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Another Mole: 'Langley, We Have a Problem . . .'

April 12, 1998|David Wise | David Wise is the author of "Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames Sold the CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million."

WASHINGTON — For the Central Intelligence Agency, the recent arrest of Douglas F. Groat on charges of espionage and extortion means, should the accusations prove true, that three moles have been uncovered at the CIA in four years.

First, there was Aldrich H. Ames who, for millions of dollars, sold to the KGB the names of Soviet intelligence officers working for the CIA. Ten were subsequently executed. Arrested in 1994, Ames was sent to prison for life. Next, Harold J. Nicholson sold the Russians the names of 300 CIA trainees at "the Farm," the agency's school for spies near Williamsburg, Va. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

But the indictment and arrest of Groat, 50, may prove most embarrassing of all, even though Groat was fired in 1996, because it focuses public attention on an activity the agency least likes to talk about: stealing codes of both unfriendly and friendly nations. Groat was a break-in specialist for the CIA, a spy trained as a government burglar to gain entry to foreign embassies and steal cryptographic information.

This should come as no great surprise to anyone who has read a spy novel or seen a Hollywood movie, but it is not something the agency likes to dwell on. Its new director, George J. Tenet, would much rather emphasize the agency's post-Cold War challenges, such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

But even CIA directors have occasional flashes of candor. In 1994, then CIA chief R. James Woolsey said frankly, "What we really exist for is stealing secrets."

The government has accused Groat of revealing to two unnamed foreign countries information about how the CIA stole their codes. It also charges that he demanded $500,000 in return for his silence about the CIA's black-bag jobs.

The Groat case comes as an embarrassment to the CIA for another reason. It suggests the agency may have mishandled another unhappy employee, as it did in the case of Edward Lee Howard.

Howard, trained to be a CIA spy in Moscow, was fired abruptly after he failed a polygraph test. When he acted bizarrely, and talked about selling secrets to the Russians, the agency paid for his psychiatric treatment but never told the FBI. In 1985, after selling the details of the CIA's Moscow operations to the KGB, Howard escaped to Russia, where he now lives in a comfortable dacha paid for by the KGB's successor, the SVR.

But both the Howard and Groat cases bring into focus a problem for the CIA and other intelligence agencies that has no easy answer. Every day, employees handle secrets they know are worth a great deal of money to other countries. Few succumb to temptation, but the potential for betrayal is always there.

What should the agency do with an employee who has a real or imagined grievance? A officer who is fired may seek revenge, as Howard did and Groat is accused of doing, by revealing damaging secrets. A wiser choice might be to keep the person on the payroll in a less sensitive job. But there are few positions at the CIA's Langley, Va., headquarters, where a clever mole might not gain access to sensitive information. Ames was shoved into the CIA's Counternarcotics Center, but still managed to surf the computers of the Directorate of Operations, the agency's spy arm, and download secret data.

Groat is a bearded bear of a man, 6 feet 4, and about 250 pounds. Born in upstate New York, the son of a mobile home salesman, he married his high school sweetheart, Madeline, in 1968, joined the Army, served in the Special Forces on Okinawa for two years, and was trained in Chinese language and scuba diving. He left the Army in 1972, and worked in a series of law enforcement jobs. He was a police officer in Glenville, N.Y. and later a U.S. marshal in Phoenix. Along the way, he and his wife had a son and a daughter.

He joined the CIA in 1980. According to his now former wife, the agency trained her husband in "flaps and locks," agency jargon for specialists in opening mail and picking locks. The Groats were divorced in 1996. Though his wife has changed her name to Madeline Libre, she remains strongly supportive of her former husband.

"I find it impossible to believe he went to targets and told them anything," she said. "He is very patriotic and never in my wildest dreams would I believe that. I care what happens to him; he's the father of my children. He's a good man and did his job well."

Groat's troubles--and the CIA's--began in the early 1990s, when an overseas operation to steal codes was compromised. There were rumors inside Langley that a letter had been written tipping off the target country. The CIA launched an investigation and Groat came under suspicion. In 1993, Groat refused to take a polygraph test and was placed on administrative leave. For three years, he drew his $70,000 salary, but did not go to work.

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