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Up to a point, House Speaker Jim Wright is correct in protesting purported CIA efforts to derail peace negotiations in Nicaragua.

After all, the Central Intelligence Agency is barred by law from conducting any covert activities in Nicaragua. Even if that law were not on the books, the U.S. ought to give peace efforts in Nicaragua every reasonable chance, no matter how slight they may be.When that much has been said in his favor, the fact remains that what Wright did still does far more harm than good.

In essence, what the House Speaker did was to tell a news conference that the CIA had admitted privately to Congress that it encouraged anti-government demonstrations in Nicaragua in hopes of provoking the leftist Sandinista regime into over-reacting in the midst of peace talks.

Is Wright's account accurate? The CIA and the White House aren't saying; they never do in such cases, for fear of letting out more secrets than have already been disclosed. Other congressmen, however, are not confirming the Speaker's remarks. Besides, since when did the repressive Sandinistas need a provocation or any other excuse in order to crack down on internal dissenters?

But even if Wright deserves the benefit of a doubt, it was still unwise for him to go public with his complaint. Why?

Because his remarks give the Sandinistas an excuse to label other Nicaraguan protesters as tools of the CIA even though the regime aroused plenty of internal opposition entirely on its own by suppressing the press, the church, and individual rights.

Because those remarks further Wrights' reputation for favoring the Sandinistas so much that he has been willing previously to go so far as to try to wrest control of Nicaraguan policy away from the White House and the State Department.

And because Wright's remarks further Congress' reputation for being unable to keep a secret. Wright claims not to be violating any confidence, but somebody clearly did so. When that happens, the CIA can be expected to hold fewer briefings. Down that road lies fewer such briefings, making it harder to monitor the agency and increasing the risk of the very CIA excesses that Wright and many others hope to avert.

Before going public with his complaint, Wright should have protested privately. Since the House Speaker has a big voice in how much money the CIA gets from Congress, it's hard to believe quiet pressure from him could have been ignored. But there is no indication that he exhausted such options before availing himself of the last resort.

Meanwhile, Jim Wright has certainly succeeded in embarrassing the White House. But in the process, the House Speaker has also made himself look less than fully responsible.