Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Ames
Born May 26, 1941 (1941-05-26) (age 70)
River Falls, Wisconsin, United States
Charge(s) 18 U.S.C. § 794(c) [1] (Espionage Act)
Penalty life imprisonment (without parole)
Status Incarcerated
Occupation former CIA officer and analyst and spy for the Soviet Union and later Russia
Spouse Nancy Segebarth(div.)
Rosario Dupuy
Parents Carleton Cecil Ames
Rachel Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Hazen Ames (born May 26, 1941) is a former Central Intelligence Agency counter-intelligence officer and analyst, who, in 1994, was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. Until the arrest of Robert Hanssen seven years later, Ames compromised more CIA assets than had any Soviet mole in American history.



Early life and work

Aldrich Ames was born in River Falls, Wisconsin, to Carleton Cecil Ames and Rachel Ames (née Aldrich). His father was a college lecturer, his mother a high school English teacher. Aldrich was the eldest of three children and the only son. In 1952 Carleton Ames began working for CIA's Directorate of Operations in Virginia, and in 1953 he was posted to Southeast Asia for three years accompanied by his family. Carleton received a "particularly negative performance appraisal" in part because of a serious drinking problem and spent the remainder of his career at CIA Headquarters.[2]

Aldrich Ames attended high school at McLean High School in McLean, Virginia. Beginning in 1957, following his sophomore year, Ames worked for the CIA for three summers as a low-ranking (GS-3) records analyst, marking classified documents for filing. In 1959, Ames entered the University of Chicago planning to study foreign cultures and history, but his "long-time passion" for drama resulted in failing grades, and he did not finish out his sophomore year. Ames worked at the CIA during the summer of 1960 as a laborer/painter. He then became an assistant technical director at a Chicago theater until February 1962. Returning to Washington area, Ames took full-time employment at the CIA doing the same sort of clerical jobs he had performed in high school.[3]

CIA career

Five years later, Ames completed a bachelor's degree in history at George Washington University. Ames did not originally plan to make his career with the CIA, but after attaining the grade of GS-7, and having received good performance appraisals, Ames was accepted into the Career Trainee Program despite several alcohol-related brushes with the police.[4]

In 1969 Ames married fellow officer Nancy Segebarth, whom he had met in the Career Trainee Program. When Ames was assigned to Ankara, Turkey, Nancy had to resign from the CIA because of a rule that prohibited married partners from working as officers from the same office.[5]

Ames' job in Turkey was to target Soviet intelligence officers for recruitment, and he succeeded in infiltrating the Communist DEV-GENÇ organization through a roommate of student activist Deniz Gezmiş.[6] In spite of this success, Ames' performance was rated only "satisfactory," and Ames, discouraged by the critical assessment, considered leaving the CIA.[7]

In 1972, Ames returned to CIA headquarters where he spent the next four years in the Soviet-East European (SE) Division. His performance reviews were "generally enthusiastic," apparently because he was better at managing paper work and planning field operations than at agent recruiting. Nevertheless, his excessive drinking was also noted, and two "eyes only" memorandums were placed in his file.[8]

In 1976 Ames was assigned to New York City where he handled two important Soviet assets. His performance was excellent, and Ames received several promotions and bonuses and was ranked above most operations officers in his pay grade, although his tendency to procrastinate in submissions of financial accounting was noted. Ames' inattention to details also led him to make two important security violations, including once leaving a briefcase of classified operational materials on the subway. Ames apparently received only a verbal reprimand.[9]

In 1981 Ames accepted a posting to Mexico City while his wife remained in New York. His evaluations in Mexico were mediocre at best, and he also engaged in at least three extramarital affairs. In October 1982 Ames began an affair with María del Rosario Casas Dupuy, a cultural attaché in the Colombian Embassy and a CIA informant. Despite CIA regulations, Ames did not report his romance with a foreign national to his superiors, even though some of his colleagues were well aware of it. Ames' lackluster performance reviews were in part the result of heavy drinking. At a diplomatic reception in Mexico City, Ames got into a loud, drunken argument with a Cuban official that "caused alarm" among his superiors.[10]

