THE need for intelligence gathering is one of the sad realities of a wicked world. Despite the end of the cold war, spying continues, as the new case of Aldrich Ames, former head of CIA Soviet counterintelligence, makes clear. Mr. Ames may have sold his country out for a mess of pottage - $1.5 million since 1986.
According to a 40-page Justice Department statement, Ames, in charge of recruiting Soviet agents for United States intelligence, gave Moscow classified information, and information about US ``human assets'' in Russia. Such material would compromise overall US security and, at the least, endanger US agents in Russia. The question of whether or not any agents were killed as a result of Ames's dealings was met with a crisp ``no comment'' by CIA officials.
If Ames is found guilty it will be the first evidence that the Soviet Russians had a mole in such a high CIA office. The CIA must sort out the obvious: How did Ames escape attention for eight years, even while he lived a life of fancy cars and big houses far beyond his $69,000 CIA salary?
US Ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering lodged a formal complaint against Moscow. But other than sending home Russian agents or diplomats involved with Ames - a legitimate part of the game - this is not a matter for escalating tensions between Russia and the US. The US has its own spies in Russia; if Washington can penetrate Russian intelligence circles, it gladly will. There may be a popular perception among some Americans that since the US won the cold war it somehow has a right to continue spying on Russia while Russia should discontinue its activities in the US. But this is not how great powers work.
What the Ames case ought to suggest is that, when it comes to intelligence, the perceived post-cold-war honeymoon with a dismantled Soviet Union and a friendly Russia ought to be reconsidered. The US should pursue a policy of an extended hand, and of respect, toward Russia - even while prosecuting Ames to the fullest extent of the law, if the case so warrants.
At the same time, the bluster coming from Moscow on Wednesday about a US overreaction to Ames, and warnings about a cold-war mentality, is itself a form of cold-war propaganda.
Spying may be a game to some; but its consequences are grave. What Ames is accused of is despicable. For Moscow to suggest that ``all sides do it'' does not make acts of betrayal any less ugly.