Aldrich Ames, an American CIA official arrested in 1994 on charges of
committing espionage for the Soviets and later Russia, has earned the dubious
distinction of perpetrating the most expensive security breach in CIA history.
Officials now know that Ames divulged more than 100 covert operations and
betrayed more than 30 operatives spying for the CIA and other Western
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ames provided the Soviets with
information about two highly sophisticated CIA operations in Russia. He gave
detailed information about sets of tunnels filled with fiber optic
communications listening devices connected to Moscow's space facility. He also
divulged the specifications of a state-of-the-art device used to count the
number of nuclear warheads carried on Soviet intercontinental missiles.
Ames, who spoke Russian and was head of the CIA's Soviet Counterintelligence
Division, began spying in 1985. The first secrets he sold were the identities
of two KGB double agents who worked at the Soviet Embassy in Washington and
were recruited by the United States. Both of them, along with ten other
Russians he betrayed in the ensuing years, were executed.
Tipped off at first by the executions, in 1986 CIA investigators began
searching for a mole within the agency. Ames stayed off their radar, however,
for several years, while the search highlighted two other CIA insiders, an
agent who had defected in 1985, and a Marine security guard who was convicted
in 1985 of espionage at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Between 1986 and 1991 three more double agents based in Washington disappeared,
and investigators confirmed that neither of their potential suspects could be
blamed. In 1991 the CIA conferred for the first time with the FBI about a
possible mole inside the agency, and the FBI soon launched a large-scale probe
under the code name Nightmover. Aldrich Ames's name made the bureau's short
list of 20 suspects, but he passed two polygraph tests.
In late 1991, in an attempt to narrow their list of suspects, the FBI suggested
Ames be transferred out of the CIA's Counterintelligence Division. He was
placed in a counternarcotics division, though he managed to continue his
espionage activities almost as easily as he had in the past. This time,
however, the FBI was watching closely. In 1992 they gained permission to tap
Ames's phone and secretly install cameras and bugs throughout his house and
inside his computer.
Through the bugs in his house, the FBI learned that Ames had lied about a
personal vacation in October 1992. Though he said he was traveling to Colombia
to visit his wife's family, the bugs revealed that he had had a meeting in
Caracas, Venezula. FBI agents caught Ames on camera during a rendezvous with a
Russian agent in Caracas.
Wanting ideally to catch Ames in the act of dropping or receiving materials for
his Russian handlers, the FBI postponed an arrest until February 21, 1994, when
they felt they could not wait any longer. Ames was arrested one day before he
was to visit Moscow on official CIA antinarcotics business. It is unknown
whether or not Ames would have returned from that trip had he gone. It is
possible that Ames's handlers knew something about the kind of surveillance he
had been under previous to his arrest.
When asked in a 1998 interview with CNN about the motives behind his espionage,
Ames responded that they were "personal, banal, and amounted really to greed
and folly." According to Ames, his primary motive for spying was to make extra
money, and he succeeded in amassing approximately $2.7 million in spy money.
Ames is serving a life sentence for espionage without the possibility of