Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CIA TRAITOR ALDRICH AMES

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Carleton & Rachel Ames (wedding photo)
Carleton & Rachel Ames
(wedding photo)

Rick Ames would later jokingly claim that spying was in his blood. His father, Carleton Ames, had worked secretly for the CIA in Burma in the early 1950s, posing as a college professor on leave to study the local culture there. Ames did not learn about his father's covert activities until after the family returned from overseas and settled in a Washington D.C. suburb. Carleton told him in the spring of 1957 when he suggested that Rick, then a gangly sixteen year old, apply to work in a summer jobs program that the agency offered exclusively for its employees' children. Rick was hired and spent the summer helping make fake money used in training exercises at "the Farm" the CIA's secret training facility.

"Rick" Ames
(high school photo)

Rick's mother, Rachel, was a much beloved high school teacher, and Rick ran with the school's wittiest crowd at Langley High School. He excelled in drama, wore a trench coat each day, invented his own secret language and abhorred routine. He turned his dates into secret missions by having his girlfriend and him assume the roles of wealthy socialites or first time visitors to Washington. "I remember Rick telling me once," said a high school friend, "never tell anyone your true feelings. It was weird. We were only seventeen...and he suddenly just said it: 'Never tell anyone your true feelings. Let them believe an illusion.'"

Ames' family portrait
Ames' family portrait

After graduation, Ames attended the University of Chicago but spent so much time working in the drama club there on plays that he flunked out. His dad got the agency to hire him in February 1962. At night, he attended college classes. Ames quickly learned that his passion for acting was useful when he was trained at the Farm to become a case officer in the Directorate of Operations, the CIA's covert branch. "At the Farm there was a great emphasis on camaraderie," Ames recalled. "You were told that you were now part of an elite service, and that your job was paramount to the very survival of the United States. Because of these things, you were entitled to lie, cheat, deceive. You could operate in disguise, be anyone you wished." The CIA assigned him to its Soviet division and sent him to Ankara, Turkey, where he posed as a military officer. His job was to recruit Turks as spies, but he only managed to "turn" one asset: a local beauty pageant contestant whose boyfriend was involved in a revolutionary group trying to overturn the Turkish government. It was a dismal tour. When he returned to Washington in 1972, his supervisor predicted that Ames would never be an effective case officer because he had trouble working "face to face...with unknown personalities who must be manipulated." Simply put, he was lousy at recruiting spies.

Ames was so distraught that he considered quitting, but the agency sent him to its foreign language school where he quickly mastered Russian and in 1974, he got a break. Colombian intelligence agents had blackmailed a midlevel Soviet diplomat into becoming a spy, but he refused to work with them and insisted on being turned over to the CIA. Alexander Dmitrievich Ogorodnik, was given the cryptonym Trigon to protect his identity, and Ames was put in charge at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, of overseeing him. At first, Trigon didn't appear to be very valuable because all he knew about was diplomatic affairs in Bogota. But then he was called back to Moscow and assigned to the Soviet Foreign Ministry. There, Trigon photographed hundreds of classified diplomatic cables that were so important that copies of them were delivered daily to the White House and given to Henry Kissinger. One of Trigon's first requests to Ames was for an "L" (lethal) pill so he could commit suicide if caught. Ames had one concealed in an expensive pen and in 1977, Trigon used it to kill himself after he was exposed by a Czechoslovak translator who had gotten a job at the CIA without it realizing that he was a KGB mole.

Even though Ames still couldn't recruit spies, his handling of Trigon so impressed his bosses that they sent him to New York City, a hotbed for spying because it was home to the United Nations. Ames was assigned there to handle Sergey Fedorenko, a nuclear arms expert assigned to the Soviet U. N. delegation, whose cryptonym was Pyrrhic. Ames would later claim that Pyrrhic disclosed key missile information and crucial details about Soviet procurement practices, before he was called back to Russia. Before they parted, Ames and Fedorenko hugged. "We had become close friends," said Ames. "We trusted each other completely."

In early 1978, Ames got another juicy assignment: handling Ambassador Arkady Nikolaevich Shevchenko, the number two man in the U.N. bureaucracy, who had secretly been spying for the U.S. for more than two years. Ames helped hide Shevchenko from the KGB when he defected and consoled him after his wife, who was taken back to Russia under armed guard, mysteriously "committed suicide" out of shame because he had dishonored her. Shevchenko was the highest-level Soviet official ever to defect and Ames was at the top of the spy game. But at home, his personal life was a mess. Ames and his wife, Nan, had grown apart. Bored and lonely, he began checking into hotels and going on drinking binges.

William Casey, CIA Director (CORBIS)
William Casey, CIA
Director (CORBIS)

Much to his surprise, Ames was passed over when it came time for promotions because he had failed to recruit a single spy. He applied in 1981 for a covert diplomatic post in Mexico City so he could prove himself as a recruiter. His wife, Nan, stayed in New York. In Mexico, he once again floundered. His failed efforts at recruitment led to more drinking binges and disillusion. "Beginning with Trigon and later with Arkady Shevchenko, the CIA was getting really good, and I mean first-class, political information about the Soviets," Ames said later. "We knew we were disproportionately stronger than the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. And yet, decade after decade, the political leadership in both parties ignored that intelligence. They were committed to running around and screaming, "the Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! It was nonsense." Ames was especially outraged by CIA Director William Casey's preoccupation with the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua. Over drinks with other CIA employees, Ames complained bitterly about what he called U.S. "aggression."

"All of us were concerned about him," recalled a close friend, Richard Thurman, who worked in Mexico City for the State Department. "He was beginning to express some real skepticism about what our country was doing in Latin America."

Maria del Rosario (POLICE)
Maria del Rosario
(POLICE)

Enter Maria del Rosario Casas Dupuy, the cultural attaché for the Colombian Embassy in Mexico. One of Ames's CIA buddies, David Samson, was paying her to use her apartment for clandestine meetings with Mexican spies and he thought she and Ames might hit it off. Rosario was slim, attractive, and came across as an intellectual. Before long, they were in love. Ames took her on weekend jaunts to Acapulco where they made love on the beach. They dined in Mexico City's finest restaurants and because he was a diplomat attended the U.S. government's most glamorous affairs.

In September 1983, Ames finally got a promotion. It was arranged by a CIA official who had worked with Ames in New York City and didn't know about his mediocre performance in Mexico. He was named counterintelligence branch chief in Soviet operations, a job that would require him to return to CIA headquarters and would give him access to nearly all of the agency's Soviet cases, including the names of all of the CIA's "human assets" in the Soviet Union.

Ames broke the news to Rosario just before he was scheduled to return home. She was crushed and became even more despondent when he told her that he was actually a CIA officer and had a wife waiting in New York. He left Rosario heartbroken in Mexico City, but shortly after he settled into a tiny apartment in Virginia, he learned that Rosario's father had died suddenly and he raced back to Mexico to comfort her. When he returned home, she tagged along.

Ames was stunned at work when he began reading the dossiers of the CIA's spies. "My god," he later exclaimed. "We had penetrated every aspect of the Soviet system." Adolf Tolkachev, whom the agency called Vanquish, had volunteered in 1977 and been paid $2 million in return for giving the CIA details about the Soviet military's entire avionic system, a treasure that, Ames said later, would have given the U.S. "unquestioned air superiority" had a war broken out. The second most important asset was not a human, but a technical one called TAW. In 1979, the CIA discovered the Soviets were building a secret communications center outside Moscow that was connected to the KGB headquarters in downtown Moscow by tunnels that housed miles of cables for telephones and teletype messages. The agency bribed a member of the construction crew and got him to install a recording device in one of the tunnels that permitted it to intercept the KGB's message traffic.

There was another fantastic technical covert operation, called Project Absorb, underway at the time. By 1983, the CIA had identified the location of every permanent ground based nuclear missile in the Soviet Union, but it wasn't certain how deadly these missiles were after the Soviets began developing MIRVs (multiple warheads on single launchers). CIA scientists knew that each warhead emitted a tiny amount of radiation, so they designed a souped-up Geiger counter to determine the number of warheads each missile contained. The Geiger counter was mounted on a cargo container that was shipped east along the Trans Siberian railroad from a Pacific port. En route, it passed a Soviet train carrying MIRV missiles, and in the seconds it took for the trains to pass, the Geiger counter counted the warheads.

In all, the CIA had more spies working inside the Soviet Union than at any time in its history. Besides the dossiers of its agents, Ames had access to information about Soviets who were working for the CIA outside the Soviet empire. Two caught his eye. Both were KGB officers assigned to the Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C. Valery F. Martynov, whose cryptonym was Gentile, was assigned to Line X, the KGB division charged with stealing scientific and technical intelligence. The other, Sergey Motorin, known as Gauze, was a KGB Major knowledgeable about the Soviet intelligence. The FBI was using both to learn about the Russians covert operations in Washington.

Valery F Martynov and Sergey M Motorin
Valery F Martynov and Sergey M Motorin

As soon as she arrived in Virginia, Rosario began pressuring Ames to divorce Nan. When he finally confronted her in New York, Nan immediately agreed to a divorce but made it clear that she was going to keep most of their joint assets. Rosario, meanwhile, was running up huge bills that Ames couldn't pay. She phoned her mother in Bogota almost daily, resulting in $400 per month charges. Ames got a second credit card and ran it up to the maximum $5,000 limit. Still, he couldn't cover the costs of Rosario's unchecked spending. By late 1984, he had close to $34,000 in unpaid debt. He owed another $16,000 to Nan as part of the divorce settlement. His salary was about $45,000 per year and he estimated that he needed at least twice that to cover the cost of his new lifestyle with Rosario. He thought about putting her on a strict budget, but was afraid she might leave him. One night on a train ride home from New York, where he had just signed papers finalizing his divorce, Ames found himself fantasizing about ways to raise money. "My first thought was robbing a bank," he recalled. But he quickly rejected that idea. Then he remembered that the KGB had once offered one of his CIA subordinates $50,000 to spy. "That was just about what I needed to pay off all of my debts," he later recalled. By the time the train pulled into Washington's Union Station, Ames had made up his mind. He had figured out a way to earn a quick $50,000.

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