Confidence in the CIA

THE cold war is over, but international relations and security have only become more complex. Intelligence services are as necessary as ever.

Hence the need for a Central Intelligence Agency in which the American people can have confidence. The CIA, as portrayed in the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the Ames case, is not such an agency.

Former US intelligence agent Aldrich Ames is serving a life sentence for his role in what has been called ``the most devastating case of treachery in the agency's history.'' His betrayal led to the deaths of 10 agents working for the United States in the former Soviet Union; he admitted to betraying more than 100 other American and allied intelligence operations.

The committee found that responsibility for the affair itself lies with R. James Woolsey's predecessors in the post of director of central intelligence, but faulted his response to the case as ``seriously inadequate.''

The CIA inspector general recommended that 23 current and former agency officials be held accountable, but Mr. Woolsey gave letters of reprimand to only seven retired and four current employees. No one of the 23 has been fired, demoted, suspended, or even reassigned as a result of the case.

Lack of managerial oversight within the agency is a clear problem here. During his 31-year intelligence career, Ames had exhibited signs of serious drinking problems and gross lapses of judgment of the kind that should have caused alarm had he been, say, a shift supervisor in a widget factory, but that were overlooked at the CIA.

The committee report notably did not call for Woolsey's resignation; only Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio has done that - publicly at least.

Of course, by its nature, an intelligence agency cannot clean up its act quite so publicly as another institution. And the kind of change so clearly needed here does not happen overnight even with the best of intentions.

But if Woolsey does not swiftly take steps to build an agency that the Congress, and hence the public, can trust, he can expect to hear other voices joining Senator Metzenbaum's in calling for his resignation.

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