Disinformation for the president CIA flubs again: Officials knew intelligence on the Soviet Union was probably tainted.

November 02, 1995

IMAGINE YOU ARE Ronald Reagan or George Bush or Bill Clinton. Into the Oval Office comes a packet of top-secret, need-to-know, for-your-eyes-only reports on the Soviet menace from the CIA.

Only problem is, the so-called intelligence you are getting is bogus. It is phony. It is disinformation right out of a Cold War spy novel. A CIA agent, let's call him Aldrich Ames, has turned traitor and tells his KGB handlers which Soviet nationals are working for the CIA. Some are executed. But others turn double-agent, feeding Americans a clever mix of lies and semi-truths about Soviet operations.

Here comes the clinker: Some key officials in the CIA's Directorate of Operations know their stuff is tainted, know it comes from agents who have been compromised, and yet put it in channels leading right to the White House.

All of the above is not fiction. It is the latest revelation of CIA incompetence and worse as reported by the CIA inspector general, Frederick Hitz. So what is the reaction of John M. Deutch, the new Director of Central Intelligence? Although Mr. Hitz recommends that 12 high officials including former DCIs William H. Webster, Robert M. Gates and R. James Woolsey be held "ultimately accountable" for horrific intelligence lapses in the Ames case, Mr. Deutch agrees to only half a loaf. He refuses to reprimand five of the officials on the Hitz list and declares he has "the highest respect" for his three predecessors.

In the fallout from this decision, we have Messrs. Webster, Gates and Woolsey turning on Mr. Hitz, saying there was no basis to hold them accountable for things they didn't know, and Sen. Bob Kerrey, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, retorting that "they should have known."

Mr. Deutch's handling of this latest scandal will hardly improve morale at his sullen, angry agency. But far more important is whether his establishment of a procedure giving other branches of government (including the presidency) the means to assess the reliability of the CIA's sources will impose some discipline and credibility on the whole tattered process. Far more important is whether Mr. Deutch can devise a mission for the CIA attuned to a post-Cold War world in which terrorism, industrial espionage, Third World intrigue, nuclear proliferation and other dangers replace the monolithic enmity of the old Soviet Union.

His is not an easy job. But neither is it easy to be president or secretary of defense or chairman of the joint chiefs or scores of other officials who should be able to believe the intelligence estimates they get from the CIA. Obviously, there's a long way to go.

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