Senator Asks CIA Probe on Blandon Testimony
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Jesse Helms has asked the CIA to investigate allegations by a Panamanian dissident that the agency passed personal information to Panama’s strong man, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, about Helms and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, it was disclosed Monday.
The request was made in a letter Helms sent last week to CIA Director William Webster following congressional testimony two weeks ago by Jose I. Blandon, a former Noriega associate who is now a leading critic of Panama’s defense chief.
In the letter, a copy of which was made available to The Associated Press, the North Carolina Republican said it is ″improper and illegal″ for the CIA to maintain files on members of Congress.
At the time of Blandon’s testimony, the CIA said it ″categorically denies″ his allegations.
A CIA spokeswoman, Sharon Foster, had no comment Monday on Helms’ letter except to say that communications from members of Congress are confidential but are taken seriously and are answered.
In a separate letter to FBI Director William Sessions, Helms asked whether the agency had ever passed on information about members of Congress or their staffs to the CIA and whether it ever it had engaged in wiretaps or surveillance on him or members of his staff.
Blandon, testifying before a Senate subcommittee on Feb. 9, said the CIA passed to Noriega data about Helms, Kennedy, D-Mass., and two of their aides. The two senators have been among Noriega’s strongest critics on Capitol Hill, citing allegations of Noriega’s involvement in drug trafficking.
Helms said Blandon’s credibility ″appeared to be high.″ He added that he received information from other countries indicating the CIA had delivered similar information to them on other senators.
He asked Webster whether the CIA had ever maintained information on members of Congress or their staffs and whether such information was ever passed on to any official of a foreign government, specifically the Panamanian Defense Forces.
Helms indicated he was skeptical about the CIA’s denial, contending that it made an inquiry afterward to CIA field offices and to the heads of U.S. agencies involved in national security issues as to whether the denial was accurate.
Ms. Foster of the CIA said she was unable to comment on that allegation.
Blandon, meanwhile, met under heavy guard Monday at the U.S. Courthouse with prosecutors investigating the Iran-Contra arms and money affair. He presumably was questioned by the staff of independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh about Noriega’s agreement to train Nicaraguan rebels at the request of Lt. Col. Oliver North, a former National Security Council official who is a target of Walsh’s investigation.
Blandon was a key informant for federal prosecutors in Florida who earlier this month obtained indictments charging Noriega with taking at least $4.6 million in bribes to protect a major Colombian drug ring.