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Topic Summary - Displaying 1 post(s).
Posted by: George W. Maschke
Posted on: May 23rd, 2002 at 3:11am
  Mark & Quote
In Chapter 3 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, we discuss the CIA's polygraph crackdown after the arrest of Aldrich Ames, who twice beat the polygraph while spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. CIA polygraphers started failing more people, and hundreds were left unable to "pass," resulting in sidelined careers.

Retired CIA case officer Robert Baer was assigned to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia during this crackdown, and describes it at pp. 230-31 of his new book, See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism (New York: Crown Publishers, 2002). Discussing CIA's reaction to Ames' arrest in February 1994, Baer writes:


When I got back to headquarters in August 1994, I could see how Ames's betrayal was playing out. Then director James Woolsey was turning over the CIA's counterespionage to the FBI, an act that would be almost as destructive to the agency as Ames. In fairness, Woolsey didn't have much choice. The CIA had screwed up so badly with Ames that it could no longer be trusted to clean its own house. Congress was breathing down Woolsey's neck, and the press wanted its own pound of flesh. To appease everyone and atone for our sins, Woolsey turned the CIA over to its worst enemy in Washington--the FBI. Way back at the beginning of the cold war, J. Edgar Hoover had wanted to keep all national security operations, domestic and foreign, under his heavy thumb. Now it looked like his ghost was about to get its way.

The executioner the FBI picked for the task was Ed Curran, a serving FBI agent. From the day he took over the counterespionage group, Curran made it clear that he intended to run the place like a behind-enemy-lines commando unit. His first act was to fire anyone who knew anything, especially the little old ladies in tennis shoes--the CIA's institutional memory on Soviet espionage. He had to let them go: Smart people made Curran very nervous. Then, to let everyone know there was a new sheriff in town, he reopened every unresolved counterintelligence case on the books. Every single one. It didn't matter if the employee was retired or had moved on to a new, nonsensitive job. The idea was to spread fear and paranoia throughout the CIA, and in that, he couldn't have been more successful.

When the CIA appointed Rod Smith as its own head of counterintelligence and thus Curran's nominal boss, Curran was in effect given free rein. A lawyer turned case officer, Smith never spent enough time in the field to learn the job, much less anything about counterintelligence. After an abbreviated six-month tour in Europe, he came back to headquarters, where he would stay, moving up the bureaucratic ladder one dogged step at a time. In no time Curran had Smith feeding out of his hand. Blood soon flowed in rivers.

A casual friendship struck up, say, on an Italian vacation became a suspect foreign contact. Polygraphers were called in, and having been badly burned by Ames, who beat the lie detectors even while working for the KGB, they weren't happy. Anxiety turned to stress; stress, to a failed test. Soon Curran had a "new case," and as the witch-hunts went on, new cases began to mount to the ceiling. Files were ransacked, police checks run. Then the FBI was called in because that was the deal Woolsey had made with Congress: The FBI investigates all suspected espionage cases. All over the FBI, well-meaning grunts were having CIA cases dumped on them, which they would then throw immediately on the floor, because, for all Curran's exhortations, they knew they had a hundred stronger cases to work on. Back at Langley, though, the dirt was already down. Being under an active FBI investigation, no matter how flimsy the evidence, meant no promotions, no overseas assignments, no sensitive clearances. The cafeteria was filling up with people who might as well have been marked with scarlet "A"s, all of them eating alone.

The numbers tell the story. By late 1995 more than three hundred people were under suspicion, and that's not to mention the number of CIA employees terrified they would be caught up in the bloodbath through no fault of their own. One day you're at your desk, and the next you're a virtual prisoner in one of the security facilities out by Tyson's Corner. Everyone had a friend or colleague tied up in security purgatory.