Monday, March 26, 2012

History of CIA police training scandal in Haiti

Editor's Note: On occasion we re-publish articles that are important to the historical and public record, especially when they are difficult to find. After reading this article you may not be surprised it has all but disappeared from the Internet. We would like to thank the author Sam Skolnick for his kind permission to republish his article on the Haiti Information Project (HIP) blog.

March 1, 1999


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


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



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."


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.


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


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


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_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


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."


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."


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 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


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.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Experts: History of campaign to discredit Aristide

Flashpoints Senior Producer Kevin Pina interviews Burt Wides, an expert on US intelligence operations in Haiti. Joining the discussion is former president Aristide's attorney, Ira Kurzban, about recent "revelations" in the press linking him to drug probes, assassinations and corruption. .

(If audio player doesn't appear please refresh the page)

Burt Wides has worked on national security policy issues for more than four decades, serving as chief counsel to Senator Philip Hart, Senator Edward Kennedy, and Senator Paul Sarbanes; as Special Counsel to President Jimmy Carter; and as senior counsel to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers. Among other responsibilities held during that time, he was chief of investigations for the Church Committee, which set the standard for modern-day oversight of the intelligence community, and then was director of the President's Intelligence Oversight Board. He began his government career by working on strategic weapons planning in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy Administration, and he also has represented a variety of high-profile clients on controversial matters as an attorney in private practice.

IRA J. KURZBAN is a partner in the law firm of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger & Tetzeli, P.A., of Miami, Florida. Ira Kurzban, has argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and has been recognized by Newsweek, Time and Esquire Magazines, as well as the National Law Journal and the American Lawyer for his work on behalf of immigrants and refugees. He is the author of Kurzban’s Immigration Law Sourcebook, the most widely used one-volume immigration source in the United States.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Jean Ristil: The People's Journalist of Haiti

RIP Jean Ristil 
December 12, 1981 - February 25, 2012

Jean Ristil: The People's Journalist of Haiti

by Kevin Pina

I'm sure we all  know someone that works tirelessly on behalf of their convictions never caring much about recognition as others around them receive the attention, credibility and accolades. Jean Ristil was exactly that kind of unique soul who cared less about his own recognition than what others were actually doing for his community and his people.  Although Jean Ristil was no stranger to being marginalized by those who felt more entitled, it didn't matter to him because in the end talk was cheap and life was more precious. Growing up and living in Cite Soleil in Haiti, Jean knew never to judge anyone, Haitian or foreigner, by what they said or claimed but by what they actually did for others.

Jean Ristil was a people's journalist, unafraid to take chances to show the world the truth about Haiti and Cite Soleil. During the dark days of repression and murder against Lavalas supporters between 2004-2006, we were part of a team that formed an underground network to collect and distribute information from the grassroots in Haiti to the rest of the world.

Jean Ristil was one of the most courageous people I've ever known. When no one else would dare to report on police raids and indiscriminate killings in neighborhoods like Cite de Dieu, Cite Militaire  and Bel Air, Jean Ristil would pack his camera and run, not walk, to get the photographic evidence. He knew that since the corporate media and human rights organizations had turned a blind eye to Haiti, in the end all the world would ever see was the photographic evidence we provided of the killings.

Jean Ristil also watched my back on countless occasions while I was videotaping massive Lavalas protests during this period where the police would simply start shooting at people randomly to sow terror. When the US Marines or the UN troops moved against him I would intervene and when the Haitian police came against me he would come to my aid sometimes telling them I was a "stupid blan reporter who didn't know any better." I remember one time it was clear that one particular Haitian SWAT officer knew exactly who I was and what I was doing when Jean played the "stupid blan" card. The SWAT cop lifted his black ski mask to look closely at the press badges hanging from our necks then smiled and waved us on saying, "I know who you two are. Get out of here." To this day I like to think there was a begrudging tone of respect in that policeman's response for the loyalty Jean and I regularly showed each other in the field.

Jean Ristil was an organic intellectual with nerves of steel. I remember a conversation Jean and I had in June 2005 one month before the UN massacre he documented in Cite Soleil. We were discussing what to do about the injured and dying shot by the UN and the Haitian police we were confronting on a daily basis. Was it better to help them if we could or to stay detached to document what was going on. It was a painful discussion with both of us changing sides and positions many times. In the end we decided that if we thought we could actually help save a life we would, but that if someone was clearly dying of their wounds we would be honoring them more if we documented their death. Our thinking was that no one would ever know these people in the poor neighborhoods of Haiti had ever lived save for our documenting their deaths for the world. A month later during the UN raid in his community of Cite Soleil on July 6, 2005, Jean would be put to the test. As Leonce Chery lay dying of a single shot to his jaw from a high-powered rifle, Jean stayed with him until the end. It took seven minutes for Leonce to bleed out and die and Jean captured every second of his excruciating death on camera.  Yes, Jean Ristil was a courageous soul who didn't suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome but learned to live with acute traumatic stress in his everyday existence in Cite Soleil. His was a soul and personality of iron.

On September 9, 2005, Jean Ristil would once again jump into the breach. It was already a strange day when I received a frantic phone call from Jean saying that the police were searching Father Gerard Jean-Juste's residence at St. Claire's church in Ti Place Cazeau. Jean-Juste was being held in prison and Jean Ristil was convinced the police were going to try to plant guns in the church to justify his arrest. "Pina, you've got to come now!" he yelled over the telephone. Jean was waiting for me as I arrived and followed me as I jumped a fence and began filming the police searching Jean-Juste's bedroom. A judge accompanied by several large police wearing black ski masks grabbed my arm and tried to take my camera calling me a "White Lavalas Bandit!" I quickly spun to protect my camera yelling "I have the right to film!" as the judge's own momentum sent him flying to the floor in a heap. I yelled to Jean to leave as the police rushed me. The judge, in a screaming and spitting fury, ordered me arrested on the spot. Jean Ristil was out in front of the church videotaping as they escorted me out in handcuffs. Suddenly the judge turns to one of the masked policemen and tells them, "Take this one too. He's with the blan" and now both of us are handcuffed and thrown into the back of a jeep. Jean Ristil spent two days in jail thinking they would keep him longer because he was Haitian and let me go because I had a US passport. When it turned out they let him go a day earlier and the judge ordered me to stay behind bars "until I decide your fate for disrespecting me," Jean Ristil said to me as he left the jail, "Don't worry. You're Haitian now, we'll make sure nothing happens to you."

Kevin Pina and Jean Ristil behind bars in Haiti on September 10, 2005.

For all of his time spent documenting suffering and death, Jean Ristil refused to let it define him. Jean celebrated life in the present and had a clear vision of the life he wanted for the children of Cite Soleil in the future. I remember when Jean Ristil founded the organization Kole Zepòl Sove Ti Moun, Cite Soleil to help orphaned children in his community. Jean said he didn't want foreigners to come in and take the children out of their community to put them on display in their orphanage to raise money for their projects. Neither did he want them to end up as part of the scandalous system of adoption in Haiti that he saw as tantamount to human trafficking. No, Jean Ristil's idea was far simpler and direct. If you really wanted to support Haiti and Cite Soleil than support local families to adopt the orphans in the community. Support them to improve their lives even as they open their arms and hearts to children in their community left parent-less largely due to structural and state-sponsored violence. It was a unique and creative approach that is an example of the way Jean Ristil approached problems in Cite Soleil and in Haiti, with a clear sense of history.

Jean Ristil was that rare person that serves as a bridge between grassroots activism and journalism in the world. Yes, he was truly a people's journalist of Haiti but what others said, or didn't say about his work, never seemed to matter much to Jean Ristil.  In the end, the only thing that seemed to really matter to Jean was what he was going to do next for his community and for Haiti.