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`Bob of the CIA' Told a Story, Then Became One

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer

Last March, months before televised Senate hearings made him famous as "Bob from the CIA," a clandestine intelligence officer secretly told a friend on the staff of the House intelligence committee a story about oil pipeline promoter and Democratic Party donor Roger Tamraz and unusual efforts to secure him an audience in the White House.

The tale – in which Bob recounted calls to the CIA by Democratic National Committee Chairman Donald L. Fowler seeking someone to pass on positive information about Tamraz to the National Security Council – had one immediate consequence. When the revelations reached the Senate intelligence committee, former national security adviser Anthony Lake, who was in the midst of his confirmation hearings to be President Clinton's CIA director, said he had known nothing of the involvement of the NSC with Tamraz and withdrew his nomination.

Although Bob's name did not emerge in connection with Lake's failed nomination, his story has come back to haunt him. Today, the veteran case officer is a main focus of an investigation into the Tamraz case by the CIA inspector general after Sheila Heslin, an NSC staff member, accused Bob during last month's Senate hearings into campaign fund-raising of lobbying her on Tamraz's behalf. The investigation is examining not only Heslin's charge but Bob's private contacts with Congress last March, which apparently occurred without authorization from his superiors.

"It's turned around and bit him," said a former colleague.

Bob's friends in government, on Capitol Hill and inside the intelligence community say he has become a scapegoat – his role used to the advantage of both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee during hearings on campaign funding. Republicans have tried to show that the Democrats, through Fowler, manipulated the CIA to get the Tamraz contributions. Democrats have placed the blame for CIA support of Tamraz on Bob and other agency officials either protecting a source or possibly seeking future jobs for themselves.

Bob, a 20-year veteran clandestine officer whose last name is classified, has maintained through his Washington attorney, Victoria Toensing, that he never sought favors for Tamraz. Toensing also has said that former NSC staff member Heslin was wrong when she told the Senate committee that Bob was lobbying her in 1995 on Tamraz's behalf.

At least part of Bob's predicament, colleagues say, arises from the murky symbiosis that is part of relationships aimed at intelligence gathering. To Heslin, Bob was lobbying for Tamraz. To Bob, Tamraz was a source whose information was useful to the agency and who, in turn, was helped within a range that he and his superiors believed was acceptable.

The line between giving CIA sources assistance with government officials and inappropriately lobbying on their behalf is being examined in the investigation by CIA Inspector General Frederick P. Hitz. In addition, Hitz is looking at what type of reporting to superiors should be required when mid-level officers are contacted by political figures, such as Fowler.

In Bob's defense, Toensing said her client filed a series of memos with his superiors that remain classified and that show that at key moments of the Tamraz case he was not acting without the approval or knowledge of superiors. The memos allegedly document his telephone conversations with Fowler as they occurred and noted that Bob's activities with Tamraz were approved by his boss at the time, William Lofgren.

Shortly after Lofgren retired from the agency at the end of 1995, he worked as a consultant for several months for Tamraz. That led some congressional investigators to speculate that Bob, too, was looking for a consultancy in retirement. Bob's friends doubt that future employment was a motive for Bob, since, as one said, "he is independently wealthy. He doesn't have to do any of this."

Bob's friends defend his going to the Hill last spring, saying he first raised questions about the Democratic Party's involvement with Tamraz with his bosses last December. The trigger for his concern came after a December 1995 memo he wrote documenting his contacts with Fowler was returned to him – apparently without having been acted upon – in November 1996, just weeks before Tamraz's name surfaced publicly as a Clinton-Gore contributor and White House visitor.

Bob is described by several former colleagues as smart, a good recruiter but someone with a tendency to be too aggressive. "He was a bright, imaginative officer," said one of his former supervisors, "but he had to be watched because occasionally he would go too far" in proposing an operation. In his private life, Bob is said to be a conservative with no political motives to help the Clinton administration.

As a ranking official in the Central Eurasian Division of the Directorate of Operations (DO), the clandestine side of the agency, Bob kept in touch with Tamraz, who had contacts in the area. "He was aware [Tamraz] was giving substantial amounts of money to get access to the president," said someone who was a colleague at the time.

In early 1995, Tamraz was attempting to get support in Armenia and Azerbaijan for a $1 billion pipeline project that promised to carry oil from the Caspian oil fields through Turkey to the West. The U.S. ambassador in Armenia, Harry Gilmore, mentioned Tamraz to a visiting group of U.S. officials that included Heslin, then the National Security Council staff member coordinating American oil policy for that area. Gilmore suggested Tamraz be granted meetings in Washington with government officials so he would share his experiences.

To help promote his entry for these meetings, Tamraz hired the retired former CIA station chief in Germany, Ed Pechous, as a consultant. Pechous repeatedly called Heslin at the NSC but she testified that she did not return the calls. A meeting between Heslin and Tamraz was set up for June 2, 1995, only after an interagency group agreed Tamraz should be given a hearing.

Heslin, whom both Republicans and Democrats at the Senate hearings described as a heroine of the Tamraz affair for resisting outside pressure to secure a meeting with Clinton, was mistrustful of Tamraz's background and asked the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence (DI) for a report on Tamraz and his company, Oil Capital Ltd.

"The CIA also provided some information which indicated, well, a very controversial past," Heslin told the senators.

Heslin's view that Tamraz should be shunned clashed with Bob's, who saw him as an intelligence contact whose value to the agency should be known and respected, according to intelligence sources. Heslin, they said, did not understand the role of intelligence officers or the way the agency operated. For example, they point out Heslin told the senators that she was surprised when she received two reports on Tamraz from the CIA – one from the DI, which she had expected, and another from the DO, which she had not specifically requested. Agency sources said the DO report was requested by the DI since the covert operators had their own records about Tamraz.

"And there was a very big difference between the reports from the DI and the DO," Heslin told the committee. "The one from the Directorate of Operations where `Bob from the CIA' worked was almost wholly positive . . . [although] it did discuss that there were unsubstantiated claims of problems."

Heslin told the committee that Bob called her after she had her meeting with Tamraz. She said that call was followed by several others, which led her to believe that Bob was lobbying for Tamraz.

Heslin did not testify that she had also met Bob at a September 1995 dinner at a Georgetown restaurant hosted by the Azerbaijan ambassador. Heslin, according to committee sources, said Bob offered her a ride home to impress the Azerbaijanis. Bob, according to friends, proposed the ride as a courtesy and in the ensuing conversation determined she should know more about Tamraz. It was subsequent to that discussion that Bob, according to friends, ordered up a new report on Tamraz for Heslin.

Tamraz did not become a major donor to the Democratic Party until July 1995, a month after he had had his unsatisfactory session with Heslin.

When an invitation to Tamraz to attend an Oct. 5, 1995, breakfast with Vice President Gore was withdrawn, the pipeline promoter called Bob and asked him to telephone Fowler to try to clear up questions about him.

Bob called Fowler, who was not available, and left his office number. On Oct. 19, Fowler called Bob back at his home number, which he had obtained from Tamraz. In their discussion, sources said, Bob said he had another report in the works and that it would be going to Heslin. Bob wrote a memo to his superiors about that Fowler call, sources said, noting Tamraz's desire to meet with the president or vice president.

Bob had a December meeting with Tamraz during which the oil promoter passed on details of a meeting he had with Russian President Boris Yeltsin's closest adviser. A day later, Fowler called Bob again, apparently at Tamraz's urging.

On Dec. 28, 1995, Bob wrote a summary of his dealings with Fowler and sent it to his superiors. The handling of that memo, which was returned to Bob in October 1996, is another subject of the Hitz investigation.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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