A bad rap

March 18, 1994|By Art Buchwald

THE CIA has been taking a bad rap for alleged spy Aldrich Ames who was arrested for whispering U.S. secrets to the Russians. Critics of the intelligence agency maintain that the chaps out at Langley should have known Aldrich was up to no good from his lifestyle, which was far more lavish than anything a CIA counterintelligence officer could afford.

One of the people assigned to investigate what went wrong was Ted Tarr. He told me, "In retrospect, there were signs that Ames was not exactly what he appeared to be. But we had to take his word that he was straight, because he had taken an oath that he would uphold the law of the land."

"Weren't you suspicious when he started tooling around

Northern Virginia in a Jaguar?"

"He told us that he had won it at an American Legion Ball."

"What about the $450,000 in cash that he paid for a new house? Surely that should have raised a red flag."

"It did until he explained that he had won it in Ed McMahon's publisher's sweepstakes. He told us that he was as surprised as anyone when Ed showed up at the house and took pictures of Ames and his wife crying as they were handed the money."

"You didn't pursue his story to see if it was true or not?" I asked.

"Not exactly. But we did give Ames a party. There aren't many people at the CIA who win a million dollars for doing nothing."

"Did Ames own a yacht?"

"We're looking into that. By itself it doesn't mean anything because we have a saying in the CIA -- 'Just because a man buys a 60-foot boat for himself doesn't necessarily make him a double agent,' " he said defensively.

"Ted, apparently every time Ames was questioned about his wealth he had an explanation, including the story about his wife's extraordinary inheritance. Did anyone at the CIA think to check it out?"

"Of course, we did. We insisted that Ames swear on a Bible. He did as we asked, and the Bible indicated that he was telling the truth. Believe me, we'll never take his word for anything again."

"Ted, is there any truth to the rumor that Ames tipped his superiors $100 every time they parked his car for him?"

"I don't think so. Word about that would have gotten around the office pretty fast."

"I still don't understand how Ames was able to move so much money into different banks around the world without anyone finding out what he was up to."

"He did it on his lunch hour, and we never check on our agents when they go out to lunch. It wouldn't be ethical."

"Mrs. Ames is also allegedly a spy. Did anyone at the CIA question her lifestyle?"

"A few people made comments about the designer jeans she wore to the CIA touch football games. Look, no one in the spy business is perfect, and if Ames and his wife fell through our security cracks, it was an honest mistake. We have closed all the loopholes to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

"How's that?"

"If you show up in the parking lot in a new Jaguar you have to submit to urinalysis before you can use the agency's cafeteria."

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.

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