WASHINGTON -- Fair-skinned and hard as nails, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez is "a soldier above all," in the words of Gen. Hector Gramajo, a former Guatemalan defense minister.
For at least five years, Colonel Alpirez was also a well-paid secret operative for the CIA and a murderer, a U.S. congressman says.
The colonel's life can be sketched through U.S. Army records, interviews with Guatemalan officials, affidavits and descriptions of secret records on his relationship with the CIA.
Colonel Alpirez has been linked to the murder of Michael DeVine, an American innkeeper who lived and worked in the Guatemalan jungle, and the torture and killing of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a leftist guerrilla who was the husband of an American lawyer.
His story has revealed the CIA's longstanding ties with senior officers of a military often accused of making war on its own people.
Those ties began in 1954, when Julio Roberto Alpirez was about 5 years old. The CIA engineered a coup in Guatemala that overthrew a leftist president and installed a right-wing military regime.
The CIA's station in Guatemala began recruiting young and promising military officers who would provide information on the left-wing guerrillas, the internal workings of Guatemala's military and political leadership, union members, opposition politicians and others.
In the late 1960s, General Gramajo said in a telephone interview
from Guatemala City, the young cadet Julio Alpirez distinguished himself at the Guatemalan military academy.
He was sent in 1970 to the School of the Americas, an elite and recently much-criticized U.S. Army academy at Fort Benning, Ga.
Human-rights groups and members of Congress point out that the school's graduates include Roberto D'Aubuisson, leader of death squads in El Salvador; 19 Salvadorean soldiers named in the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests and three soldiers accused of the 1980 rape and murder of four U.S. church workers; Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and other leaders of the military junta that ran Haiti from 1991 to 1994; Gen. Hugo Banzer, the dictator of Bolivia from 1971 to 1978; and Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama, now imprisoned in the United States.
In the 1970s, General Gramajo said, Colonel Alpirez became an accomplished paratrooper, won promotions and served as an officer in an counterinsurgency unit known as the Kaibiles.
The Kaibiles became notorious in the early 1980s, known as the "scorched earth" years, when tens of thousands of Indians were killed as the military swept across rural Guatemala, systemically destroying villages.
By the Guatemalan government's own count, the campaign left 40,000 widows and 150,000 orphans.
In the late 1980s, Colonel Alpirez served as a senior official of an intelligence unit hidden within the general staff of the president of Guatemala, according to a Guatemalan Foreign Ministry official who asked not to be identified.
It was in those years that Colonel Alpirez became a paid agent of the CIA, U.S. government officials said, and received tens of thousands of dollars a year for his information.
The intelligence unit, known as the "Archivo," or archives, stands accused by groups including Amnesty International and the Washington Office on Latin America, a foreign-policy advocacy group, of assassination, infiltration of civilian agencies and spying on Guatemalans in violation of the nation's constitution.