Aldrich Ames (1941 – ) was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official who rose to high rank within the agency’s Soviet and East European division, which afforded him access to Soviet counterintelligence. He turned traitor and sold his services to the Soviet KGB as a deep mole within their enemy’s camp, and became one of the Soviet Union’s, and later Russia’s, most effective double agents in the US.
The son of a CIA analyst, Ames’ connections paved the way for his joining the CIA in 1962. Notwithstanding heavy drinking, alcohol-related problems that included drunken run-ins with the police and drunken brawls in public with foreign diplomats, as well as sloppiness that once led him to forget secret documents in an NYC subway car, he rose steadily through the CIA’s ranks.
After a stint in Turkey recruiting Soviet spies in the 1960s, he returned to the US in the 1970s, before getting posted to Mexico in the early 1980s, where he met his second wife, a Colombian whom he had recruited. They wed in 1985, and that same year, the couple began selling secrets to the KGB.
During their run of treason, which lasted until they were finally unmasked in 1994, Ames and his wife were paid over $2.7 million by the Soviets, and after 1991, the Russians. There were warning signs, including conspicuous consumption and extravagant spending on things ranging from a big $520,000 house paid for in cash, luxury vacations, premium credit cards whose minimum monthly payment exceeded his salary, and luxury cars that stood out in the CIA’s parking lot – things that no honest public servant could afford on government pay. However, no alarm bells were raised for years, and when they were, it took years more, until 1993, before his employers took a serious look at his finances and activities.
In the meantime, Ames had passed two polygraphs while he was spying. He needed no high tech means or complicated Oceans Eleven type capers to smuggle out secrets: he simply stuffed whatever documents he wanted to give his KGB and FSB handlers in his briefcase or in trash bags, and brazenly carried them out of the CIA headquarters at the end of the workday, with nobody questioning him.
As a result of Ames’ treachery, at least 12 CIA spies within the Soviet Union were captured, 10 of them subsequently executed. By the time he was finally unmasked, Ames and his wife had revealed to the Soviets and Russians the identity of every CIA spy operating in their country. After he was arrested in 1994, he cut a deal with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty and ensured that his wife got no more than a five-year sentence. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading