Wednesday 25 August 2004

How and Why Woolsey and Clinton Saved the CIA

by Trowbridge H. Ford

Part 4

While Woolsey's CIA had patiently arranged the exposure and arrest of Aldrich 'Rick' Ames on President's Day, 1994, as a Soviet spy without President Clinton being personally involved or even knowing the mole's actual name - once the botched assassination of Stockholm squealer in the Palme shooting Viktor Gunnarsson, it seems, had been remedied in Salisbury, North Carolina at the expense of Catherine Miller's life and former city policeman L. C. Underwood's innocence - the Clintons raised such suspicions over Vince Foster's suicide the previous July that the media and the public lost all sense of what was really going on. They increasingly went wild over the prospect that he had been murdered, probably with White House complicity, causing Gunnarsson's killing and its possible relation to Ames's spying increasingly to escape everyone's attention.

Right after Gunnarsson disappeared on December 3, 1993 - presumably murdered - Robert Kaiser, managing editor of The Washington Post, called old friend and fellow graduate of Yale University, David Gergen - a former advisor of three Repubican administrations, and now brought in to help out the beleaguered Clinton administration - to complain about the failure of the White House to take seriously its unresolved questions about Whitewater. The questions had been sent to Bruce Lindsey, the President's counselor who was deeply involved in settling the threats by the former Governor's bodyguards telling tales to the press about his past activities in Arkansas, and Lindsey obviously had had neither the time nor the inclination for how to deal properly with the related issue. Gergen, though knowing little about what had gone on in Little Rock, pushed hard for Lindsey to answer Kaiser's questions, assuring him that it would be done.

When articles about Troopergate still appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and the American Spectator despite Lindsey's spirited efforts, especially the admissions by troopers Roger Perry and Larry Patterson that they still feared for their lives, the White House clammed up about telling the press anything about its troubles, a posture Gergen vowed that it would regret. A few days later, his warning proved all too true, as the Washington Post and The Times reported that files about Whitewater had been removed from Vince Foster's office shortly after he had died in Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993. The Times, alleging that the White House might be engaged in a cover up, immediately called for a congressional investigation into the alleged scandal.

As calls in the media for an inquiry increased, the White House soon had another crisis, one which brought Clinton's dealing with former President Richard Nixon to the fore. While writers have concentrated upon the contest between Hillary Clinton and presidential counsel Bernard Nussbaum in getting the President to agree whether to the appointment of an inquiry, obviously the advice by the former President was vital in this regard. While Mrs.Clinton, working with the Judicial Committee's chief counsel John Doar during its Watergate hearing, had learned the dangers of a sitting President letting a legal problem become a political one, Nussbaum, a partner in a leading New York law firm, was firmly committed to no client of his unnecessarily giving away any of his rights in any controversy.

Nixon, obviously with Watergate continually on his mind, had advised Clinton in great detail about how to avoid a similar scandal - what the Governor of Arkansas took on board completely shortly before he entered the White House. 'Tricky Dick' was the real maker of 'Slick Willie'. Nixon advised that the new President organize his administration so that he was the only one who really knew what was going on. The Cabinet should be little more than a symbolic organ whose leading members at State, the Pentagon, and CIA pretty much operated on their own. The Chief of Staff should be essentially a junction-box manager - what General Alexander M. Haig, Jr. had promised in theory, but failed to perform in practice.

The White House staff should be responsible mostly for just making suggestions about policy, and implementing what was agreed upon. If anything goes wrong, Nixon advised, they should be ruthlessly disposed of, not sentimentally kept around and protected at the President's expense. No one should have the information and influence of Nixon's former cronies, and the Oval Office should never be the site of dangerous, rambling discussions about operations and their fallout. Certainly, the President's personal counsel should never be in a position to become another John Dean.

When it came to covert operations, the DCI should be held at arm's length, and never beholdened to - what Nixon failed to do when he kept on Richard Helms as DCI, and called upon the Agency on many occasions to help out The Plumbers. Clinton made sure of that by having as little to do with Woolsey in his appointment, and functioning as possible. The White House, the former President advised, should never be the site of risky operations - what Clinton could avoid by using his resources back in Arkansas, and with Arthur Coia's Laborers International Union.

When disaster struck the Oval Office, as had already been the case, the President must take immediate, drastic action rather than allow himself to be blackmailed, and forced to pay hush money - what E. Howard Hunt had obliged Nixon's White House to do after the Watergate break-in. Clinton showed he had learned the lesson very well when he saw to the murder, it seems, of his former security chief, Luther 'Jerry' Parks when he tried similar stunts.

