Jesse's 'Deep Throat'

The State Department is wondering whether Sen. Jesse Helms has developed a "Deep Throat" within the U.S. intelligence community who is leaking the senator information on the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START). NEWSWEEK has learned that Helms, in a detailed, 25-page questionnaire and "Dear Jim" cover letter to Secretary of State James Baker, has revealed the most intimate knowledge of Baker's negotiating tactics and of U.S. intelligence about Soviet strategic modernization plans. One State Department source called the information "appallingly well informed." In the material sent to State, Helms says he knows of "an important Soviet defector" who "recently" provided U.S. officials with new technical information about the Soviet Backfire bomber that will spark renewed controversy at the START negotiations.

The Backfire has been the subject of dispute in U.S.-Soviet arms negotiations since the mid-1970s. Helms's letter asserts that the Defense Intelligence Agency has "recently increased its estimate of the Backfire's range, due to the defector's new evidence." (The ;defector worked on a Backfire base during his military service.) DIA has now concluded that it should be counted as a strategic intercontinentalrange aircraft under START. Helms's letter also charges a CIA "cover-up" of evidence that the Soviets have used the Backfire as the platform to test long-range, air-launched cruise missiles.

Helms, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold hearings on the treaty, plans to raise these issues in a Senate speech this week. "The ratification debate on START is going to be a lot harder than Bush and Baker seem to realize," says a top Senate aide.

Join the Discussion