Top officials' finances would face tighter scrutiny

February 25, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The legislation tightening security checks that CIA Director R. James Woolsey endorsed yesterday would subject "top secret" federal officials to the sort of financial surveillance that could have uncovered the millionaire lifestyle of Aldrich Hazen Ames.

"There are important changes that need to be made in the way security policy is made and the way in which the security is implemented," Mr. Woolsey told the House Intelligence Committee.

The legislation would require all employees with top-secret clearance to allow regular impromptu scrutiny of their financial records, credit reports and foreign travel, as long as they hold the clearance and for five years afterward.

It was submitted to Congress in 1990 but allowed to drop after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. The legislation was resubmitted yesterday by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat.

"Let's stop the breast-beating and the Russia-baiting and admit that if we want to combat foreign espionage, we have to improve personnel security at home," Mr. Metzenbaum said.

The legislation was based on the recommendations of a 1989 Senate advisory panel that was mandated to propose laws to make it easier "to deter, detect and prosecute" espionage cases through stiffer clearance checks, polygraph tests and penalties.

The panel was headed by Eli S. Jacobs, former owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

Had security officials reviewed Mr. Ames' records, they could have detected some of the $1.5 million that he was allegedly paid by his spymasters, including his cash payment of $540,000 for a house in Arlington, Va., and $455,000 in credit charges over an eight-year period -- suspicious outlays for a government employee who never earned more than $70,000 a year.

They would also have been alerted to his trips abroad, on several of which, authorities say, he met Soviet agents and received large cash payments that were deposited into bank accounts here and abroad.

"All of those efforts we can draw on and learn from," said Mr. Woolsey, whose annual report to the House Intelligence Committee on the nation's intelligence apparatus could hardly have been less well-timed, just after the arrest of Mr. Ames and his wife, Maria Del Rosario Casas Ames, on charges of conspiring to commit espionage.

The legislation also proposed widening the polygraph testing of top-secret personnel. Mr. Ames passed two CIA polygraph tests during the period he is accused of spying. The process is likely to be revised to make it more effective.

Likening the effort to prevent security breaches to a hockey goalie being required to stop every shot, Mr. Woolsey said:

"It's quite clear in this case one very important shot did get past the goalie, and it's an issue which raises to the forefront . . . the way in which security is managed, not only for the CIA, or the intelligence community, but for the government as a whole."

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