CIA Official's Posting Sparks Anger in Ranks : Intelligence: Some are upset by Deutch's decision to award plum job to agent touched by Ames scandal. Defenders say officer wasn't responsible.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anger within the ranks of the Central Intelligence Agency apparently has flared over a decision by Director John M. Deutch to give a prized overseas assignment to a senior official touched by the Aldrich H. Ames spy scandal, agency sources said Monday.

Some CIA officers fear that the assignment may be an early sign that Deutch is unwilling to live up to his promise to shake up the agency's insular, old-boy culture. The action also has reopened the debate within the agency over the Ames case, and the extent to which senior CIA managers, who should have seen warning signs of Ames' spying for the Soviet Union and Russia, have been able to avoid punishment.

Jack Devine, who has been serving as the CIA's acting deputy director for operations in recent months, has been given a highly prestigious posting as CIA station chief in a major foreign capital, which the CIA has asked The Times not to identify.

Devine, 54, was the CIA's station chief in Rome for less than a year in the late 1980s while Ames was stationed there. Ames already had begun betraying his country as a KGB mole. In the investigations that followed Ames' February, 1994, arrest, Devine was not recommended for censure in reports issued by the CIA's inspector general or by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And senior CIA officials now stress that Devine should not be punished simply because he happened to have supervised Ames for a brief period.

"You have got to hold managers accountable," Nora Slatkin, the newly named executive director of the CIA, said in an interview last week. "But I'm not sure it sends the wrong message [to offer Devine the new assignment] if it's a guy who did nothing wrong. If people have things to be accountable for, then it's the wrong message. But I'm not sure it's the case if someone has done nothing wrong."

Congressional leaders familiar with the matter also have given their blessing. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Tex.) said in an interview Monday that "I don't have a problem with him getting a station. Jack is one of those people mentioned in the Ames case. . . . There are a number of people who think heads should have rolled but I have never been in search of heads. I'm interested in getting to the bottom of the problem."

In addition, CIA officials question whether the dissension within the ranks over Devine's appointment is very extensive.

Still, some officers within the CIA believe that Devine's new assignment underscores the extent to which senior managers have escaped accountability in the wake of the worst espionage scandal in recent U.S. history. Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey was widely criticized last year for imposing relatively mild sanctions or reprimands on 11 senior CIA staff members, including some who had already retired.

Ames served in the Rome station from 1986 until about June, 1989, while Devine became Rome station chief in the fall of 1988. Alan Wolfe, Devine's predecessor as Rome station chief, received a letter of reprimand from Woolsey for his role in the Ames case--but that came only after Wolfe had already retired.

Critics inside the CIA also note that Devine, who speaks Italian and Spanish, was chief of the CIA's Latin American division until shortly before the controversy broke earlier this year concerning the CIA's involvement in Guatemala.

In that case, the CIA has been criticized for keeping a Guatemalan army officer on its payroll even after it discovered that the officer was implicated in the 1990 murder of an American citizen. The Guatemala controversy is now the subject of a series of investigations, on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. Devine has not been singled out for censure in that matter either, however.

Deutch apparently viewed Devine's overseas assignment as a step toward appointing his own choice as head of the Directorate of Operations, the CIA's clandestine service. As acting deputy director for operations since Ted Price retired from that position in May, Devine has been in charge of the agency's covert operations. Now, Deutch has asked a small committee of outside experts to make recommendations to him on a permanent successor to run the directorate, and an announcement is expected by the end of the month. Many expect the new chief of operations to come from within the agency.

"I believe that I could not have selected a stronger candidate to serve in the senior management post Jack has accepted and will be taking up in the near future," Deutch said in a brief statement. "From my first day at CIA, Jack has given his full support to my agenda for renewal of the Directorate of Operations."

Devine clearly was disappointed. In a cable he sent to the Directorate of Operations' offices around the world, Devine said that it had become clear he would not be named to head the directorate permanently.

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