The strength of Nixon's advice resurfaced when the White House organized a Response Team to determine what to do about the revived interest in Whitewater while the President was off on a state visit to see Russia's President, Boris Yeltsin. Clinton's agenda was to see that Ames's spying was given the narrowest scope, and importance by the Russians so neither the funds proposed for the Agency nor for Moscow were reduced during a most sensitive, transitional period. With Harold Ickes serving as moderator of the Response Team, George Stepanopolous, the White House commumications director, argued for urging the appointment of a special prosecutor, while Nussbaum, using the Watergate experience, strongly urged against it. At the same time, Clinton was being hounded across Europe about charges that his counsel was helping cover up the real causes of Foster's death.

Shortly after Nussbaum conceded that Clinton's people must have done something wrong back in Arkansas for the press to be so inflamed, he shocked the bleary-eyed Clinton who was communicating with the group by speakerphone: "Mr. President, one year from now Bruce Lindsey will be under investigation. They will chase you, your family and friends, through your presidency and beyond." (Quoted from James B. Steward, Blood Sport, p. 374.) As pandemonium mounted in the meeting as Nussbaum completed his impassioned plea, Clinton, expressing that he could not take this pressure any longer, finally asked for his advice. When his personal counsel answered, calling for the release of all the papers, even the allegedly lost ones, and for congressional hearings on Whitewater, the President responded that this would be crazy, but he was ultimately obliged to "sleep on it" before making a decision.

To force the appointment of an independent counsel, Clinton had continued to duck questions about Whitewater while on his visits to the Ukraine and Russia, important ports of call if he hoped to achieve a settlement of the uncertainties in the region. Its continued reduction of WMD required the financial assistance of Congress, and the political assistance of Russia's Yeltsin - what disclosure of Rick Ames's spying for the Soviets was bound to put in jeopardy, and what Clinton did everything he could to minimize. He discussed in private with Russian politicians and intelligence officials, past and present, the scope and importance of Ames's disclosures while turning aside frenzied questions at press conferences about Whitewater. When an NBC News reporter, for example, repeatedly pressed the President in an interview about the domestic issue, Clinton shut off his microphone, causing CBS anchorman Dan Rather to intone that "a cloud has followed Mr. Clinton this entire trip." (Quoted from p. 373.)

By the time Nussbaum woke up the next day, Clinton had already approved the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater, and to review the circumstances surrounding Foster's death. The President's last day in Moscow with Russian officials, including Yevgeny Primakov, the former KGB chief, and now head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and the meeting had not gone well regarding the Ames case. While the SVR was willing to admit that he was a spy, and even added that he had been paid more than American officials were claiming - to remain eligible for the US grants - the Russians would not acknowledge that he had ever initiated anything or was responsibile for the execution or imprisonment of any double agents. They had all gotten into trouble with Soviet counter intelligence because of poor trade craft by others. In sum, Clinton learned little more from Primakov than Woolsey had the previous summer about Soviet penetration of American secret government.

The appointment of the independent counsel, Robert Fiske, changed the whole complexion of the media's growing confrontation with the White House, especially after the New York Post's Christopher Ruddy, The Sunday Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, and Conspiracy Nation's Sherman Skolnick started weighing in, claiming that Vince Foster had been murdered. These reporters had national reputations, and one can only wonder what inducements, besides encouragement by their papers' editors and owners, made them make more and more dubious claims. Ultimately, their reports sounded like a daytime parody of what had happened to Gunnarsson, with Foster having been shot an increasing number of times by a .22 caliber weapon elsewhere by professional assassins because he was threatening to expose the Clintons' criminal activities, and the body moved from an apartment connected to them to the Virginia park where it was found with little blood around and an a .38 caliber revolver placed beside it.

Certainly, the White House supplied input for the false accounts, providing erroneous evidence of when, where, and why Foster's death had occurred, though some of them could have been honest mistakes. Troubled trooper Roger Perry back in Arkansas, for example, told Evans-Pritchard that he got a call from White House aide Helen Dickey around 6 p.m. that Foster had just shot himself in the White House parking lot. An Oxford forensic handwriting analyst claimed that an alleged Foster suicide note was a forgery. Then Nussbaum, the one who revived the Clintons' Arkansas problems, was forced to resign, scapegoated, over the mishandling of the Resolution Trust Corporation's investigation of Jim McDougal's Madison Guaranty S and L and Whitewater.

All the while, these conspiracy theorists were adding victims to the Clintons' alleged hit list, ultimately concluding, it seems, that anyone who died, and who was involved with them in any official way were murdered. Evans-Pritchard, for example, blamed the White House for the massacre at Waco, and the Oklahoma City bombing as a way to getting rid of dangerous former employees, especially troopers.

