Return Of a Prodigal Spy at The CIA

He's come in from the cold. The CIA's new chief spy, Michael Sulick, is a veteran of the shadowy world of undercover operations in hostile countries—and also the backstabbing arena of Washington politics. Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow "Moscow Rules," the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB. Sulick also served as a CIA case officer—an undercover operative who steals secrets and recruits informants—in Latin America and Poland. He returned to Moscow for the CIA after the fall of communism.

More recently Sulick suffered a fall of his own back home. He left his post as No. 2 in the CIA's Operations Division following a surprisingly public feud inside the agency. Within days of Porter Goss's confirmation as CIA director in September 2004, Sulick and Steven Kappes, now the CIA's deputy director, got into a heated row with Goss's chief of staff over a personnel matter and stormed out of the agency's HQ. James Pavitt, the CIA operations chief under former agency director George Tenet, told NEWSWEEK that Sulick's CIA comeback amounts to a "total repudiation" of the way Goss's aides drove him out of the agency.

Not surprisingly, details on Sulick's undercover career are sparse. But last year one of the CIA's own magazines published an account by Sulick of his part in an operation in post-communist Lithuania. Just days after democratic forces in Moscow defeated an attempt by hard-line Soviet leaders to stage a coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev, Sulick traveled to Lithuania but didn't apply for a visa because he feared the KGB had a big file on him. He was refused entry at a Soviet-manned border post but took a plane to Vilnius the next day and bluffed his way past a bored immigration officer—making him "the first U.S. official to enter a Soviet republic after the [failed Moscow] coup."

Sulick's subsequent efforts to navigate Washington may have been even more fraught. Just before the U.S. bombing campaign to oust Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 1999, the CIA's Belgrade station was ordered to evacuate and burn its contents. When CIA officials returned months later, however, they discovered a mess, with excrement on the floor and unburned secret papers in plain view. Congressional investigators, led by aides to the then Congressman Goss, suspected that Chinese and other adversaries had broken into the office and stolen secrets. But Sulick conducted a lengthy probe and found no evidence that any secrets had been compromised. Bitterness persisted between Capitol Hill Republicans and the departed spies: last year GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra, then chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, accused both Sulick and Kappes of plotting to undermine Bush-administration policies. An intelligence official, who asked for anonymity discussing a sensitive issue, called the congressional complaints against Sulick "baloney."

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