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Jennifer Harbury in Guatemala
The woman who spiked the spooks

by Panorama reporter Peter Taylor

Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard educated white American lawyer, never imagined that she would become the unwitting protagonist in an astonishing drama involving the CIA.

It began a decade ago with a love affair in the Guatemalan jungle and ended in tragedy on September 11th when Osama Bin Laden's fanatical henchmen devastated New York and Washington.

Jennifer met her husband, Efrain Bamaca, in 1990 when she was writing a book about the Mayan guerrillas. They were fighting to topple the CIA supported military dictatorship.

Bamaca was leader of the Mayan guerillas
She spent a month in one of their camps and got to know Bamaca who was their leader. He had no formal education and had taught himself to read and write.

I asked if it was love at first sight. 'No,' she replied. 'Not at all.' After a month in the camp they had become close.

She said, "We cared a lot about each other by then, but he said, 'women are not toys' and with that he sent me home. We never thought we would see each other again." Nevertheless, he kept in touch by sending notes by secret courier.

Secret wedding

They finally married in secret across the Rio Grande in America. As Bamaca was penniless, they exchanged spoons according to Mayan tradition.

But the couple weren't together for long. The war intensified and Bamaca knew he had to return to his men. He said goodbye to Jennifer and said he'd see her soon. He never did.

In 1992 there was a skirmish between the Guatemalan military and Bamaca's guerillas. The army announced that Bamaca had killed himself in combat to avoid being taken alive.

Jennifer didn't believe the story and proved it wrong when she exhumed what was supposed to be his body and found it was someone else.

She refused to believe he was dead. Her conviction was confirmed when she met a prisoner who'd escaped and said he'd seen Bamaca alive and being interrogated.


They could be pulling his finger nails out, amputating his genitals...

Jennifer Harbury
To Jennifer, this meant torture. Jennifer knew what this entailed. In her legal work, she'd seen enough of its victims.

She said, "They could be pulling his finger nails out, amputating his genitals, filling his eye sockets with mud and burning him with cigarettes. Those are all things that I saw many, many times in the morgue."

She started banging on the doors of officialdom to try and establish what had really happened to her husband. She drew blanks.

In desperation, she finally went on hunger strike in front of the White House to confront President Clinton and his professed commitment to human rights.

In the end, the State Department told her that they'd had news that Bamaca had been taken alive but could tell her no more.

The story finally came out. Harbury gained access to top-secret CIA documents under America's Freedom of Information Act.

'Paid asset'

They revealed that the person in charge of Bamaca's interrogation, Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, had been working for the CIA for several years as 'a paid asset'.

He was reported to have been paid $44,000 for his services to the CIA. No wonder there had been a cover up and Jennifer Harbury had been unable to dig out the truth.

The CIA 'scrub order' was result. The CIA's hands were now tied. I asked her if she felt in any way responsible, however unwittingly, for the intelligence failure that led to September 11th.

Not surprisingly, she said she didn't and blamed the CIA. America's intelligence agencies had not acted on the warnings they did have, she said, "because we didn't think it could happen here."

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