In a spy scandal that has unfolded like a plot from one of John Le Carré’s novels, the CIA last week unearthed a “mole.” After hours behind closed doors, a Baltimore grand jury on Friday indicted David Barnett, 47, for passing secret information to the Soviets. Barnett was trained as a “covert agent” by the CIA during the early 1960s and assigned to work under diplomatic cover in the Indonesian seaport of Surabaya. Ironically, his main task was to
recruit agents from Soviet consular staff. Sources close to the case now say that, in 1970, Barnett had a row over tactics with his station chief and resigned. He stayed on in Indonesia with his wife and family and opened an an -tique shop. But the business failed and, in 1976, the very people he had once tried to win over to the West made him an offer he found too tempting to refuse. In all, say CIA sources, they gave him $100,000 to work for “Moscow Central,” the headquarters of the KGB.
Most of the details of the charges are still secret. But Barnett is said to have met with KGB agents in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and in Vienna, in 1976. And the Soviets thoroughly debriefed him. He had been attached to the CIA’s supersecret covert operations branch and was able to provide full details of a clandestine scheme known by the code name “H.A. Brink.” What was that? A source at the U.S. justice department told Maclean's last week: “The only thing I can tell you is that it has to do with the covert collection by the CIA of Soviet manuals, weaponry, instruments and parts.”
Following his debriefing, Barnett was sent by the Soviets back to Washington to apply for jobs with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Intelligence Committee and the Intelligence Oversight Board. “If he had been successful in landing one of these he would have had access to every single secret move that the CIA is planning,” said a congressional researcher. “He could, in effect, have neutralized our intelligence operations.”
But Barnett did not get a job. Instead, his lobbying among old CIA colleagues aroused suspicions. Last year the agency hired him to work part-time on special assignments so that they could keep a closer eye on him. From then on, his arrest was only a matter of time. But in two respects, it may be only a beginning. For one thing, sources say, the FBI may use the case to persuade a reluctant Congress to allow them to set up secret spy traps on Capitol Hill. A report issued by Georgetown University’s Ethics and Public Policy Center earlier this year warned that Congress is a “potentially lucrative source” for Soviet spies and that security measures there are inadequate.
For another, the grand jury is reported to have been told that Barnett is only one of several Soviet moles in Washington. Said a Georgetown University source close to the case: “The CIA has this crazy idea that American agents cannot be bought over by the other side. The Barnett case proves that is nonsense. A major search is now on and we may see one or even two other arrests in the next few months.”
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