Washington whispers

Washington whispers

Douglas Stanglin


Even before last week’s decision by the CIA to settle a sexual discrimination suit brought by a female officer, the spy agency had taken quiet steps to change its image as a male-only club. For example, in responding to the threat of a class-action discrimination suit by hundreds of female employees, the agency told their representatives that it was prepared to offer them a large number of promotions. And, for the first time, the agency has named a woman to head the clandestine service’s Latin American division, long a hotbed of machismo. But while female colleagues were delighted by the appointment of the woman–a talented linguist who is considered a tough and highly competent professional–the selection has not gone down well in all quarters of the agency. The complaint: She was promoted over more-senior males. Insiders say that since her appointment, the officer has received hate mail and even death threats over the agency’s secure phone lines.


The CIA was confident almost until the last moment that it would win the discrimination suit it tentatively settled last week for $410,000 in damages. Last month, a computer message on the electronic bulletin board used by the agency’s supersecret Directorate of Operations expressed confidence that the CIA would be vindicated. Without explicitly naming the plaintiff, the electronic message argued that she was “not promotable” because as a chief of station she had been “guilty of grave … misconduct.” But after a sworn affidavit destroyed the testimony of the key witnesses against the officer, the CIA realized it did not have a case. Now, the agency wants to bottle up the facts and has pressed for a gag order to block the vindicated plaintiff from discussing the case publicly.


President Clinton reportedly is furious that his own pollster, Stanley Greenberg, conducted a well-publicized poll for the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist policy group that Clinton once chaired. The poll showed that health care reform had been Clinton’s biggest political disaster. But in a private session last week, Clinton angrily told DLC Democrats that Greenberg’s findings were puzzling since he “was the guy giving us strategic advice” on how to handle the issue in the first place.


Drug policy is shaping up as a major battlefield for the White House and the Republican Congress. The new GOP leaders are certain to object to much of the strategy outlined in the administration’s as yet unreleased drug strategy for next year. It unabashedly calls for “implementation of our existing program.” The strategy, for example, stresses treatment of hard-core drug users. By contrast, the GOP emphasis is on enforcement and interdiction programs. In addition, the White House strategy calls for more funding of drug- related foreign aid, which is not likely to please Republican lawmakers. Attorney General Janet Reno is also pressing ahead with spending that would establish local “drug courts” to help addicted defendants get treatment, though Republicans hope to stop the funding as soon as possible. Other elements of the drug strategy, however, could win GOP approval: increased assistance to Colombia and Peru to help keep their skies clear of planes ferrying drugs, once legal technicalities are resolved, and more help for nations in the eastern Caribbean, which is becoming a key transshipment point for drug traffic.


Federal prosecutors in Washington, investigating Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s efforts to buy influence in the United States, are zeroing in on a secret trip that one of his top aides made to Texas in late 1992. The aide, Mohammed Bukhari, met with American businessmen to discuss finding a way to restore diplomatic relations with Washington in the aftermath of the Pan Am 103 bombing. But prosecutors want to know whether Bukhari and some of his American contacts also discussed the possible Libyan purchase of $200 million worth of real estate in Texas and Illinois. Such deals are prohibited by the U.S. economic embargo against Libya. Law enforcement officials say Bukhari did not have a visa to enter the United States legally. They also say the Libyan was driven across the Mexican border into Texas: prosecutors are investigating whether he had the help of Henry Billingsley, a Dallas real-estate investor, and A. William Bodine, a New York financial adviser. He then turned up at a weekend camp-out in east Texas for 150 prominent business and political leaders hosted by Billingsley’s father-in-law, Trammell Crow, the international real-estate magnate and a major Republican donor. Crow’s lawyer says his client has had no business ties to Libya and did “nothing improper.” Billingsley did not return phone calls, and Bodine’s lawyer would not comment.

Now, `Beat the Press’

Arianna Huffington, the bestselling author and wife of Michael Huffington, the wealthy Republican congressman who spent $28 million of his own money this year in an unsuccessful bid for a California Senate seat, will tape a pilot this month for a proposed Sunday morning talk show with the working title “Beat the Press.” The Huffingtons, who have not yet conceded defeat in the Senate race against Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein, were the object of considerable negative press reports during the vicious campaign. Mrs. Huffington, who is working on a book about the election, plans to pitch the show both to the Fox network and to CNBC’s Roger Ailes, media adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush. The program’s format: Mrs. Huffington will offer prominent figures who have been “victims” of press attacks an on-the-air opportunity to rebut the “charges” against them. The show will also examine what they call the media’s liberal biases. Tentative guest on the pilot program: House Speaker-designate Newt Gingrich, who will respond to a New Yorker article about him entitled “Lost in Space” by David Remnick, a Pulitzer prize-winning author.

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