Last week, I wrote a post linking to a front-page story from the Boston Globe on links between former Liberian President, now-war crimes defendant Charles Taylor and the CIA. The piece reported that, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Globe, the U.S. government had confirmed that Taylor had worked with U.S. spy agencies while he was a rebel leader fighting to overthrow the Liberian government.
Today, the Globe has issued a near-retraction of the story:
A front-page story on Jan. 17 drew unsupported conclusions and significantly overstepped available evidence when it described former Liberia president Charles Taylor as having worked with US spy agencies as a “sought-after source.’’ The story, based on a response by the US Defense Intelligence Agency to a long-pending records request from the Globe, described the agency’s response as having “confirmed its agents and CIA agents worked with Taylor beginning in the early 1980s.’’
But the agency offered no such confirmation; rather, it said only that it possessed 48 documents running to 153 pages that fall in the category of what the Globe asked for - records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence going back to 1982. The agency, however, refused to release the documents and gave no indication of what was in them.
One of the grounds for that refusal was suggestive, citing the need to protect “intelligence sources and methods,’’ but that, by itself, fell well short of a sufficient basis for the published account. There has long been speculation that Taylor had such a role, speculation fueled in part by Taylor’s own suggestion in trial testimony that his 1985 escape from prison in Plymouth, Mass., may have been facilitated by CIA operatives. But Taylor, now standing trial before a UN special court on charges of rape, murder, and other offenses, denies he was ever a source for, or worked for, US intelligence.
The Globe had no adequate basis for asserting otherwise and the story should not have run in this form.
The fact that these "records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence" exist but the CIA won't release them is only going to increase the curiosity about what they contain. The correction is unlikely to stop the rumor mills in Monrovia, Washington, or The Hague.