CIA man to fight spy case

February 25, 1994|By Tim Weiner | Tim Weiner,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The lawyer representing Aldrich Ames, the CIA official accused of spying for Moscow, said yesterday that Mr. Ames would fight the charges against him, raising the prospect of a messy trial that could involve secrets the agency would rather not disclose.

The lawyer for Mr. Ames' wife, Maria del Rosario Casas Ames, also issued a statement denouncing the accusations in an FBI affidavit that was unsealed on Tuesday after the couple was arrested.

If the case against Mr. Ames and his wife is brought to trial in open court, it would set the stage for a potentially damaging tug of war between the intelligence agency's desire to preserve security secrets and the Justice Department's need to make a case against the couple.

The couple is to appear at a federal court hearing Tuesday to determine if there is probable cause to detain them. Their lawyers refused to discuss any defense they might present.

The intelligence agency is institutionally wary of espionage trials that could reveal sources and methods the agency employs.

In the past, national security officials charged with crimes have threatened to disclose secrets at trials, sometimes effectively scuttling the charges against them.

Procedures for presenting evidence in such cases were adopted in 1980 in an effort to prevent those tactics, but they have had mixed results in court.

On Capitol Hill, members of the congressional committees that oversee the intelligence agency said yesterday that the agency was continuing an internal investigation to determine whether other intelligence officials might be implicated in the espionage case.

Dismay at lie tests

They expressed dismay after learning that Mr. Ames passed routine lie-detector tests administered by the agency's Office of Security in 1986 and 1991. The lawmakers said they would review the case and, if necessary, overhaul the agency's internal-security practices.

"Mr. Ames is resisting these charges," Plato Cacheris, a Washington defense lawyer, said of his client.

Mr. Cacheris, who spoke with his client yesterday at a detention center in Alexandria, Va., said: "Under the circumstances, he's doing remarkably well. We discussed the case in as many facets as we could."

Mr. Cacheris, whose clients have included Sheik Kamal Adham, the former Saudi intelligence chief at the heart of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International case, and Fawn Hall, the document-shredding secretary to Oliver L. North, the former National Security Council aide in the Iran-contra affair, said he could not discuss what defense Mr. Ames might present if indicted.

Mrs. Ames' lawyer, William Cummings, said his client was "devastated by the distortions, out-of-context, selected statements and alleged quotations in the government's affidavit." He did not discuss reports that Mrs. Ames has offered to cooperate with federal investigators.

The 35-page affidavit unsealed Tuesday, based on court-authorized wiretaps and electronic monitoring of Mr. Ames' home computer, includes transcripts of conversations that the FBI says depict the Ameses talking about transporting large sums of cash to the United States.

$540,000 house

The bureau's affidavit also said that the Ameses paid $540,000 in cash for a new house near CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., ran up about $5,000 a month in credit card charges, bought a new 1992 Jaguar and indulged in other extravagances far beyond their apparent means of support without attracting suspicion.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Ames was earning just under $70,000 a year in his post as a counter-narcotics intelligence official, a position to which he had been transferred to reduce his access to highly sensitive information. Mrs.Ames was attending graduate school.

Mr. and Mrs. Ames have not entered pleas to the charges that they conspired to commit espionage. Mr. Cacheris said the government had probably convened a federal grand jury to consider formal charges, although prosecutors would not confirm that.

The affidavit, which the prosecutors used to justify the arrest of the couple, includes circumstantial evidence concerning espionage activities. But there is no direct evidence, like photographs, showing the couple turning over compromising information to the Russians.

Mr. Cacheris said that at the hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, he would ask prosecutors whether they had any evidence of direct transfers of documents. But he said it was unlikely that the prosecutors would disclose much about their case.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Dan Glickman, a Kansas Democrat who is chairman of the House intelligence committee, told CIA Director R. James Woolsey: "The Ames case raises disturbing questions about the internal controls and management of counterintelligence activities at the CIA."

Mr. Glickman promised "an extensive, exhaustive review" to determine "what the Ames case means for the intelligence community."

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