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SEARCH FOR NEW CIA CHIEF BEGINS

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President Clinton is opening a search for a new CIA chief to polish the spy agency's image in the aftermath of nearly a decade of treachery by Russian mole Aldrich Ames.

James Woolsey, 53, resigned Wednesday after two tumultuous years as CIA director during which he was dogged by the Ames affair, congressional criticism of the agency's bloated budget and post-Cold War restructuring.Woolsey cited personal and family considerations, and the White House insisted he was not forced from office.

Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch, the No. 2 official at the Pentagon, was said to be high on the list of possible successors. White House officials said, however, it was too early to speculate on front-runners.

Deutch, 56, has a reputation as a demanding taskmaster and a shrewd political and strategic adviser to the White House. He has been at the center of many of the administration's most sensitive decisions on the use of military force, particularly the operation in Haiti.

Haunting the selection process is the case of Ames, the 31-year CIA veteran sentenced to life imprisonment after confessing he served as a paid Russian agent for eight years, turning over secrets said to have caused Moscow to execute several key U.S. intelligence agents.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., the outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had complained that Woolsey's actions in clearing the wreckage left by the Ames affair were weak and inadequate.

But he called Deutch "a very competent fellow" and said he would be an excellent choice to head the agency.

The White House officials said Clinton soon will begin to concentrate on his choice and said it is likely he hopes to conclude the search in the next few weeks. Woolsey agreed to stay through the end of January if necessary.

The Ames affair dealt Woolsey's agency a morale and public relations wallop as well as an intelligence setback.

Although most of the Ames spying took place before Woolsey assumed command of the CIA early in 1993, his decision not to severely punish the CIA officials for whom Ames worked stirred a storm on Capitol Hill.