President Reagan has denied that he authorized anti-terrorism efforts that gave the CIA "license to kill," but the newspaper which published the report said it was standing by its story.
Reagan reminded reporters that he forbade assassinations by U.S. agents back in 1981 and said that order still stands.But the Washington Post on Wednesday said Reagan signed secret orders in 1984 and 1985 authorizing aggressive covert activities against terrorists and stating any actions taken would be deemed lawful if done in "good faith."
Unidentified sources quoted in the story said the language provoked disputes within the government because it was widely considered "a license to kill" that circumvented Reagan's ban on direct or indirect involvement in assassinations by U.S. intelligence agents.
When asked about the report at a picture-taking session on Wednesday afternoon, Reagan said:
"I saw that and I was quite upset about it . . . No, back in 1981, I issued a directive that the United States would not permit assassinating anyone in any of the things that we were doing and that continues to this day."
A spokesperson for Benjamin Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post said, "We stand by the story and we have no further comment."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater had earlier heaped scorn on the Post report, calling it an "extroardinary cheap shot."
"This is an old story being rehashed again, interestingly timed, and has no foundation," Fitzwater told reporters.
Fitzwater said reporter Bob Woodward, who co-authored the Post report, had disclosed the secret anti-terrorism order at issue in a 1987 book on the CIA called "Veil" and had written that it was not intended to authorize assassinations.
"I think this (the report) is an extraordinary cheap shot. It impugns the president in a way that the author himself has denied in previously written stories," the spokesman said.