Nevertheless, in September 1983, the CIA assigned Ames back to the SE division in Washington, placing him "in the most sensitive element" of the Department of Operations because it was responsible for Soviet counterintelligence activities. Ames had access to all CIA plans and operations against the KGB and the GRU, Soviet military intelligence.[11]

In October he formally separated from his wife, and in November, he submitted an "outside activity" report to the CIA noting his romantic relationship to Rosario. As part of his divorce settlement, Ames agreed to pay the couple's debts plus provide his wife monthly support for three-and-a-half years, a total of about $46,000. Ames thought the divorce might bankrupt him, and he later said that this financial pressure first led him to consider spying for the Soviet Union.[11] Rosario also proved to be a heavy spender—after her arrest the FBI discovered in the Ames' house sixty purses, more than five hundred pairs of shoes, and 165 unopened boxes of pantyhose.[12]


Ames routinely assisted another CIA office that assessed Soviet embassy officials as potential intelligence assets. As part of this responsibility, and with the knowledge of both the CIA and the FBI, Ames began making contacts within the Soviet Embassy. In April 1985, Ames provided information to the Soviets that he believed was "essentially valueless" but that would establish his credentials as a CIA insider. He also asked for $50,000, which the Soviets quickly paid.[13]

Ames later claimed that he had not prepared for more than the initial "con game" to satisfy his immediate indebtedness, but once having "crossed a line," he "could never step back." Ames soon identified more than ten top-level CIA and FBI sources who were reporting on Soviet activities. Not only did Ames believe that there was "as much money as [he] could ever use" in betraying these intelligence assets, but their elimination would also reduce the chance of his own espionage being discovered.[14]

By 1985, the CIA's network of Soviet-bloc agents began disappearing at an alarming rate. The CIA realized something was wrong, but was reluctant to consider the possibility of an agency mole. Initial investigations focused on possible breaches caused by Soviet bugs or by a broken code.[15]

The CIA then blamed asset losses on another former CIA agent, Edward Lee Howard, who had also been passing information to the Soviets. But when the CIA lost three other important sources of information about whom Howard could have known nothing, it was clear that the arrests (and executions) originated from another source.[16]

As one CIA officer put it, the Soviets "were wrapping up our cases with reckless abandon," which was highly unusual because the "prevailing wisdom among the Agency's professional 'spy catchers'" was that suddenly eliminating all the assets known to the mole would put him in danger. In fact, Ames' KGB handlers apologized to him but said the decision to immediately eliminate all American assets had been made at the highest political levels.[17]

Meanwhile, Ames continued to meet openly with his contact at the Russian embassy, Sergey Dmitriyevich Chuvakhin, and for a time, Ames summarized for the CIA and FBI the progress of what he portrayed as an attempt to recruit the Soviet. In fact, Ames received $20,000-50,000 every time the two had lunch.[18] Ultimately, Ames received $4.6 million from the Soviets, which allowed him to live a lifestyle well beyond the means of a CIA officer.[15]

When in August 1985, Ames's divorce became final, he immediately married María del Rosario. Understanding that his new wealth would raise eyebrows, he developed a cover story that his prosperity was the result of money given him by his Colombian wife's wealthy family.[19]

Ames was posted to Rome in 1986. There his performance once again ranged from mediocre to poor, and included evidence of problem drinking. Nevertheless, in 1990-91, Ames was reassigned to the CIA's Counterintelligence Center Analysis Group, providing him with access to "extremely sensitive data," including information on U.S. double agents.[20]

CIA response

Replacement of the mailbox used by Ames: a horizontal chalk mark above the USPS logo would signal a needed meeting. 37th and R Sts. NW. Original in the Spy Museum.

