Accuracy in Media

Sixty Minutes has exposed another dark chapter in the recent history of the FBI. It is the story of Brian Kelly, an undercover CIA agent who the FBI thought was a Russian spy. Kelly was one of the CIA’s leading spycatchers. He became the object of suspicion during a period when the FBI and CIA joined forces to identify a mole who was leaking secrets to the Russians. Ironically, it was Kelly’s fingering of State Department official Felix Bloch as a Russian spy, that resulted in his becoming the FBI’s lead suspect. The Bloch case collapsed because someone? the FBI believed it was Kelly? had tipped off the Russians before the FBI could catch Bloch redhanded.

The FBI began round-the-clock surveillance of Kelly. It searched his house, tapped his phone and computer, and began a series of sting operations designed to prove that Kelly was a spy. He was asked to take a polygraph test in a phony search for a non-existent defector. He easily passed the test. The FBI refused to take that as exoneration. They claimed it showed that he was so cold- blooded and such a talented spy that he could fool the polygraph. Then, in a “false flag” operation, they sent a man to Kelly’s house, who pretended to be a Russian agent sent to help him. Kelly, totally baffled, reported this to the FBI. They interpreted the fact that he recognized the ploy as further proof that he was a master spy.

They began asking his friends questions that were based on clues that indicated that the spy they were looking for was the FBI’s Robert Hanssen, but Kelly remained their sole suspect. Leslie Stahl interviewed David Szady, the FBI’s top spycatcher who ran the investigation. Szady defended the single-minded pursuit of Kelly as the suspect, even in hindsight. Stahl said the FBI refused to believe one of their own was involved and that Hanssen himself kept steering them to the CIA.

The clues pointing to the FBI were very strong. One agent, Thomas Kimmel, had learned from Earl Pitts, an FBI agent arrested in 1996 for selling secrets to the Russians, that the Russians had other moles in the FBI. Pitts actually named Hanssen. But Kimmel was denied access to the files he requested. He said he was being stonewalled.

Brian Kelly was then accused directly of being a Russian spy. But eight of the twenty-five agents investigating the case believed Kelly was not their man. The FBI next offered rewards in Russia for information about the spy. They got a tape recording of an incriminating conversation with the spy. It was not Kelly’s voice, and they explained that was more evidence of his skill, saying he had someone else make the call. But someone recognized the voice as Hanssen, putting an end to their torment of Kelly.

They didn’t inform Kelly that he was no longer a suspect until four months later when they arrested Hanssen, catching him redhanded. Kelly has since been reinstated, but he told Sixty Minutes that his career was ruined. Once again, the FBI has been exposed for, at best, incompetence. No one has been disciplined, and some were given promotions. Heads need to roll, and Congress needs to investigate.

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