This article is on the mysterious double life of Aldrich Ames, one of the most infamous spies in the US history.
“He was a strange mixture. He was full of humor, and he could be very cheery company, but he had this darker side.” —Ben Pepper, who worked with Aldrich Ames at the CIA.
“I’m just an ordinary guy …” replied Aldrich when confronted with the shocking evidence that resulted in his conviction for having spied for Russia. His bizarre double life was revealed when he became the most infamous mole in American history.
How was Ames caught?
It was a normal security test that led to the secret about one of America’s most feared spy agencies — the colleagues had for a long time suspected that Aldrich Ames was a spy, and they were determined to learn the reason.
In February 1994, the Central Intelligence Agency carried out a routine “name check” of its employees on TIPOFF, a new security database, and discovered the identity of one of their own employees was sharing secrets with Moscow.
It was discovered Ames was Ames could be a Russian intelligence agent… however, he wasn’t an ordinary mole.
During this period of the Cold War, he had betrayed hundreds of CIA as well as FBI contacts.
And nobody knew how long he’d be doing it for. His treachery was second to that of Cambridge spies — and far more damaging.
If everything had been as usual, no one would have been too surprised when a boring little civil servant called Rick Ames showed up for work at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on Monday morning March 16th, 1981.
His desk was tucked away in a corner of the Soviet East European (SE) Division, an obscure branch of the agency which was responsible for monitoring developments behind the Iron Curtain.
However, Ames was a standout in this extraordinary group. He joined the CIA just four years prior, and the majority of SE personnel had at the very least twenty years’ experience.
Ames deputation to Ankara
His time in Ankara was a failure. His wife María had also failed to settle, always complaining that the United States was too expensive and that living in Turkey was dull.
However, Ames began to think there was something more than submitting reports about Soviet weapons shipments. He’d always loved gambling blackjack, roulette, and poker were his favorite games as well as given that Russia being a country that was not accessible to the majority of CIA agent, he had plenty of time and not much to do.
Ames’ plan to switch sides
It didn’t take long for him to realize it was a good idea to join the Russians was more enjoyable than watching the Russians…
The KGB was thrilled when they learned of Rick Ames’ approach in June 1985. Ames was not just willing to betray his country in exchange for money however, the KGB believed it was safe to invest in him because they knew he was connected to many top officials in the CIA.
Ames’ relationship with a Colombian
On December 12, 1986 Ames started a relationship with María del Rosario Casas Dupuy, a Colombian woman, who worked for the Colombian Embassy in Washington. They shared an apartment together, and he saw her as his “good luck charm” — she was also being paid by the KGB to keep Ames informed of anything they found out about him.
First deal by Ames
The initial amount that he asked for was $50,000 and looking back, it’s clear that Ames was unaware of the amount of information he would have to divulge to the Russians to make this kind of cash. However, the KGB was patient and Ames realized that his reckless approach could actually pay off.
Mistakes by Ames
In the beginning, he would write a note in an unremarkable location and then hide it so that only the person who was looking for it could be able to find it. But as the workload increased, he began to be reckless, leaving mysterious messages in the public phone booths that could easily be spotted by incorrect people.
In June 1986, he made a critical mistake: at the request of the Soviets, Ames volunteered to run a training program in Rome in order to prepare KGB agent who were to handle new informers. This meant that he was able to meet them face-to-face and all was good until one student called urgently for his contacts in the Soviet Embassy in Rome during the evening hours and asked for “Anton” to call urgently.
Not just did Ames grant them a secret codename that was only known to himself and the CIA, but he’d also made it clear that he was running their agent from inside NATO headquarters.
The KGB quickly realized they’d been swindled, and swiftly removed their agent to Moscow.
On New Year’s Eve, 1986 Ames went out for a night of celebration with Maria, his spouse. They had dinner with their friends before heading to a bar to drink before going to home. The last thing Ames wanted to do was get stuck in rush-hour traffic. But since they were only a mile away from home, Ames suggested that he and Maria should walk.
He kneeled down on one knee, and gave her a small box with the engagement ring. She was stunned by the gesture; she didn’t realize Ames was planning to propose. At the party at their house, she spoke about what had occurred earlier in the evening at the bar.
Ames realized he was caught
Ames’ heart sank — he realized that he’d made a mistake. The explanation he gave that a car almost forced him down the road was laughed off. He was working with the KGB at the moment, and they were about to find out — there was no way back from this deceit…
Finally, in April 1988, Ames made his first contact for a Soviet Embassy representative and was appointed as a spy in the following month. KGB by this time were paying him over $2 million a year in exchange for information, which would cost America much more to discover it themselves.
On September 29, 1989, Ames was confronted by the CIA concerning suspicions they had against him. However, he took advantage of this as an opportunity to create misinformation, warning the Soviets that their communications were being monitored.
Ames continued to defraud his country, being paid $2.7 millions from KGB as well as $650,000 through the GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence). However, no matter how the way you view it, his acts cost America hundreds of millions of dollars for what he gave Russia.
Arrest of Ames
Ames was arrested on February 21st, 1994, following a routine financial audit that revealed large amounts of cash unaccounted for. He was unable to give an explanation, and was charged with multiple charges of espionage on March 16th, 1994.
He pleaded guilty to all charges, and was sentenced with life imprisonment with no chance of parole for his cooperation with the authorities.
He was left with $2.5 million stashed in Switzerland at the time of his arrest.
Charges against Ames’s wife
In 1993, Ames’ wife was found guilty on charges of tax evasion and conspiracy, and she was sentenced to five-year imprisonment and a $150,000 fine in 1994. She never knew about her husband’s activities, and claims not to have had anything to do with them.
Life sentence for Ames
Ames is currently serving his life sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana, United States.
Aldrich Hazen Ames (born May 26, 1941) is a former Central Intelligence Agency counterintelligence officer who, in 1994, was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia.
You can visit NYTimes to read more into why Ames spied.
Despite Ames’ efforts, we now know that America’s early warning system was able to see through the Soviet misinformation — and it went on to ensure that the Soviets lost their war against freedom.