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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Espionage: Much Ado

The arrest of Aldrich Ames, a former CIA counterintelligence official, and his wife, once a paid CIA informer, on charges of spying for Russia has raised a ruckus that both amazes and amuses me.


President Bill Clinton's brief assessment, delivered with the additional gravity of the now famously clenched underlip; Secretary of State Warren Christopher's solemn pronouncements, including the threat that the United States would not tolerate Russian spying; a prominent senator's call to stop all aid to Russia -- which, I am sure, has been joined by a host of other fellow travelers even as I write -- all of this would seem to indicate that the entire government of the United States is staggered and outraged by Russia's continued intelligence activities. They would like the country to believe that they expected the Russians, once the Cold War was over, to recall all undercover agents, slam the door on the recruitment of all foreign nationals, in short, to close shop.


Of course, that is preposterous. Nevertheless, many Americans are honestly upset and angry and, I am sure, have happily reverted to their Cold War mode of thinking about Russia. I realize how difficult a task I have set myself in trying to reason with what is a powerful emotional reaction; nevertheless, here goes.


So what was Ames' job? Ah, yes, he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency's Soviet counterintelligence branch. And what does counterintelligence do? Well, among other things, it recruits agents in other countries, believe it or not. Now, does anyone in the United States think that with the demise of the Soviet Union, the CIA's Soviet counterintelligence operation was shut down? Does anyone doubt that the CIA continues to spy on, and recruit in Russia? Well, some people may, but believe me, their names are not Bill Clinton, Warren Christopher or Dennis De Concini. They know full well, as you all should, that the United States spies not only on such unfriendly countries as China, Cuba, Iraq, Libya and Iran, but also on such allies as Japan, Germany, Britain, France and Israel. And, hold on to your seats, ladies and gentlemen, those allies spy on the United States!


A case in point is Jonathan Pollard, an American now serving a life sentence for having spied on America for Israel. Sure, his crime and punishment were greeted by some political gnashing of teeth and talk about stopping U.S. aid to Israel (roughly $3 billion annually, incomparably more than Russia's). But cooler heads prevailed, and it even became possible for Israel's prime minister to publicly ask for Pollard's release. That was denied and rightly so: Pollard is a traitor, and treason in any country is considered the worst of crimes.


Should Ames be proved guilty, he, too, should get the maximum sentence -- as should any Russian who betrays his country. I have no problem with that view. What I do have a problem with is public officials who play on the political na•vet? of the people whose interests they purportedly have at heart.


It would be wonderful to live in a spy-free world. It would be delightful if all countries signed a declaration pledging to disband their intelligence and counterintelligence services (although verification would be a nightmare). It would be grand if they all shared with each other their lists of turncoat agents. But I must disappoint you: It ain't gonna happen. As long as military, political, economic and technological secrets continue to exist, so will espionage. And as long as espionage exists, so will traitors who, for whatever reasons -- greed, pride, vengeance, you name it -- will spill their countries' secrets. As long as traitors exist, they will be apprehended, and there always will be people hoping to make political hay out of it all.


But the Ames case has an additional dimension: The reason for all the histrionics we are being subjected to relates only in part to the uncovering of a Russian "mole" in the CIA. In a much more fundamental way, it has to do with a mentality that says: "We won the Cold War, so how dare they do anything that displeases us!" What we are witnessing is a childish temper tantrum thrown by people who deep in their hearts regret that Russia and the Russians have not rolled over and played dead.


It is time to grow up.





Vladimir Pozner is cohost of the U.S. television show "Pozner & Donahue" and host of the Russian talk show "My." He contributed this comment to the Los Angeles Times.