The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Ä The Clinton administration says it got what it wanted in the prosecution of admitted turncoat Aldrich Ames, but it is far from satisfied with the approach Congress is taking to strengthening CIA defenses against other "moles."
Many in Congress, including the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees, want to write new laws giving the FBI the lead role in investigating cases of suspected spies inside U.S. intelligence agencies.
Congressional critics of the CIA Ä and even some of its regular supporters Ä have concluded after seeing the Ames case unfold that the CIA needs fixing and that the only way to ensure that the fixes are longlasting is to put them in law.
"Obviously, something is severely broken out there," said Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We in Congress fund that agency and we have to help them try to find the corrective measures."
Rep. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was more blunt: "This will never happen without legislation. The CIA is incapable of reforming itself."
The administration agrees that it needs to tighten its spycatcher's net, but it doesn't want reforms to be imposed by Congress. The executive branch traditionally opposes efforts by Congress to legislate matters of national security.
"We don't need additional legislation to govern how law enforcement and intelligence can better work together," James Woolsey, the CIA director, told an American Bar Association panel Friday.
Woolsey said that is one of the conclusions of a task force he and Attorney General Janet Reno formed last year to study ways of improving cooperation. He pointedly noted that the study began well before the Ameses were arrested.
Ames, 52, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to commit espionage and evade taxes. He was sentenced to life with no chance of parole. His wife, Rosario, 41, pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the espionage charge; her sentencing was put off until August.
The FBI and CIA worked together to complete the Ames investigation before his arrest in February, but in its early stages the probe was hampered by the CIA-FBI conflict.
Woolsey and Justice Department officials are scheduled to testify this week before the House and Senate intelligence committees on an administration plan for getting the FBI more closely involved in CIA espionage investigations.
Woolsey said government agencies with counterintelligence interests would work together under the direction of the National Security Council "to ensure that questions of coordination and jurisdiction are handled swiftly, effectively and properly."
He did not mention other elements of the proposal, but administration sources speaking on condition of anonymity said it included these main points:
Ä The FBI would replace the CIA as the main agency supervising counterintelligence investigations in all U.S. spying agencies.
Ä A senior FBI agent would be assigned to work in the CIA's counterintelligence office and a senior CIA official would be placed at the FBI's counterintelligence office.
Rep. Dan Glickman, D-Kan., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he supports those changes, but thinks they need to be imposed by legislation.
"One of the problems over the past several years was the CIA was reluctant to hand over, periodically, information to the FBI so they could start law enforcement investigations," Glickman told a television interviewer Friday. "That we need to clarify in law and in statute so that we know that one agency, the FBI, will be in charge of the criminal investigations."
In another related area of CIA reform, Woolsey says he supports the legislative route. He wants legal authority from Congress to compel CIA officers in certain sensitive positions to disclose more personal financial information.
The Ames case illustrated as never before that U.S. spy-catching methods are inadequate.
Ames himself made the most damning assessment of the government's counterintelligence abilities when he told a Washington Post interviewer the day before his sentencing that he never feared being caught by either the CIA or the FBI. His only concern, he said, was that a Soviet defector might finger him.
Ames, who passed CIA lie detector tests during the time he was spying for Moscow, told the Post the tests as conducted were nothing more than "witch-doctory."
All it takes to beat a polygraph is "confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner ... rapport, where you smile and you make him think you like him," Ames said. Read Next Article