed her EEO action in December 1998, but the underlying incident at the heart of her grievance dates back to 1996. That year, she claims, her efforts to implement a policy walling ICITAP staffers off from intelligence-gathering activities was rejected by Mark Richard, a powerful career attorney in the department's Criminal Division. In the fall of 1998, Stromsem claims, she was contacted about the matter by the office of Inspector General Michael Bromwich, which has been probing a series of allegations of misconduct at ICITAP and its sister office, the Office of Professional Development and Training (OPDAT), which trains foreign prosecutors. Stromsem told Bromwich about the aborted anti-intelligence policy, and provided documents to back her claim, according to her attorney, Irving Kator of D.C.'s Kator, Scott & Parks. Following that contact, Bromwich called in Richard, according to Kator. Soon after that meeting, Stromsem was told she would be leaving ICITAP, Kator contends. HOLDER DENIES CONNECTION In an interview late last week, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said that there was no cause and effect involved in Stromsem's departure from the ICITAP program. "Bottom line, there was no linkage between the IG investigation and Janice Stromsem's removal, " Holder says. Asked the department's view on whether programs like ICITAP should ever be open to intelligence agency participation, Holder says: "We cannot comment on intelligence activities regarding ICITAP , no matter how unfounded the allegations might be. We reaffirm the exclusive mission of ICITAP is international training and nation building." Stromsem, now an official at the Global Bureau of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), and Richard both decline comment. A CIA spokeswoman also declines comment. One U.S. government official, who asks not to be identified, says that "the CIA is not in any way involved in ICITAP . If you were to report that, you would be wrong." RECRUITING IN HAITI Stromsem is not the only one who has voiced concerns that intelligence agents have sought to infiltrate ICITAP, a $25 million operation with some 40 staffers fanned out across the Caribbean, Latin America, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe. According to four former ICITAP staffers and one State Department official, the CIA has from time to time sought to recruit staffers, contractors, and trainees affiliated with the program in countries such as Haiti and El Salvador, where ICITAP has trained thousands of police officers. One former ICITAP contractor in Haiti says bluntly that he and other instructors were informed by students "that they were solicited by U.S. intelligence services." Charles Allen, a legal adviser to the Richardson, Texas, police department who worked for ICITAP in 1995, says the practice, in which intelligence agents would approach the students during off hours and weekends to try to recruit them, "was wrong." "When we went to Haiti, we went with the understanding that the country had never had a democratic government or civilian police force, " says Allen. Intelligence recruiting was "not good for those cadets, not good for Haiti, and not good for the program. We were to make civilian police out of them, not spies." Further, The Nation magazine reported in February 1996 that the CIA had placed agents in the Haitian National Police, which was rebuilt after the 1994 U.S. invasion and the installment of Washington-backed ruler Jean- Bertrand Aristide. The magazine reported that those CIA recruitments took place during ICITAP training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. There was no specific ICITAP policy in place to prevent them from doing so. In late 1995, Stromsem decided to write a policy that would set in stone what had been an unwritten rule prohibiting ICITAP staffers from communicating with agents of the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, or any other covert intelligence gathering group. "It is critical for the credibility of the program and for the legitimacy of U.S. Government efforts in overseas police reform that ICITAP personnel and contractors be exclusively dedicated to fulfilling ICITAP's mission goals and objectives, " states the executive summary of the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by Legal Times. "It is manifestly evident that any connection between representatives of ICITAP and any internal intelligence gathering organization would be detrimental to our mission, and would be an especially sensitive issue with many countries with which we expect to be dealing in the future." The proposal also contended that the Foreign Assistance Act of 1960 specifies that no foreign aid money can be used to provide assistance to U.S. intelligence agencies. Though it is a Justice Department program, ICITAP receives most of its funds from the State Department_i.e., from foreign assistance money. PROPOSAL REJECTED Stromsem presented the proposed initiative to Richard in March 1996, according to internal DOJ memorandums. But Richard, then Stromsem's supervisor, wrote to her on April 25, 1996, saying, "I have serious concerns about this statement and do not want to see it moved on without further discussions, " according to an internal DOJ document. Richard's decision to nix the proposal was firmed up in a meeting the following day, according to two participants in the meeting, which included Richard, Stromsem, and at least three other Criminal Division officials. Richard said he did not want to preclude putting ICITAP resources at the disposal of intelligence agencies_including the CIA_when needed, according to the two participants, who asked not to be named. In a Jan. 7, 1999, letter to Deputy Attorney General Holder, Stromsem's attorney wrote that " Stromsem was surprised when Mark Richard . . . refused to approve the memo. Consequently, the directive was never transmitted to ICITAP staff and the issue of the use of ICITAP employees for intelligence work was never dealt with directly." Kator claims that despite Stromsem's positive job appraisals, Richard forced her out of ICITAP after four years at its helm, denied her a raise she is owed, and bad-mouthed her to potential new employers. Kator says he has received no reply to his letter to Holder. A senior Justice official says that Holder did respond to Kator in January, adding that the letter was forwarded to the IG, in accordance with standard procedure. Bromwich is apparently interested in probing the question of alleged CIA involvement in ICITAP, according to two government officials who have been questioned by the inspector general's office. The officials say his investigators first raised the issue with them. Paul Martin, a spokesman for the inspector general, declines comment on the status of the investigation. STROMSEM INVESTIGATED Stromsem_who Kator says will also likely file a whistleblower complaint soon at the Office of Special Counsel_may herself be a target of the IG's inquiry. Although no actions have been taken against her as a result of the wide- ranging ICITAP probe, Stromsem, according to three Justice officials familiar with the matter, may be under investigation for relatively minor allegations of workplace harassment and other charges. (Stemming largely from the complaints of a pair of whistleblowers, the inquiry has grown significantly in the last two years and involves allegations ranging from security breaches to contracting abuses to visa fraud to hiring irregularities and workplace harassment. (See "Blowing Whistles at DOJ, " Sept. 21, 1998, Page 2.) The investigation was first reported by Insight, a weekly news magazine published by The Washington Times Corp., in September 1997.) Stromsem does have at least one high-powered backer, however. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) wrote Holder on Jan. 19, urging him to take the necessary steps to ensure that Stromsem is treated fairly. And at least one official at the State Department supports many of Stromsem's claims. "As much as we wanted her to continue on as ICITAP director, it was clear they were making life difficult for her at Justice, " says the official, who asks not to be named. "Jan has the complete and absolute confidence of the State Department and AID." POLICY DEBATED Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties group, says Richard and other higher-ups at Justice may have concluded that in the larger national interests of fighting terrorism and international drug smuggling, it is necessary to keep open the option of allowing the CIA into programs that on their face have nothing to do with intelligence gathering. But Martin warns that there can be "all sorts of terrible effects" when intelligence agencies are allowed to recruit in programs like ICITAP. "It can be positively detrimental to the rule of law in countries that for the first time are trying to build their own intelligence agencies and do away with the legacies of secret police, " Martin says. She adds that the suspicion of CIA involvement "is best addressed by the U.S. government being forthright. It's best to draw a bright line." Two former ICITAP staffers, who ask not to be identified, concur. "I didn't sign up to work for the CIA, " says one former staffer. Richard's decision to reject the intelligence policy "conceptually subverted the need for an ICITAP." Former intelligence community officials say, however, that if the CIA has attempted to gather intelligence or recruit agents through ICITAP, it likely had good reasons to do so. Stewart Baker, general counsel of the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1994, says that it's generally not unhealthy for law enforcement and the intelligence community to be working more closely. "That's a Cold War notion, that intelligence gathering is dark and dirty, and law enforcement is just about catching crooks. That world is gone, " says Baker, a partner at D.C.'s Steptoe & Johnson. Jeffrey Smith, general counsel of the CIA from 1995 to 1996, and his predecessor, Elizabeth Rindskopf, decline comment on the allegations surrounding ICITAP. But they note that they worked with the general counsel of the Peace Corps to ensure adherence to the corps' rigid policy of walling off CIA contacts. (Stromsem used the Peace Corps model in developing her policy proposal, according to one ex-ICITAP employee.) Regarding the Peace Corps, "We bent over backwards there to make sure we were very correct, " says Rindskopf, who is of counsel at the D.C. office of St. Louis' Bryan Cave. "It seems to me to be the wise policy." RICHARD CLOSE TO RENO, CIA Whatever the propriety of the policy or lack thereof, there is little question that Stromsem's allegations are having an impact at the department_in no small part because they involve one of its most powerful and important behind-the-scenes players. Richard has several adamant defenders, both inside and outside the department. Even members of the civil liberties community say he is a smart and honorable prosecutor. Richard, a Brooklyn native who has spent more than 30 years at the department, reportedly has the ear of Attorney General Janet Reno. "Mark Richard has been a longtime official of DOJ, " says Holder. "I've known him for 23 years. He's a totally dedicated, selfless public servant." He also has friends in the intelligence community. In fact, he is regarded as one of Justice's top experts on intelligence, having co-written a report with Rindskopf, the former CIA general counsel, in May 1995 on improving ties between Main Justice and the CIA. Some of his detractors at the department say quietly that Richard carries the water at Justice for the Langley spymasters. But Smith, the former CIA general counsel, disagrees. "Believe me, when I was out there, he took some skin off my back, " says Smith, now a partner at D.C.'s Arnold & Porter. "He has no problem sticking up for the Justice Department." RICHARD'S DUTIES CHANGE Richard is recovering from lung surgery and is now working part time; his supervisors expect him to resume full-time duties before too long. But his portfolio has changed. According to an internal department memo dated Jan. 26, Criminal Division Assistant Attorney General James Robinson has assumed direct oversight responsibility over ICITAP and OPDAT_taking them away from Richard. The Jan. 26 memo came less than three weeks after Kator's letter landed on Eric Holder's desk. Richard Rossman, chief of staff to AAG Robinson, says Stromsem's departure from ICITAP and Richard's removal from the program's oversight are not related to the IG investigation. "I can assure you that the IG investigation had nothing to do with these decisions, " says Rossman. "That, I'm adamant about." Robinson, Rossman says, is interested in education programs, having served as dean at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit before coming to Justice, and came up with the idea of taking charge of the policing programs on his own. What's more, says Rossman, "the whole international training thing is mushrooming into an important part of what we do here." In fact, international police training long predates the appearance of ICITAP in 1986. And there may be some cautionary lessons there for the department. In 1962, Congress created the Office of Public Safety as an adjunct to AID to formally incorporate police assistance into foreign aid programs. In 1974, Congress terminated that program amid charges that U.S. trainers condoned the use of police brutality and torture_and were too closely identified with the CIA.