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American Spy 'Caught Red-Handed' by French, Left Paris Immediately

By Daniel Williams and Walter Pincus
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

One of five Americans fingered by the French as working for the CIA was "caught red-handed" spying and left Paris immediately, well before the U.S.-French espionage scandal erupted Wednesday into public view, U.S. officials said Thursday.

A second American named by the French may leave "slightly ahead" of the scheduled end of his tour of duty this summer, a U.S. official said - this despite public protestations by the State Department Wednesday that the French charges were "unwarranted."

U.S. officials insisted Thursday that the timing for the other three to leave France is up to the United States alone, and that there are no current plans to pull them out before their normal tours' end as France has asked.

The withdrawals of the Americans "will be in a sequence of our own choosing," a U.S. official said.

Administration officials made the disclosures a day after a news leak in Paris led the French government to announce it had asked Washington to recall five U.S. citizens, including four diplomats, for allegedly conducting business and trade espionage against France.

Administration officials declined to detail the charges against the Americans, or confirm or deny French allegations that the Americans were trying to bribe Parisian officials.

A senior U.S. official insisted that the withdrawal of the first American, and what he described as the likely early recall of the second, implied only that their covers had been blown. "Of the people named, one had departed beforehand. In the other case, it is normal procedure when an operator is identified, even in friendly circumstances, (as) his or her utility is compromised," the senior official said.

The American account of being willing to withdraw some officials, while resisting requests for the ouster of others, helps to explain why France has made repeated requests for expulsion in recent weeks. The United States was addressing the allegations methodically, at best, and France apparently felt the United States was dragging its feet in at least two cases.

For its part, the administration is not so much angered by the French complaints about spying as by the leak to the French newspaper Le Monde that made the events public. That was a breach of the normal discretion used in handling such unpleasantries.

"The manner in which this whole thing was done was provocative and inconsistent for countries that are allies," said State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly.

"If custom (in such matters) had been followed," one U.S. official said Thursday, "the (French and American) intelligence agencies would have worked out a quiet accommodation."