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U.S. digs for moles

Richard Sale (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The US counterintelligence community is searching frantically for one or more U.S. government employees allegedly recruited by the Russian intelligence service or SVR, according to former senior U.S. intelligence officials.

"There have been doubts raised by the Aldrich Ames case that have never been laid to rest," one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Asked about the search for suspects, one former U.S. intelligence official said: "There could be as many as two, perhaps three."

One focal point of the probe is the period of Hanssen's supposed "dormancy" or inactivity that lasted from 1992 through October 1999, when Hanssen again started working with his handlers.

The 109-page affidavit alleging that Hanssen spied for Moscow does not state how U.S. authorities obtained the correspondence between Hanssen and his Soviet handlers from 1985 through 1991, the first part of an alleged spy career that covered much of the past 15 years.

One penetration never resolved that surfaced after the Feb. 21, 1994 arrest of Ames involved a Bulgarian agent dubbed MOTORBOAT. MOTORBOAT provided the CIA with information about a U.S. government employee who had been recruited by the KGB. The Bulgarians recruited him originally but turned him over to the KGB to run on a daily basis, according to former U.S. intelligence officials.

"I frankly don't know what happened to that case," said a former agency official with detailed knowledge of the KGB.

The agency had the employee's place of work and other precise information.

But one former U.S. intelligence analyst said that he felt that MOTORBOAT was referring to Ames, not another agent.

But after his arrest, Ames told an interviewer that the CIA had FBI had never been able to track the "agent" down nor had the Bulgarians ever recruited Ames.

Another unsolved case of penetration involved recruitment by the East German intelligence service STASI of the friend of a CIA employee who used social conversation to gather much valuable intelligence.

"I honestly have no idea of how that one played out," said one former U.S. official.

Nor do U.S. officials rule out the use by the KGB/SVR of "sleeper" agents, recruited long ago and activated at a given date. If the SVR activated a sleeper, Hanssen could have played the role of enabler, said former U.S. officials.

These sources said that Hanssen, like Ames, was tasked by the SVR/KGB with providing a list of Americans in the CIA, FBI, Office of Naval Intelligence and other agencies that might be amenable to SVR/KGB recruitment.

The counterintelligence task force of more than 400 FBI and CIA agents is currently compiling a list of SVR officials whose rank or professional expertise entitled them to become informed of the compromise of the U.S. tunnel under the new Soviet/Russian Embassy at Mt. Alto in Washington.

The task force will use computers to identify KGB officers stationed in Washington or New York at the time of Hanssen's recruitment. The task force also will study other KGB duty assignments and travel assignments at the time Hanssen became active in the fall of 1985. The task force agents will search for any pattern that might reveal secret contacts with Hanssen, these sources said.

Other task force agents will make a list of important dates in Hanssen's career, beginning with when he first began work at the FBI. The list will include duty assignments, overseas travel reports, vacation and sick days in order to create a time line which might point to Hanssen's KGB/SVR contacts.

"It's interesting that Hanssen is now being blamed for some of the things that Ames was blamed for," said one former U.S. intelligence official.

In 1983, the CIA had more spies working inside the Soviet Union than at any time in its history. Ames would betray 25 active CIA agents, some working at very senior levels within the Soviet establishment. Many of these were taken to prison and made to kneel and then shot in the back of the head so that the exit wound would render the face unrecognizable.

In return, Ames received over $1.3 million in payments from the KGB from 1985-91. The total would eventually rise to $4 million.

Ames was finally caught after a CIA mole hunting team consisting of Sandy Dennis, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diana Worthen and Dan Payne, headed by Paul Redmond, did brilliant research that laid bare Ames's access to compromised cases and his personal finances included $200,000 in annual credit card debts in addition to his $69,000 salary.

The CIA team was joined by mole-hunters frm the FBI, and the KGB later claimed that a Russian defector also fingered Ames.

Many investigators at the time thought Ames had an accomplice because he had in his possession documents that strayed far beyond his job with a CIA anti-narcotics group, including a CIA study of tricks Soviet submarine commanders used to avoid detection when conducting surveillance of U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

According to one former senior CIA source, it was a Russian double agent who provided the United States with the information that resulted in Hanssen's arrest.

"That's the famous counter-intelligence coup they keep talking about," he said.

"I think that by the end of this we'll find more similarities between Ames and Hanssen than dissimilarities," one former U.S. analyst said.

(c) 2001 United Press International

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