Spymaster's blunders may spell end of CIA

JAMES WOOLSEY, director of the CIA, has proved beyond doubt that he is a gentleman. But his refusal to wield the axe in the wake of the Aldrich Ames affair, arguably the worst espionage case in American history, has set in motion a process which could lead to the end of the CIA, at least in its present form.

Little noticed amid the rancorous pre-electoral din issuing from Capitol Hill, the Senate last week launched a bi-partisan initiative for a commission to review the agency's entire role in the post- Cold War world. No limits have been placed on its brief. To all intents and purposes, said the New York Times, a demoralised CIA will be 'a company undergoing a court-supervised bankruptcy re- organisation'.

'Wither The CIA ?' was a question asked here well before revelation of the Ames debacle. Hitherto, the inclination had been to allow the question to be answered primarily by the agency. Now the astoundingly light in-house punishment meted out by Mr Woolsey seems to have convinced Congress and the Clinton administration that the CIA is incapable of putting its house in order.

Last week the long awaited report by the CIA inspector general, Frederick Hitz - compiled largely on the basis of what Ames himself told interrogators during months of questioning after his arrest on 21 February - laid out the appalling truth.

Between 1985 and 1993, Mr Hitz writes, he caused the loss of 'virtually all the CIA's human resources' reporting on the Soviet Union. He ruined much of its work elsewhere in Eastern Europe and revealed to Moscow the identity of scores of CIA staff working under diplomatic and civilian cover. The total damage, says Mr Hitz, was 'truly staggering', including 10 agents executed, 36 neutralised or turned, at least 55 compromised operations, plus general CIA policy and planning documents of huge value given to Soviet and Russian intelligence.

Equally staggering was the CIA's failure to catch Ames. He was lazy, frequently drunk, with a long record of 'no enthusiasm, little regard for the rules, little security consciousness . . . few good work habits, few friends and a bad reputation in terms of integrity, dependability and discretion'. All this was known, as was a lifestyle far beyond his apparent means. Yet Ames's supervisors 'cleaned up after him, found words to praise him' and promoted him to positions which might have been handpicked by the KGB.

Mr Woolsey's response has been almost to turn the other cheek. He has reprimanded only 11 CIA employees, six of them retired. No- one has been sacked or even demoted. That was 'not my way, not CIA's way and not the American way', said Mr Woolsey. An outraged Congress begs to differ.

This week, the Senate Intelligence Committee will produce its own report and recommendations. Whatever it decides, those who favour a complete revamp of the structure of American intelligence services will have more grist for their mill. The Ames disaster may have been unique, but even beforehand the CIA was reeling from troubles enough: Iran-Contra, its slowness in spotting the weaknesses of the old Soviet Union, and two lawsuits by former and present female employees claiming discrimination and abuse of women, at what they claim was little more than a hard-drinking Old Boys Club.

Suddenly the long-standing proposals to dismantle the CIA from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others, presented well before the Ames affair came to light, no longer look far-fetched. Under these blueprints, the agency's analytical and research side would go to the State Department, while the Pentagon would take over spying and paramilitary activities. The FBI, meanwhile, would exclusively handle mole-hunting.

The FBI, indeed, is one of the few to emerge with some credit from the Ames debacle. It first alerted the CIA in the mid-1980s about his suspicious contacts with Soviet officials.

At the very least, big cuts are on the way. President Bill Clinton is committed to take dollars 7bn ( pounds 4.5bn) out of the dollars 28bn annual intelligence budget by 1998.

Only dollars 3bn of this is spent on the CIA proper: the lion's share is believed to go on electronic eavesdropping. But the cost of its disgrace will be borne across the intelligence community.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine