Ethics Conflict Seen as ex-CIA Officials Turn to Lobbying
By Nicholas Thompson
The Boston Globe
Tuesday 13 May 2003
WASHINGTON -- In the mid-'90s, Barry Broman was CIA station chief in Burma, also known as Myanmar, a leading producer of illegal narcotics that is governed by one of Southeast Asia's most repressive military regimes. In retirement, though, Broman switched clients: Last year, the former US intelligence officer worked on behalf of Burma as a $5,000-a-month lobbyist, trying to persuade American officials to adopt a more friendly stance toward the regime.
Once tasked with gathering intelligence to advance US interests, Broman spent much of last year plying the Washington bureaucracy to embrace a more favorable stance toward Burma, whose illegal drug production -- much of it entering the United States -- accounts for between 10 percent and 15 percent of the country's economy. In February, Lorne Craner, an assistant US secretary of state, denounced Burma's military government for its ''disregard for human rights and democracy [that] extends to every conceivable category of violation.''
Despite that record, government filings show that Broman's company, the Washington-based DCI Group, unsuccessfuly lobbied Congress and the Bush administration to have Burma certified as a partner in global antinarcotics efforts, a status that would have allowed it to receive increased American economic aid. The firm also issued news releases announcing Burma's counternarcotics efforts, its discharge of some political prisoners, and rebuttals to published reports accusing the regime of carrying out a policy of systematic rape against ethnic minority women.
Broman, who worked for Burma from June until December of 2002, is part of a class of retired CIA officials whose lobbying raises the possibility of disquieting conflicts, in the view of a number of government officials. CIA station chiefs considering the prospect of future careers and financial gain may shade information to favor the government they are supposed to spy on, these officials said. This could be extremely dangerous if the CIA is tracking terrorists or other people potentially harmful to the United States, they added.
Receiving information tinged by personal motives is a ''serious security concern'' said Robert Baer, formerly a CIA operative in Tajikistan and the Middle East who notes that a number of his colleagues have gone into lobbying. Baer said that, given the current reliance on very narrow intelligence sources, dishonest spies could even ''lead the US into war.''
Melvin Goodman, a former head of the CIA's Soviet desk, condemned Broman's work done on behalf of Burma, saying it ''shows a lack of any notion of what ethical behavior is. The fact that he is certainly capitalizing on his former clandestine relationships makes it even worse.''
Almost all CIA officials are banned for three years from working for foreign governments with which they had contact. Broman left his CIA position in Burma seven years ago.
A narrower restriction permanently bars former federal officials from working on ''particular matters,'' such as contracts, that they handled while working for the government. The CIA had no comment on whether Broman had violated this standard, although a former general counsel to the CIA said that, at most, it ''raised questions.''
Documents that foreign lobbyists are required to file with the government list Broman as one of 10 DCI staffers on the Burma contract, which has since ended. But Broman usually was accompanied by only one or two colleagues when he met on various occasions with members of Congress, Pentagon officials, and opinion leaders such as former United Nations ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The most frequent topic of conversation, according to filings at the Department of Justice, was ''drug enforcement cooperation efforts between the US and Myanmar.''
All lobbying organizations that represent foreign governments must register with the government under a 1938 law passed after Adolf Hitler hired a public relations specialist to improve Germany's image in America.
Broman, whose career in the CIA was confirmed by several former colleagues and intelligence sources, declined to comment for this story. DCI also declined to comment. But a Broman friend, who worked with him in the CIA, said the former station chief truly believes that Burma is doing a good job in reducing drug production: ''He really cares about human rights and he is one of the few people with really in-depth knowledge of the country.''
At least one other former CIA station chief has registered as a foreign agent for a country he once worked in: Milton Bearden, CIA station chief in Sudan from 1983 to 1985. Sudan is one of seven countries involved in state-sponsored terrorism, according to the State Department.
Bearden works for a firm, headquartered at his house, called the Steeplechase Group, which is run by Anis Haggar, a Sudanese businessman. Haggar is closely linked politically and financially to the Sudanese government, run by the National Islamic Front, or NIF, according to current and former government officials.
But Bearden says there is total separation between Steeplechase and the government of Sudan and that reports of Haggar's ties to the NIF are mostly red herrings. ''He doesn't need any money from the government -- he is the largest taxpayer in Sudan,'' Bearden told the Globe. Bearden added that he registered as a foreign agent only out of ''an abundance of caution.''
According to its disclosure report, Steeplechase works with ''US government officials to arrange meetings with Sudanese officials to discuss the prospects for peace and to discuss international petroleum developments and their potential impact on Sudan's petroleum industry.'' Steeplechase Group was paid about $300,000 last year for this service.
''I help out with the peace negotiations,'' Bearden said. He added that he also is helping Sudan with reducing the number of child soldiers involved in its civil conflict and reducing its AIDS rate.
Other Sudan observers are concerned Bearden is relying on the sensitive contacts he gained while in the CIA to help persuade Congress and the Bush administration to lift or limit sanctions against Sudan, thus creating opportunities for American investment. Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and Sudan specialist who testifies frequently on Capitol Hill, says the CIA is closely involved in setting US policy toward the country, and that to reach peace in its long-running civil war Sudan ''needs more international pressure. It doesn't need high-paid lobbyists with contacts in the CIA telling it how to avoid the pressure.''
Bearden said there is no difference between a former CIA official working as a lobbyist for a foreign government and a former ambassador doing the same thing. ''If an ambassador can do this without anyone raising any questions, I can't possibly see why someone would raise the issue with the CIA,'' he said.
Others disagree, both about the practice in general and about whether CIA officials should be particularly chastened.
''A foreign government's interests are not the same as those of the United States. To turn around for moneymaking purposes and work for another government is reprehensible,'' says Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs.