Bogus reports to White House heap new shame on CIA

RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

For the CIA these days, just when it seems matters cannot get worse, they do. After being numbed by the Ames affair, excoriated over Guatemala and caught red-handed spying against two US allies, the agency now admits supplying a succession of presidents with intelligence on the Soviet Union and Russia which it knew almost certainly came from agents controlled by Moscow.

Such is the latest - but in all likelihood not the final - chapter of the case of Aldrich Ames, played out before aghast congressional committees, which at one point came close to eliciting an unheard-of formal reprimand by John Deutch, the CIA director, of no fewer than three of his predecessors.

It has been more than 20 months since Ames was arrested after being unmasked as the most damaging mole in CIA history. Since then one embarrassment after another has been heaped upon the agency, as it attempts to gauge the full extent of the havoc wreaked by its former Soviet branch counter- intelligence chief, now serving a life sentence without parole in a federal prison in Pennsylvania.

None though has matched the admission of Mr Deutch on Capitol Hill last week that a new, post-Ames internal investigation by the CIA's inspector general, Frederick Hitz, had shown that "tainted" information - i.e. data supplied by Soviet agents installed by the KGB to replace those betrayed by Ames during his nine years of treachery, between 1985 and 1994 - was contained in top-secret "blue border" intelligence reports, delivered by hand to a president.

On the basis of this bogus information, purporting to show hitherto unsuspected weapons advances by Moscow, the US may have decided to go ahead with fresh arms programmes of its own. The Pentagon is launching a study to assess the damage, and officials say "billions of dollars" may have been wasted on weapons the country did not need.

If so, and by a fine stroke of irony, Moscow would have successfully imitated one US strategy in the closing stages of the Cold War: of trying to bleed one's superpower opponent dry by forcing him into an ever more costly arms race. The US may have won in the end, but the Kremlin may have scored smaller victories along the way.

For Mr Deutch, the CIA's blundering was "an inexcusable lapse in elementary intelligence practices" - so inexcusable that Mr Hitz is said to have sought reprimands for three former directors, William Webster, Robert Gates, and James Woolsey who resigned at the end of 1994 amid congressional fury over his refusal to mete out stern punishment to agency officers involved with the Ames debacle.

For the time being, the trio have wriggled out of trouble by sending a joint letter to Mr Deutch protesting that they were not informed that suspect information was being passed to the White House. Indeed, they say if anyone is to blame it is Mr Hitz, who failed to mention the practice in an earlier report. Not relishing such invidious judgement of his peers, the current CIA director let them off the hook. But Congress many not be so easily satisfied.

One influential Democrat, Bob Kerrey, vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, insists that unless the three are held personally accountable, "I don't know how the CIA will ever recover credibility with customers who are basing billion-dollar and life-and-death decisions on that intelligence." Mr Kerrey's chance may come this week, when the three are expected to be summoned to testify at fresh hearings into the fiasco.

One thing though is clear, that Mr Deutch's task of restoring the prestige and morale of the battered CIA is harder than ever. Quite apart from the Ames affair, the agency was forced in September to discipline a dozen officers for covering up human rights abuses in Guatemala in the early 1990s. Similar ructions concerning Honduras are reportedly imminent. Separately, the CIA has been caught this year conducting industrial espionage against France and Japan, close allies of the US.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen