On This Day

Aldrich Ames, Aldrich Ames arrest, rick ames
Denis Paquin/AP
Aldrich Ames leaves federal court in
Alexandria, Va., April 28, 2994.

On This Day: Aldrich Ames Sentenced for Role as Double Agent

April 28, 2011 06:00 AM
by Isabel Cowles
On April 28, 1994, CIA counterintelligence analyst Aldrich Ames was sentenced to life in prison for providing the KGB with confidential information.

Subversion Led to Agents’ Deaths

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In 1985, in the middle of expensive divorce proceedings and heavily in debt, CIA counterintelligence agent Aldrich Ames met with the KGB at the Soviet embassy in Washington and volunteered to give it the names of Soviet citizens cooperating with the CIA in exchange for $50,000.

A few months later, he offered the names of virtually all CIA agents working in the Soviet Union; the Soviets told him they had $2 million set aside for him, to be paid over the following years.

The Soviet Union arrested dozens of agents and executed at least 10. The CIA was alarmed by the loss of some of its most important agents and suspected that there was a leak, but it could not identify Ames as the source. Ames also passed a scheduled lie detector test in which he was asked if he was approached by foreign agencies.

In July 1986, Ames was transferred to Rome, where he would gather intelligence reports and hand them over to the Soviets every week or two. He returned to Washington in 1989 and began passing classified information to the Soviets in the form of “‘dead drops’ or prearranged hiding places where he would leave the documents to be picked up later by KGB officers from the USSR Embassy,” explains the FBI.

The FBI began surveillance of Ames in 1993 and discovered documents linking him to the KGB. The FBI arrested him at his home in Arlington, Va., on Feb. 24, 1994, soon before he was scheduled to leave for Moscow.

Ames and his wife were charged with espionage; Ames admitted to his crimes and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on April 28, 1994.

Key Player: Aldrich Ames

Aldrich “Rick” Ames grew up in a CIA family: his father was a secret agent in Burma. Starting at 16, Ames worked at “the Farm,” a CIA training facility. Ames later explained what he learned there: “At the Farm … 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.”

In March of 1998, Ames gave an interview with CNN, where he discussed his disillusionment with the CIA and why he decided to sell confidential information to the Soviets. In the interview Ames admitted, “The reasons that I did what I did…were personal, banal, and amounted really to kind of greed and folly.”

Analysis: Criticism of CIA

After Ames was arrested, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence lauched an investigation and published a report that harshly criticized the CIA for failing to notice Ames’ subversion, despite obvious signs of criminal involvement.

According to its report, Ames used the KGB payments to “purchase a new Jaguar … and a $540,000 home with cash … Apparently, these seemingly large expenditures by an employee making less than $70,000 a year had not raised questions at the CIA.”

In addition, many wondered why Ames’ performance was never called into question. A subsequent investigation by the agency’s inspector general showed that Ames struggled professionally. Not only did he suffer from alcoholism, he slept on the job, failed to turn in reports and breeched CIA security regulations.

In an Oct. 21, 1994, memorandum to all the CIA office heads, Director R. James Woolsey analyzes the CIA’s failure to identify Ames as a double agent. According to the report, Ames’ “professional weaknesses were observed by … colleagues and supervisors and were tolerated by many who did not consider them highly unusual for Directorate of Operations officers on the ‘not going anywhere’ promotion track.”
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