Because of the Aldrich Ames spy scandal, Congress is beginning to ask tough questions about the CIA.

But Congress seems to be taking too narrow an approach. It is intent on finding out how the CIA could have permitted the lax security that allowed Ames to sell secrets but fails to ask the larger questions: What's left to give away? And to whom?In the 1980s, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger declared that the Soviets already possessed most of our national security secrets. Add Ames' information to those pilfered documents and there could hardly have been any top secrets our former enemy didn't know.

Possession of these secrets didn't seem to help the Soviets. No sooner did they have the secrets than they collapsed. If Mikhail Gorbachev's throwing in the towel and refusing to play Cold War in the late 1980s resulted from his knowledge of these secrets, then Ames thus inadvertently helped end the Cold War. If so, maybe Ames deserves a medal - except that he betrayed our agents, each of whom received a few hundred dollars a month to commit treason against his own country.

Since the CIA was created in the late 1940s for the purpose of combating the Soviet threat, now gone, Congress should review the agency's record along with its charter.

An honest review will show that the CIA has been a gross failure - least of all because of the spy scandal. The CIA routinely failed to provide accurate intelligence on national security matters, its first order of business.

For instance, CIA assessments in the early and mid-1980s concluded that the USSR was stronger and more dangerous than ever. Its expansionist posture, the agency informed the president, demanded that the United States spend more on weapons, covert actions and propaganda war to defeat the advancing Soviet enemy.

Quite the opposite was true. From at least the late 1970s on, the Soviet empire had begun to disintegrate, as anyone who traveled there could have testified.

But the Soviet threat served as a four-decade-long pretext for assassination plots and other "black" operations, which often got linked to scandals like the Iran-Contra affair, BCCI, Watergate and yet untold tales of drug and arms business.

Comment on this story

The CIA also toyed with U.S. citizens, not just the famous cases of people who died or went nuts during CIA drug experiments, but those who lost their privacy as well. In 1983, a Freedom of Information Act request brought me copies of letters I had sent to and received from friends living in the Soviet Union and Cuba.

The CIA should be housed in the Library of Congress where, in full view of other researchers, CIA professionals could gather data and inform our decisionmakers.

We'd be rid of the pesky covert and clandestine operations and we'd save a lot on overhead.