While criticizing the FBI as expected, a new Justice Department report also concluded that “the CIA must bear the primary responsibility” for investigators’ failure to focus early attention in the late 1980s on spy Aldrich H. Ames.
Justice Inspector General Michael R. Bromwich reported that “potentially incriminating information concerning Ames” available at the CIA in late 1989 “was not properly referred to the FBI for investigation,” according to a summary released yesterday of the IG’s two-year inquiry into the FBI’s handling of the Ames case.
Ames, a CIA counterintelligence officer who spied for nine years for Moscow, provided information to his spymasters that led to the deaths of 10 Soviet and other officials who were working as clandestine agents for the United States.
“Early FBI involvement in the investigation of Ames … would have had the potential to accelerate significantly his eventual identification as the source of the (agent) losses,” Bromwich said.
Instead, it took nearly two more years for CIA officials to pass to the FBI some of the critical information they had on Ames and another two years before a joint FBI-CIA investigative team together focused on him as the Moscow spy responsible for the agents’ losses.
As reported last week, much of the summary of a still-classified 400-page report by Bromwich repeats criticisms of the FBI’s performance that first were made public in a 1994 House Intelligence Committee report.
Chief among Bromwich’s complaints were the bureau’s slow-starting analytical inquiry in the 1985-1986 period after the loss of two FBI-recruited agents, who had been working inside the Soviet embassy in Washington. Bromwich also took issue with the FBI’s failure to initiate a joint inquiry with the CIA into their joint losses of Soviet agents.
The Justice IG attributed this failure to the “inadequate briefing of senior management,” noting that then-FBI Directors William Webster and his chief assistant director in charge of the intelligence division “had little awareness” of the agent losses by the CIA and FBI in the 1985-1986 period.
“Mid-level FBI supervisors and FBI line personnel appear to have believed that receipt of this information imposed no responsibility on the FBI,” Bromwich wrote.
Some FBI analysts had determined by 1988 that “United States intelligence had suffered catastrophic damage … (and that) espionage was the most likely cause of the damage,” Bromwich wrote. Nevertheless, he concluded, the “FBI’s stance was passive” when it “should have initiated an intensive effort aimed at determining the cause or causes of these setbacks.”
Last week, after Bromwich’s criticisms of the bureau were disclosed because of press leaks, the FBI released a statement taking issue with many aspects of the report. The statement said that many of the complaints about the failure of the FBI and CIA to cooperate “have long since been improved and fixed.” As one example, the head of the CIA’s counterintelligence center, which looks into any allegations of a betrayal of agency secrets, is now an FBI official.