MOSCOW — THE Russian government urged the United States yesterday not to let the arrest of a top CIA official for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union and Russia turn into a major political issue.
``A return to the psychology of the cold war, heightening mistrust, and a new wave of spy mania would contradict the ideas of international partnership for peace,'' Russian presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov said in a statement yesterday.
``It is a very serious case,'' President Clinton told reporters on Tuesday, following the arrest of Aldrich Ames, the former head of Soviet counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency, and his wife Rosario. Mr. Ames is accused of spying for the Soviet Union from 1985, and continuing to spy for Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
A formal protest was delivered to the Russian government, but neither the Russian Foreign Ministry nor the Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS), the external arm of the former KGB, would comment on the case. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass suggested yesterday that Washington and several other Western countries had stated publicly that they were also continuing their own intelligence operations within Russia.
Yet a senior Moscow-based Western diplomat responded: ``The end of the cold war does not mean that somehow you have a license to spy.''
Leonid Shebarshin, former head of the KGB's foreign intelligence arm until late 1991, told the Monitor that he had no knowledge of alleged KGB agent Ames. ``What you are telling me is entirely new. I've never heard of anyone so high up.''
But given his position, the former KGB spymaster would have had to have known about Ames, says Alexander Morozov, a former KGB spy who retired in 1986. According to Mr. Morozov, given standard procedures, an asset as important as Ames would have been known to at least two Russian officials in Washington, several more in the KGB's American department, and to the head of the foreign intelligence division, as well as the KGB chief himself.
But Morozov also suggests the possibility that Ames could have been an agent of the GRU, intelligence arm of the Russian military. ``It was the same when we had agents in the Army in any country,'' he says. ``If they were providing very valuable information, we would not tell anybody.''
Russian security officials have repeatedly aired charges that foreign intelligence services were carrying out operations against the country.
``We are worried today by cases involving a number of diplomatic missions and other foreign intelligence services in the area of leaking vital scientific, technological, defense, nuclear, and other information,'' Sergei Stepashin, deputy head of the Counter-Intelligence Service, the internal arm of the ex-KGB, told reporters on Jan. 10. ``Cases of recruitment [of Russian officials] have also increased, including some highly placed state employees.''
The former KGB has undergone several changes in its organization since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In early 1992, the external intelligence department was formally separated, renamed as the Foreign Intelligence Service. The internal KGB was renamed the Ministry of Security. Last December the Ministry was dissolved, with some of its personnel and functions shifted to the Interior Ministry, leaving only the Counter-Intelligence Service.
Last fall, FIS officials stated that their staff had been severely cut back since the cold war. FIS director Yevgeny Primakov has touted a new orientation of the service toward cooperating with former foes in countering new common threats such as the proliferation of nuclear arms.