WASHINGTON -- Despite firm denials from the CIA leadership, senior administration officials say R. James Woolsey, director of Central Intelligence, will leave his post in a matter of days.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield described as "baseless" reports that Mr. Woolsey would be resigning or dismissed shortly in the face of congressional criticism and internal attacks for his handling of the Aldrich Ames spy case.
Congressional sources familiar with intelligence matters refused to predict whether Mr. Woolsey would be removed. But one of them added that he would not want to have Mr. Woolsey's enemies in the agency.
"They're going to take him down if it's the last thing they do," the source said.
For weeks now, Mr. Woolsey has been the target of a whispering campaign within the agency that observers say is almost unprecedented.
Mr. Woolsey's enemies now apparently smell victory. Speaking on condition of anonymity, CIA officials said that some members of Mr. Woolsey's staff are already looking for other positions. Senior officials in the State Department added that they, too, expect Mr. Woolsey to go "any day now."
Officials from both bodies say that Morton Abramowitz, head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, is being considered to replace Mr. Woolsey as director of Central Intelligence, the person in overall control of the U.S. intelligence community.
Mr. Abramowitz, who is close to many of President Clinton's advisers, has been frequently mentioned in the past in connection with a variety of administration positions, including national security adviser.
Mr. Woolsey has been under steady attack for weeks by anonymous critics inside the agency, as well as some members of Congress. His critics on Capitol Hill and in CIA headquarters accuse him of excessive leniency in his handling of the fallout from the Ames affair.
Mr. Woolsey refused to dismiss any of the senior officers held responsible for failing to detect Ames, the CIA officer whose work for Russia is said to have been the most damaging penetration ever of U.S. intelligence. Mr. Woolsey's refusal to act, his detractors say, has opened up the CIA to the wrath of Congress and possible major budget cuts.
Discussion of Mr. Woolsey's future is only part of the speculation about reshuffling in the Clinton administration's national security apparatus. Speculation had been energetic. Now, with midterm elections looming, it has become frenetic.
State Department officials and members of Congress have long predicted that Warren M. Christopher would resign after the elections. State Department watchers said that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine K. Albright, is favored to replace Mr. Christopher.
The long list of other possible candidates for Mr. Christopher's job includes Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, currently ambassador to Japan, and Treasury Secretary Lloyd M. Bentsen.
Speculation has extended to positions just below secretary. Officials speak of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott moving to the White House to replace national security adviser Anthony Lake.