By 1990, the CIA was certain that there was a mole in the agency. Recruitment of new Soviet agents came to a virtual halt from fear that the agency could not protect its current assets.[15]

In November 1989, a fellow employee reported that Ames seemed to be living a lifestyle well beyond the means of a CIA officer and that his wife's family was less wealthy than he had claimed. Nevertheless, the CIA moved slowly. For instance, when the investigator assigned to Ames's finances began a two-month training course, no one immediately replaced him.[21] Investigators were also diverted by a false story from a CIA officer abroad who claimed that the Soviets had penetrated the CIA with an employee born in the USSR.[22]

In 1986 and 1991, Ames passed two polygraph examinations while spying for the Soviet Union and Russia, respectively. Ames was initially "terrified" at the prospect of taking the test, but he was advised by the KGB "to just relax."[23] Ames's test demonstrated deceptive answers to some questions but the examiners passed him, perhaps in the later opinion of the CIA because the examiners were "overly friendly" and therefore did not induce the proper physiological response.[24]

The CIA finally focused on Ames after it realized that on a $60,000 salary, Ames was able to afford:

  • A $540,000 house in Arlington, Virginia, paid for in cash;[25]
  • A $50,000 Jaguar automobile;[26]
  • Home remodeling and redecoration costs of $99,000;[25]
  • Monthly phone bills exceeding $6,000, mostly calls by Ames's wife to her family in Bogotá, Colombia;
  • Tailored suits that replaced Ames's former 'bargain basement' clothes, conspicuously finer than those of his CIA colleagues; and
  • Premium credit cards whose minimum monthly payment exceeded his monthly salary.[27]


Ames' mug shot, taken on the day of his arrest

Finally in March 1993 the CIA and FBI began an intensive investigation of Ames that included electronic surveillance, combing through his trash, and a monitor installed in his car to track his movements.[28] From November 1993 until his arrest, Ames was kept under virtually constant physical surveillance. When in early 1994 he was scheduled to attend a conference in Moscow, the FBI believed it could wait no longer, and he and his wife were arrested on February 21, 1994.[29] At arrest, Ames told the officers, "You're making a big mistake! You must have the wrong man!"[30]

On February 22, 1994, Ames and his wife were formally charged by the United States Department of Justice with spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. Ames could have faced the death penalty because his betrayal had resulted in the deaths of a number of CIA assets.[31] However, he pleaded guilty on April 28 and received a sentence of life imprisonment. His wife received a 5-year prison sentence for tax evasion and conspiracy to commit espionage as part of a plea-bargain by Ames.[32]

In court, Ames admitted that he had compromised "virtually all Soviet agents of the CIA and other American and foreign services known to me" and had provided the USSR and Russia with a "huge quantity of information on United States foreign, defense and security policies."[33] It is estimated that information Ames provided to the Soviets led to the compromise of at least a hundred U.S. intelligence operations and to the execution of at least ten U.S. sources.

Post sentence

Ames is Federal Bureau of Prisons prisoner #40087-083, serving his sentence in the high-security Allenwood U.S. Penitentiary near Allenwood, Pennsylvania.[34]

The CIA was criticized for not focusing on Ames sooner, given the obvious increase in his standard of living;[15] and there was a "huge uproar" in Congress when CIA director James Woolsey decided that no one in the CIA would be dismissed or demoted at the agency. "Some have clamored for heads to roll in order that we could say that heads have rolled," Woolsey declared. "Sorry, that's not my way." Woolsey was forced to resign.[35]

Ames's attorney, Plato Cacheris, had threatened to litigate the legality of FBI searches and seizures in Ames's home and office without traditional search warrants, although Ames's guilty plea made the threat moot. Congress then passed a new law giving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that specific power.[36]

Ames' story is dramatized in the 1998 movie Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within, starring Timothy Hutton as Ames. Ames was also included as a character in the 1997 Frederick Forsyth novel Icon, in which he betrays several Soviet agents recruited by the United States.[37]

Some CIA sources betrayed

  • Vitaly Yurchenko was a KGB officer in the Fifth Department of Directorate K, "the highest-ranking KGB officer ever to defect to the United States".[38] In August 1985, he defected via Rome to the US,[39] only to repatriate to the Soviet Union three months later.[40] Ames was privy to all information that Yurchenko gave to the CIA and was able to transmit it to the KGB, which allowed easy cover-ups of lost information.[41] Yurchenko returned to the Soviet Union in 1985 and was re-assigned to a desk job within the FCD, a reward for helping to keep Ames' spying a secret.[42]
  • In the mid-1980s, Major General Dmitri Polyakov was the highest ranking figure in Soviet military intelligence (GRU) giving information to the CIA. He was executed in 1988 after Ames exposed him.[43] He was probably the most valuable asset compromised by Ames. One CIA official said of Polyakov, "He didn't do this for money. He insisted on staying in place to help us."[44]
  • Colonel Oleg Gordievsky was the head of the London rezidentura (residency) and spied for the SIS (MI6). Ames handed over information about Gordievsky that positively identified him as a traitor,[45] although he managed to escape to the Finnish border where he was extracted to the United Kingdom via Norway by the British SIS before he could be detained in Russia.
  • Valery Martynov was a Line X (Technical&Scientific Intelligence) officer at the Washington rezidentura. Martynov revealed the identities of fifty Soviet intelligence officers operating out the embassy plus technical and scientific targets that the KGB had penetrated.[46] Ames turned over Martynov's name to the KGB, and he was executed.[47]
  • Major Sergei Motorin was a Line PR (Political Intelligence) officer at the Washington rezidentura whom the FBI tried to blackmail into spying for the US. He eventually cooperated for his own reasons.[48] Motorin was one of two moles at the rezidentura betrayed by Ames and then quickly executed.[47] [49]
  • Colonel Leonid Polishchuk was a Line KR (Counter-intelligence) agent in Nigeria. He too was betrayed by Ames. His arrest was attributed to a chance encounter where KGB agents had observed a CIA agent loading a dead drop. After some time, Polishchuk was seen removing the contents.[50]
  • Sergey Fedorenko was a nuclear arms expert assigned to the Soviet delegation to the United Nations. In 1987, Ames was assigned to handle him, and Fedorenko betrayed information about the Soviet missile program to Ames. The two men became good friends, hugging when Fedorenko was about to return to Moscow. “We had become close friends,” said Ames. “We trusted each other completely.”[51] Ames was initially hesitant to betray his friend, but soon after handing over the majority of the information, he decided to also betray Fedorenko to "do a good job" for the KGB.[49] Back in the USSR, Fedorenko used political connections to get himself out of trouble. Years later, Fedorenko met his friend Ames for an emotional reunion over lunch and promised to move to the U.S. for good. Ames promised to help. Shortly after lunch, Ames betrayed him to the KGB for a second time.[49] Fedorenko escaped arrest, defected, and is currently living in Rhode Island.[52]

See also

Other Agents in place in the U.S. Government or Military who worked as a Mole for either the KGB or the SVR, include:

  • James Hall III - An Army warrant officer and intelligence analyst in Germany who sold eavesdropping and code secrets to East Germany and the Soviet Union from 1983 to 1988.
  • Robert Hanssen - Arrested for spying for the Soviet Union and Russia for more than 15 of his 27 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • Earl Edwin Pitts - An FBI agent charged with providing Top Secret documents to the Soviet Union and then Russia from 1987 until 1992.
  • Harold James Nicholson - A senior-ranking Central Intelligence Agency officer arrested while attempting to take Top Secret documents out of the country. He began spying for Russia in 1994.
  • George Trofimoff - A then retired Army Reserve colonel, charged in June 2000 of spying for the KGB and the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (or SVR) for over 25 years.
  • William Kampiles - A CIA clerk who sold a KH-11 spy satellite manual to the Soviet Union.
  • David Henry Barnett - A CIA officer convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in 1980. He volunteered to spy in 1976.


