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Archive for March, 1994

[Originally appeared in the Hartford Courant.]

Aldrich Hazen Ames is responsible for an unprecedented loss of CIA sources and methods that took years of effort and millions of dollars to develop. Worse yet, he has basely, callously and with premeditation caused the death of enough people to gladden the heart of a serial killer. This is an emotional issue for the CIA and the American people. We have all been rather crassly had, worst of all, by a mercenary.

Attempted long-term penetrations of intelligence organizations by hostile services, both socialist and western, are inevitable. Since World War II, almost every significant intelligence service in the world has suffered such penetration. For that reason, all intelligence services work compulsively both to penetrate hostile services and to protect themselves from such penetration.

During the post-war years, there were significant long-term Soviet penetrations of the British (Philby & Co.), French (Pacques), and German (Felfe) intelligence services, to mention but a few, as well as of American military intelligence services and the NSA. Those operations were defensive operations designed to protect the USSR from hostile services.

It is worth noting that until Ames turned bad in 1985, the only significant intelligence organization in the world that had not suffered long-term penetration was the CIA. That is an extraordinary accomplishment. Given the level of operational attention paid to the CIA by its adversaries, particularly the KGB, it is an absolute miracle that the CIA remained unpenetrated until 1985. That’s forty years of almost continuous high volume KGB operational activity against CIA employees around the world.

In the wake of the Ames disaster, Washington has become a hotbed of unhelpful suggestions and disingenuous political posturing: America should cut off aid to the Russians. All CIA employees should have to fill out personal financial statements. Russia should not be running operations against the CIA or presumably against any American targets.

Given the dangerously fluid political situation in Russia today, it is impossible to believe that we will suspend economic aid, or that we will stop running operations to collect positive intelligence on Russia or to recruit Russian intelligence officers to protect us against their operations. If we stop, we should have our heads examined.

The Russian world is simply too unstable, too dangerous and too innately given to secrecy to ignore.

Nor should the Russians quit operating against us. They have legitimate national interests here that cannot be satisfied with overtly obtainable information. We tend to protect secrets just as they do.

Col. Oleg Penkovskiy was an Anglo-American penetration of Soviet military intelligence who provided us with extraordinary positive intelligence and counter-intelligence on the Soviet military establishment. Purely objectively, he probably hurt the USSR far worse than Ames has hurt America and he was only one of a number of such penetrations. When the Soviets caught Penkovskiy they put the Colonel in front of a firing squad. They then assessed the damages, made the necessary changes and got on with their intelligence operations.

Given his rather conspicuous lifestyle and what seems to have been an almost suicidal lack of attention to his own operational security, Ames probably should have been caught much earlier than 1994.

However, the nature of our society makes warrantless monitoring of phones, bank and stock accounts, credit card transactions and our homes repulsive to all of us. CIA employees are no less citizens than anyone else. To single them out with special treatment will change for the worse the kind of people who might be attracted to work there.

What really hurts is that the CIA is the last of the major cold war players to lose its virginity. We lost it big time and we are shocked, angry and humiliated. However, since we lost it to the Russians, our operational effectiveness in the rest of the world should not seriously be diminished.

At least the Ames affair is over. Our next penetration of the Russian Intelligence Service will be the first day of a new era. It’s time to assess the damages and get on with intelligence work which has become much more necessary and important in the very dangerous new world we now live in.

Haviland Smith is a former CIA Station Chief who specialized in Soviet and East European operations. He served in Prague, Berlin, Beirut, Tehran and Washington, and has lived in Vermont since his 1980 retirement.

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