WASHINGTON -- CIA Director R. James Woolsey launched a public campaign yesterday to show he is reforming the agency and its "culture" from within in an effort to head off growing congressional pressure for more far-reaching change in the wake of the Aldrich Ames spy case.
Mr. Woolsey announced a series of internal changes in the way the intelligence agency maintains security, evaluates its personnel and runs its computer system. In addition, Mr. Woolsey said there will be internal reviews of the CIA's principal directorates of operations (espionage) and intelligence (analysis).
These changes were portrayed as the CIA's response to the Ames case. Ames worked for the CIA for more than 30 years before pleading guilty in April to spying for the Soviet Union. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
"Changing attitudes, norms and practices will take a great deal of effort and a lot of time," Mr. Woolsey said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "But we can and will take major steps to reduce the possibility of treachery in the future."
After Ames' guilty plea, Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, began pushing for appointment of a presidential commission that would study the need for fundamental, potentially far-reaching changes in the CIA. Mr. Warner's role is significant because he is a conservative lawmaker who has generally supported the CIA against outside criticism.
"These changes he's talking about appear to me to be minor," Mr. DeConcini said yesterday. "We need new people, new ideas, new direction [at the CIA]. Maybe this is where Woolsey's going, but it is at a snail's pace."
In yesterday's speech, Mr. Woolsey sought to explain why his reaction to the spy case seemed so muted. "Some called for instant action," he declared. "But I wanted the certainty of a conviction. I was not about to say or do anything to jeopardize the case."
At the same time, the CIA director unleashed his harshest denunciation to date of Ames, calling him a bigger traitor than Benedict Arnold, the notorious spy for Britain during the Revolutionary War.
"Our agents in the Cold War against the Soviet Union risked their lives, helped keep you free and died because this warped, murdering traitor wanted a bigger house and a Jaguar," Mr. Woolsey said.
He also admitted that there need to be some changes in the CIA's "culture . . . especially in the field of counterintelligence."
"Neither the Directorate of Operations [the espionage division, in which Ames operated] nor, for that matter, any other part of the CIA, can function as a fraternity -- much less a white male one," Mr. Woolsey said.