In sum, it was one of the wildest diversions in history, and soon it had the expected favorable backlash - critics of the President had gone too far in their claims - especially since the criminal process of the special counsel led to little disclosure of important information, and few convictions. In the meantime, other White House players joined Nussbaum on the political sidelines. Chief of Staff Thomas 'Mack' McLarty was sacked in July, relegated to an undefined liaison job in the White House basement with business. Gergen quit, becoming an advisor for the Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Roger Altman, the temporary head of the RTC whose misstatements to Congress about the Madison referral forced Nussbaum's resignation, joined McLarty in the basement for awhile before resigning too.

This legal way of ruthlessly resolving most messy political problems was not lost upon Woolsey when it came time to deal with Ames's spying for the Soviets. And there could be no delay, as the set up of Gunnarsson as Palme's assassin was threatening to unravel. In 1994, Kari and Pertti Poutiainen put together the first serious review of the investigations of the statsminister minister's assassination, Inuti labyrinten (Inside the Labyrinth), and it was devastating in its criticism of former Swedish police inspector Börje Wingren, particularly his latest effort, Han Sköt Olof Palme. (See especially p. 539ff.) Wingren was continually willing to do anything - change evidence, set up witnesses, etc. - to make Gunnarsson look like the Swedish equivalent of Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy's alleged assassin. Wingren had made 'solving' the Palme assassination into a dark, fine art.

As for who the Poutiainens had in mind for being behind Wingren's manipulations and lies, they left little doubt - the CIA. In the Forward, they discussed the apparent elimination of another thorn in the Anglo-American secret side, Nelson Mandela. He was caught by the South African intelligence service BOSS in 1962, with the help of CIA's First Secretary at the Embassy in Pretoria Paul Eckel, and agent Donald C. Rickard who had infilitrated the ANC. After Mandela's surprise release in 1990, President George H. W. Bush was asked by CNN if the allegation was true. Instead of giving the expected, perfunctory denial, Bush answered: "I never comment on intelligence matters." (p. 19)

The Poutiainens then wondered what had happened to the First Secretary since 1986, a most pointed allusion to First Secretary Jennone Walker of the American Embassy in Stockholm when Palme was assassinated. She was now Clinton's leading National Security Advisor on Eastern Europe. One can just imagine the legal and diplomatic turmoil if at Rick Ames's trial for spying, she was called upon to explain what she was doing on the night it occurred - an interrogation which could have gone right up the line through the double agent Operation Courtship and Oliver North's Consortium to the Agency's Deputy Director for Operations Claire George, while leaving their counterparts in the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) with similarly threatening questions to answer.

In sum, the Poutianinens were unduly pessimistic about covert government's role in the Palme assassination never coming out because responsible politicians, like President Bush, refused to release any relevant information. If Washington hoped to give Ames his apparent just desserts, it risked his forcing leading spooks back in 1986 like George, Walker, chief of the Soviet division Burton Gerber, and CI chief Paul Redmond being forced to testify in ways which would greatly mitigate his treachery.

Under the circumstances, there could be no protracted trial of Ames for fear that the whole conspiracy behind the statsminister's shooting would be exposed. After President Clinton made the expected expelling of the senior Russian intelligence officer at the Embassy responsible for the undiplomatic behavior - what the Russians reciprocated in kind by expelling Moscow station chief James Morris - a CIA team went to Moscow, allegedly in the hope of determining the scope, and importance of Ames's spying, but returned to Washington empty handed. The Senate Select Commitee on Intelligence conducted an assessment of Ames's spying, and the implications it had on intelligence gathering, talking to Woolsey along the way, and instructing him not to promote or reward anyone who had assisted his spying until the Agency's Inspector General had made his report on the scandal.

Then, on April 28th, only nine weeks after the Ameses' arrest, they were allowed to plead guilty to charges of conspiring to commit espionage, and to tax fraud - life in prison without parole for Rick, and Rosario's to be determined by how responsive Rick was in his debriefing. It was like the Ameses just got started in conspiring to commit treason, though prosecutor Mark Hulkower treated the few witnesses in the tiny courtroom to a most abbreviated assessment of the damage they had committed in personal terms to American national security.

This was a far cry from how Washington would react seven years later when the Bureau's Robert Hanssen was finally exposed for having complemented Ames's spying for 15 years. Hanssen was debriefed 75 times and for 200 hours over a period of nine months before he was allowed a plea bargain which saved his life.

Woolsey had set the stage for this farcical proceeding by announcing nine days earlier on NBC's Today show that the Ames case was just the first of "quite a few" spy scandals, a blanket condemnation of the intelligence community which made Ames's spying seem almost a matter of course. The DCI still compared Ames unfavorably to Revolutionary War spy Benedict Arnold, denying that his spying was politically motivated. Woolsey made such an "impossibly tepid" response to Ames's spying that even administration officials, including NSA Lake and Walker, were complaining.

No one was willing to admit, though, that Woolsey wanted the case settled as quickly as possible - what Ames exploited to his advantage - so that the damage he really had done could not be revealed.