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Despite 1977 Ban, CIA Still Can Use Journalist Cover for Spies

February 16, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The CIA can dispatch agents in the guise of journalists to gather information abroad but only under strict guidelines, agency director John Deutch said Friday.

Deutch wouldn’t say whether the practice is in use today. And if anyone would know, he would.

Only the director has the authority to override regulations in force since 1977 that forbid assigning spies disguised as reporters or of hiring actual journalists to gain information.

``We have a policy on that,″ Deutch said at a student forum on defense and intelligence. ``We certainly wouldn’t do that except under the current policy, which has been present for some number of decades.″

The question of journalistic cover for spies is likely to become part of an imminent debate on U.S. intelligence gathering in the post-Cold War world. A new report by the private Council on Foreign Relations about changes in intelligence-gathering recommends ``a fresh look be taken at limits on the use of nonofficial `covers’ for hiding and protecting those involved in clandestine activities.″

Deutch minimized the issue’s importance. ``I don’t think that’s really a central question,″ he said.

The Washington Post, quoting an unidentified intelligence source Friday, reported the CIA occasionally has waived the regulation during its 19-year existence. Neither Deutch nor other agency officials would confirm the report.

The Egyptian government was certain its investigators uncovered in the late 1980s a case of a CIA agent using journalistic cover. Prosecutors accused Nicholas Edward Reynolds of working for the CIA while posing as a reporter for Cairo Today, an English-language magazine in the Egyptian capital. Reynolds had left Egypt two years earlier but was charged and convicted in absentia. U.S. intelligence officials steadfastly refused to discuss the case.

The practice is nothing new.

This month’s issue of Baltimore magazine tells the story of Marguerite Harrison, a beautiful, Radcliffe-educated adventurer who went to the Soviet Union in 1920 as a reporter for Baltimore’s The Sun newspaper. In fact, she was spying for the Military Intelligence Division of the U.S. War Department. A mole blew her cover, and authorities in Moscow arrested her on the spot. Only a yearlong campaign by major news organizations, diplomats and U.S. officials won her release.

Appearing before an auditorium of high school students affiliated with the National Youth Leadership Forum, Deutch said Friday the CIA closely monitors its clandestine activities to guard against excesses.

``How do they perform their responsibility of stealing secrets for the United States of America in a way which has integrity and accountability?″ Deutch said.

If Americans could read details of these undercover spies, Deutch said, ``They would say, `Yup, that’s right. That’s the kind of thing that has to be done to protect American lives and American interests.‴

In a speech and question-and-answer session, Deutch ranged widely over U.S. intelligence missions:

_On recent tension between China and Taiwan: ``It is not my view that there’s an intention on the part of the Chinese to invade Taiwan.″

_On the chances that Russia will revert to a communist totalitarian state: He couldn’t make a long-term prediction, ``but if you said to me what are the chances of this happening over the next five years or so, I would say modest, low.″

_On the Aldrich Ames spy case: The problem was not so much that a CIA agent turned on his country but that it took so long to be discovered. ``It went on too long. He was a successful spy much too long.″

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