Report details CIA's mishandling of Ames probe

September 25, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- An internal CIA report on the case of the confessed spy Aldrich H. Ames paints a picture of incompetence and indifference at the agency and confronts its director, R. James Woolsey, with a decision on disciplining some of the agency's most senior officers, according to government officials familiar with the report.

For years, top officials at the agency paid little attention to the fact that there was, in essence, a serial killer in their midst, the report says. It depicts a careless attitude toward the search for the worst turncoat in the agency's 47-year history, a man who turned out to be a bumbling alcoholic.

Ames' betrayals, which began in 1985 and for which he was paid more than $2 million by Moscow, led to the deaths of at least 10 Soviet and Eastern European double agents working for the United States.

The report says he also revealed the identities of two dozen other United States intelligence officers and foreign agents working for the CIA and exposed about 50 secret operations in Russia, Europe and Latin America.

It also confirmed Ames' boasts at his sentencing in April that he had delivered a far larger cache of secrets to the Soviets than the CIA had acknowledged, and it supports his accounts of the inability of the agency to mount a serious investigation against him.

The report is based in large part on dozens of hours of interviews of Ames by CIA officers who have visited him in the Allenwood Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, where he is serving a life sentence.

The CIA knew that it had a traitor in its midst as early as the spring of 1986, according to former top officials at the agency. Yet the search for the mole essentially came to halt in 1988, the report said.

Then a CIA officer told the agency in late 1989 that Ames, upon his return from a three-year assignment in Rome, was suddenly quite wealthy: he had paid $540,000 in cash for a new home near the agency's headquarters and was driving a new Jaguar.

The agency's clandestine division took more than a year to forward these concerns to its office of security. The internal-security office assigned one investigator to the case, an inexperienced man in his 20s who put the investigation aside entirely for months to concentrate on his classes in intelligence.

It was not until 1993 that a formal criminal investigation began. The head of the CIA's Office of Security during those years retains his post, according to several colleagues at the agency.

Mr. Woolsey now faces a difficult decision on what to do about the 400-page account, which he received over the weekend.

Although some of the top officials at the agency who were criticized in the report have retired, others are at the pinnacles of their careers.

They include at least three current and former directors of covert operations, the past heads of the Soviet and counterintelligence divisions, and the current or former station chiefs in London, Rome and Bonn, according to government officials familiar with the report.

If the director does not publicly punish people, he will be seen as protecting the agency; if he does, he will face fierce protests from within, said current and former CIA officers.

The report by the CIA's inspector general, Frederick P. Hitz, who coincidentally was a career training classmate of Ames' in the 1960s, does not recommend specific disciplinary action, leaving that task to Mr. Woolsey.

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