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Alleged Spying by a Top CIA Officer Demoralizes Agency

By Charles W. Hall and R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

CIA Director John M. Deutch described alleged spy Harold James Nicholson on Wednesday as one of the agency's "leading officers" and said "there is no question" that the revelation of his alleged betrayal has had a devastating effect on CIA morale.

Deutch confirmed that Nicholson's alleged spying for Moscow is forcing the agency to give different jobs to many young recruits whom Nicholson trained at a CIA facility in Virginia, because Nicholson is accused of telling the Russians about them.

Deutch's remarks came as Nicholson's attorney told a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., that he can disprove some allegations against his client and accused top leadership of the CIA and FBI of trying to convict Nicholson in the media.

During a hastily called hearing, attorney Jonathan Shapiro asked for CIA materials and the right to subpoena a CIA employee he said could help exonerate Nicholson, accused of spying for Russia for $120,000. He also asked a magistrate judge to discourage Deutch and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh from commenting publicly.

Freeh, in an interview on CNN, said that the quantity of classified documents Nicholson was holding when he was seized Saturday at Dulles International Airport outside Washington "turned out to be a large amount." Freeh said those included documents Nicholson had photographed on the floor of his office in recent weeks, unaware he was being videotaped by a secret FBI camera.

Freeh said the FBI has had "no contact" with Nicholson since his arrest because the CIA officer demanded an attorney immediately. But Freeh said the agency is confident the government has a strong case against Nicholson.

In court, Shapiro complained to U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr. that "the press is having a field day. We're concerned about statements made by the government about this case. I don't think it's at all proper, and it's going to hurt our chances of a fair trial."

Nicholson, 46, was arrested at Dulles while preparing to fly to Switzerland for what prosecutors said was a meeting with Russian spy handlers. According to a 31-page affidavit filed in U.S. District Court, Nicholson improperly copied dozens of classified documents and identified prospective field agents to Moscow.

Shapiro asked Jones for audio tapes of polygraph tests given to Nicholson and for the right to subpoena a CIA employee who helped him train new recruits at Camp Peary, a CIA training facility near Williamsburg. "Our belief is that they refute some of the allegations," Shapiro told Jones.

The employee Shapiro wants to question would be able to discuss whether Nicholson improperly sought information about the Russian region of Chechnya, according to court testimony. The affidavit asserts that although Nicholson told CIA employees that he needed Chechnyan information for a training exercise at Camp Peary, no such session actually took place.

The affidavit also said Nicholson flunked polygraph questions about forbidden contacts with foreign agents in two October 1995 tests. It was not clear from court testimony how Shapiro expected tapes of the tests to clear the 16-year CIA employee.

After Wednesday's hearing, Shapiro declined to discuss which allegations he plans to rebut. But he said, "We are going to plead not guilty, and we are going to fight these charges strenuously."

Deutch stated on CNN that the pride of all CIA employees had been undermined by the disclosure that "one of their leading officers, a person who had a high reputation, had allegedly been spying for Russia, for a hostile intelligence service."

Asked whether the alleged treachery had devastated CIA morale, Deutch answered, "I think there is no question about it." But he said the agency could be proud of having unmasked the alleged spy, and he added, "You can't blame an entire dedicated work force for one individual who was suborned by the Russians."

Deutch said a formal assessment of the security breach would not begin until after the criminal case is completed. But he said the agency knows enough to have concluded that Nicholson's apparent disclosure of personal data on the young CIA officers he trained from 1992 to 1994 "certainly has implications" for them.