US seeks Russian help on CIA agent

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The Independent Online
AS THE Clinton administration dug in against mounting congressional pressure to freeze Russian aid programmes, a US delegation including CIA figures is believed to be in Moscow on the extraordinary mission of enlisting Russian help in learning the secrets passed over by the accused spy, Aldrich Ames.

Russian reports that such a trip was planned were not disputed by the White House yesterday. It perfectly symbolises the ambiguous relations between Washington and its erstwhile superpower rival; suspicious enough to spy on each other unabated, yet ready for at least token co-operation on measuring the damage done by that same spying.

According to press accounts here, the 52-year-old Ames, arrested on Monday along with his wife, Maria, on charges of spying for the former Soviet Union and then Russia since 1985, may have been responsible for the capture and execution of at least 10 Soviet citizens working for the US. They are said to include two Soviet embassy officials here in the early 1980s, the first such agents ever recruited by the FBI. More ominous still are fears, said to have been expressed in private Capitol Hill meetings by the CIA Director, James Woolsey, that another Russian mole could be loose in the US government.

Failing corroboration by the Russians themselves, the full extent of the damage inflicted on US national security may take months or years to establish - if ever. Although his wife is collaborating with the authorities in the hope of a reduced sentence, Mr Ames is refusing to do so. His attorney, Plato Cacheris, said yesterday that Mr Ames was 'smart, lucid and not talking in terms of remorse'.

Currently, the couple, who are accused of taking dollars 1.5m ( pounds 1m) from the KGB and its successors for their services, are being held without bail at a Washington area prison. A formal detention hearing orginally set for today has been postponed until Tuesday.

In the meantime the administration is insisting that despite its elaborate show of outrage over the affair, it will maintain its dollars 2.5bn aid programme to Russia, in the overriding hope of furthering reform in Russia. 'American assistance is not charity,' the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, reiterated yesterday. 'We do it because it is in the interest of the US, and for no other reason.'

But unless the Russians make visible gestures - the voluntary withdrawal of Mr Ames' handlers here which the US government is demanding and help in assessing the harm done - pressures for concrete retaliation are bound to grow: as the Republican Senate leader, Bob Dole, put it, Congress itself would block the aid.

For the CIA, there is the grim task of rebuilding entire sections from scratch. Mr Ames is belived to have handed over not just names but details of CIA operational methods and technology. A smaller indirect casualty may be the reputation of polygraph or 'lie detector' tests, which Mr Ames survived in both 1986 and 1991.

It is unclear how far British intelligence activities, traditionally closely linked with the US, have been affected. An assessment is under way, say according to officials. Speaking to British reporters, the National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, said he was 'not aware' of any British agents or secrets directly or indirectly betrayed by Mr Ames.