The CIA will neither confirm nor deny whether it had knowledge of, or involvement in, a plot to poison or otherwise assassinate the late President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez. In response to a Freedom of Information Act Request filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, the CIA has issued a formal response stating that it will "neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to" the PCJF's request.
The CIA is barred by law from engaging in or conspiring with others to engage in assassination. Yet, the CIA has stated in response for a request for documents related to such an assassination plan, that "The fact of the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified and is intelligence sources and methods information that is protected from disclosure..." The CIA also cites the CIA Act of 1949, Section 6, stating that responding to the PCJF's request for information would "require the publication or disclosure of the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency."
Did the U.S. government’s effort to weaken President Hugo Chavez include participating in an assassination against the populist leader? It is no secret that the U.S. government was engaged in a multi-year campaign to undermine Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela. Chavez himself asserted that the Bush Administration was involved in the failed 2002 coup that led to his temporary ouster. Wikileaks recently released a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas outlining a sophisticated 5-point strategy by the U.S. aimed at toppling Chavez.
"The CIA has a long history of assassination plots on political leaders," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF. "If the CIA had no responsive documents, why not say so under these circumstances concerning what should be illegal activity? They are simultaneously claiming that they don't engage in assassination plots but also that information related to such an illegal assassination plot would be classified as protected intelligence information. We believe the public has the right to disclosure of any such illegal activities."
"We know what the policy on assassination states," said Carl Messineo, Legal Director of the PCJF. "This request demands the reality of CIA activities. We are appealing the CIA's response and preparing to take legal action as necessary."
In the wake of the Church Committee hearings exposing the CIA's criminal domestic spying and foreign assassination activities, then President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905 February 18, 1976 which banned the CIA from engaging in political assassination. The Executive Order was superseded by Order 12036 signed by President Jimmy Carter in January 1978, which strenghened the ban on assassinations. It stated: "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." This same prohibition and identical language was continued in President Ronald Regan's superseding Executive Order 12333 regarding Intelligence Activities, signed in 1981.
The CIA itself proclaims on its website that it does not conduct assassinations and that it is explicitly prohibited "from engaging, either directly or indirectly, in assassinations." But in response to a direct records request as to whether it possesses information that might implicate the CIA in illegal assassination activities, the CIA is refusing to search its records. It has not come up empty-handed nor has it stated that the records don't exist.
Millions of people in the United States, Venezuela, and Latin America want to know if Chavez’s cancer was somehow induced by poisoning or to a covert operation that exposed him to cancer-causing toxins.
The CIA has staked out its position: “we won’t tell you, and we don’t have to tell you."
So what's there to hide?
The CIA's reply to the FOIA request can be read here.