  1. ^ "Aldrich Ames Criminal Complaint". Retrieved 2011 03 19. 
  2. ^ An Assessment of the Aldrich H. Ames Espionage Case and Its Implications for U.S. Intelligence: Report Prepared by the Staff of the Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate [84-046] (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1994), 4.
  3. ^ "Assessment," 4.
  4. ^ "Assessment," 5; "Ames, Aldrich Hazen Biography". Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  5. ^ "Assessment," 5. Nevertheless, Nancy Ames performed part-time administrative work in her husband's office.
  6. ^ Suzal, Savas (1997-03-02). "Disislerinde CIA Köstebegi". Sabah. Retrieved 2008-10-13. . Ames made multiple payments for information that included the names of the DEV-GENÇ members Gezmiş knew and the details of their activities.
  7. ^ "Assessment," 6.
  8. ^ "Assessment," 6. At a Christmas party in 1974, Ames was discovered intoxicated and in "a compromising position" with a female CIA employee.
  9. ^ "Assessment," 6-7.
  10. ^ "Assessment," 8.
  11. ^ a b "Assessment," 8-9.
  12. ^ Maas, 222-23.
  13. ^ "Assessment," 11-13.
  14. ^ "Assessment," 13-14.
  15. ^ a b c d Powell, Bill (2002-11-01), Treason: How a Russian Spy Led an American Journalist to a U.S. Double Agent, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0743229150
  16. ^ "Assessment," 14-15.
  17. ^ "Assessment," 15-16.
  18. ^ "Assessment," 18-19. To deposit the money, Ames maintained several bank accounts and broke the cash into amounts under $10,000 to avoid bank reporting requirements.
  19. ^ "Assessment," 19.
  20. ^ "Assessment," 33-35. Ames' immediate supervisors were aware of his alcohol abuse and proclivity to sleep at his desk, but his annual performance reviews "consistently rated him a strong performer."
  21. ^ "Assessment," 40-41.
  22. ^ "Analysis," 48. The investigation into this tale suggested a fabrication "for career enhancing or financial reasons."
  23. ^ "Assessment," 44-45; Weiner, Johnston & Lewis 1995, pp. 89–90 The KGB advised Ames to get "a real good night's sleep. Be fresh and rested. Be cooperative. Develop rapport with examiner. And try to remain as calm and easy as you can."
  24. ^ "Assessment," 45-46. Pete Early depicts Ames as being able to convince himself that the answers he was giving were actually truthful. Also, according to Early, except for a handful of staff members, the CIA had largely abandoned trying solving the case, and more credit for the resolution should be given the FBI. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Aldrich Ames: Brilliant or Bumbling?" New York Times, February 24, 1997, review of Pete Early, Confessions of a Spy.
  25. ^ a b Weiner, Johnston & Lewis 1995, p. 144
  26. ^ Weiner, Johnston & Lewis 1995, p. 145
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Assessment," 50-51. The monitor sometimes failed, frustrating the FBI on several occasions.
  29. ^ "Assessment," 51-52.
  30. ^ (Weiner,Johnston,Lewis 1995, p. 9)
  31. ^ Bromwich, Michael R. (April 1997). "A Review of the FBI’s Performance in Uncovering the Espionage Activities of Aldrich Hazen Ames". Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  32. ^ "FBI History: Famous Cases". Retrieved 2010-01-12. [dead link]. Rosario Ames was released from federal custody after she completed her sentence.
  33. ^ "An Assessment of the Aldrich H. Ames Espionage Case and Its Implications for U.S. Intelligence - Senate Select Committee on Intelligence - 01 November 1994 - Part One". Retrieved 2015-10-14. [dead link]
  34. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons". Retrieved 2015-10-14. 
  35. ^ Maas, 242.
  36. ^ Maas, 242
  37. ^ "Icon by Frederick Forsyth - Books - Random House". Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  38. ^ Weiner, Johnston & Lewis 1995, p. 45
  39. ^ Weiner, Johnston & Lewis 1995, pp. 44–45
  40. ^ Weiner, Johnston & Lewis 1995, pp. 69–70
  41. ^ Cherkashin & Feifer 2005, p. 219
  42. ^ Cherkashin & Feifer 2005, p. 174
  43. ^ "Key Players". Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  44. ^ Wise, David. Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames sold the CIA to the KGB for $4.6 Million, HarperCollins, 1995, ISBN 0-06-017198-7. Excerpted in Time: Victims Of Aldrich Ames
  45. ^ Cherkashin & Feifer 2005, pp. 179,180
  46. ^ Maas, 6.
  47. ^ a b Cherkashin & Feifer 2005, p. 187
  48. ^ [1][dead link]
  49. ^ a b c "CIA Traitor Aldrich Ames". Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  50. ^ Cherkashin & Feifer 2005, pp. 191,192
  51. ^ "CIA Traitor Aldrich Ames". Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  52. ^ "videofact". Retrieved 2008-10-14. 

Further reading

External links

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