Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Ames is without doubt the most damaging American spy ever. Ames was a CIA employee for 31 years and spent most of his career in the Directorate of Operations (DO), which is responsible for carrying out CIA clandestine operations around the globe. He had access to virtually all CIA operations against the former Soviet Union and later Russia, and to the names of recruited Soviet Intelligence officers and agents that operated in the Soviet Union. Ames' betrayal at the height of the Cold War caused the imprisonment of many CIA sources and the execution of at least ten agents in the Soviet Union. His was able to carry out his espionage activities without detection for almost nine years.

After his first 1969 overseas assignment to Ankara, Turkey, he returned in to CIA headquarters in 1972 where he spent four years in the Soviet-East European Division (SE) of the DO. After a five year tour in New York he was stationed for two years in Mexico City in 1982 and continued to specialize in Soviet cases. When he returned to headquarters in 1983, he was made counterintelligence branch chief for Soviet operations. In September 1989, after a tour in Rome, Italy, Ames returned to the SE Division and was assigned to the office that supported all Soviet and East European operations in Europe. In 1990, he was reassigned to the Counterintelligence Center (CIC).

The astonishing about his CIA career, which gave him access to the most sensitive operations and documents, was the fact that he held all these positions regardless serious personal and professional misconduct, violation of security rules, large expenditures he could not account for with his CIA salary, a serious drinking problem and a generally poor performance on his CIA posts. The Ames case was a failure of the system with an excessively tolerant bureaucracy within the CIA, where security was lax and ineffective and where his serious misconduct was never recorded on paper.

As investigations later showed, Ames walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington in April 1985 and handed over CIA files to the duty officer. It was the start of a nine years spying career with numerous meetings with the KGB (Soviet Intelligence) on his tours in Mexico City and Rome. During these meetings, and later on through dead-drops in the United States, Ames provided the KGB with a huge quantity of highly sensitive documents about U.S. foreign, defense and security policies, CIA operations against the Soviet Union and the names of virtually all Soviet agents of the CIA. Ames received substantial payments for the information he provided. This enabled him to purchase a new Jaguar and a $540,000 home with cash. In total, the KGB paid over $1.8 million and $900,000 more had been set aside for him.

In 1985, CIA started investigating the leaks, the ever failing operations, and their vanishing agents. It took nine years, two special CIA and FBI task forces and an Inspector General report to find out who was the mole and how it was possible that Ames could continue to spy for nine years, despite his suspicious behaviour. On February 21, 1994, agents from the FBI arrested Aldrich Hazen Ames on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of Russia and the former Soviet Union.

The 55 page document "Assessment of the Aldrich H. Ames Espionage Case" by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is a very detailed record on Aldrich Ames' career, his espionage activities, what went wrong at the CIA during the mole hunt and how he was finally caught. You can read or download the report at this Hanford link (right-click and save target as...) or read it at the CI Centre website. More about Ames is found on Crime Library. The National Security Archive has an eight page interview with Ames. On youtube you can find the movie Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within (in 10 parts), which depicts pretty well why and how Ames became a traitor, and how the mole hunt brought him to a stop. Below there's also the Cold War Spies episode on Ames.

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