IN THE SPY TRADE, COUNTERINTELLIGENCE OPERATIVES are sometimes called "spiders" for the webs they weave. The greatest of all spiders, the black widow of the cold war, was James Jesus Angleton. For nearly 20 years, through the 1950s and '60s, Angleton sat surrounded by stacks of top-secret files in his office at the CIA, the blinds always drawn, the room dark even at midday, except for the tiny glow of Angleton's ever-present cigarette. Trusting no one, scheming always, Angleton was searching for a mole-in the jargon of spies, "a deep-penetration agent," a senior American official secretly controlled by the Kremlin, burrowed deep into the inner sanctum of the CIA. Angleton never found the mole. Instead, he went slowly mad, lost in a maze of his own making, self-exiled in a he]] he called a "wilderness of mirrors."
Aldrich Hazen Ames is the embodiment of Angleton's nightmare. It will take years to assess the damage, but his alleged act of betrayal looms as the worst spy scandal since the Rosenbergs stole the secret of the atom bomb during World War II. Henpecked, lazy, a nerd with an attitude, Ames, 52, sounded like a small-timer on the FBI tapes that led to his arrest last week on charges of espionage. But as chief of the Soviet counterintelligence branch of the Soviet/East Europe Division of the CIA during the mid-1980s, Ames was in a position to do great harm. He had access to the names of all the agents the CIA was running against the Soviet Union. The agency, NEWSWEEK has learned, now secretly estimates that the KGB used information supplied by Ames to roll up more than 20 CIA operations; at least 10 agents were executed (and probably tortured before they died).
Over the nine years he was on the Kremlin's payroll, Ames received $1.5 million for his services, according to the charges against him. Despite a CIA salary that never topped $70,000, he flaunted his wealth, buying a $540,000 house and a $40,000 Jaguar, running up huge credit-card and phone bills. He was finally snared by some nifty detective work, but the CIA will have a very hard time trying to explain to Congress why he wasn't caught sooner. "They went to sleep," charged Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who will be the next chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.
Ames's arrest was a reminder that although the cold war is over, the spy war goes on. When communism collapsed, Ames allegedly transferred his allegiance from the foreign division of the KGB to its successor. the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR. Republican lawmakers last week indignantly demanded to know how the Clinton administration could continue to promise billions of dollars in economic aid to such a perfidious ally. The president warned against over-reacting, though he did throw the hawks a scrap by ordering the expulsion of Aleksandr Lysenko, reportedly the Russians' senior intelligence official in Washington. In Moscow, the Russians just shrugged off the whole matter as business-as-usual for the second oldest profession.
It is, in any case, a spy tale worthy of best-sellerdom and big box office. The story begins in 1985, known in Washington as the Year of the Spy. There were several highly publicized spy scandals that year, the most notorious of which was the John Walker case, against a navy warrant officer who had sold secret technology to the Russians for 20 years. Not made public at the time was the fact that the KGB was rolling up a number of American assets-including the first two KGB officers ever recruited by the FBI out of Moscow's embassy in Washington, Valery Martynov and Sergei Motorin. Both men were reportedly executed in Moscow.
In that same Year of the Spy, a KGB man named Vitaly Yurchenko defected to the West, just long enough to finger a CIA mole, Edward Lee Howard. Yurchenko stunned his handlers by redefecting to Russia three months later-after Howard, too, had fled to Moscow. At the time, the CIA and FBI counterintelligence experts figured that Howard was to blame for the series of burned agents in Moscow and Washington. Case, in effect, closed.
But it now appears that Yurchenko's defection and redefection may have been a ruse to deflect attention from the real mole-Aldrich Ames. For it was in 1985, the FBI says, that Ames began to betray his country, and as a counterintelligence chief in the Soviet division, he was in a position to do much more damage than Howard, who had been a lowly CIA recruit. Interestingly, Ames was one of Yurchenko's interrogators at the CIA. Yurchenko, who should have known about any moles, said nothing about Ames.
The CIA had no idea it had been duped. But suspicions began to grow that something was amiss when the Year of the Spy began to look like the Decade of the Spy. After 1985, a string of about 30 espionage operations against the Russians went sour. Even in the high-risk world of espionage, that was too many to be coincidental. Still. the intelligence community, tangled up by the usual bureaucratic feuding between the CIA and FBI, didn't move aggressively. It wasn't until 1991 that a special interagency task force was formed to look for a Russian penetration agent.
Mole-hunting is a tedious task. Lists were drawn up of scores of names who might have known the names of the agents who were compromised. FBI agents began the painstaking task of checking leads; the CIA's spiders tried to connect the dots leading to the culprit. Ames's name was on the list-but down near the bottom, according to an FBI official familiar with the investigation.
His name suddenly shot to the top when another suspect-a CIA insider being grilled by the FBI-suggested that the gumshoes leave him alone and look instead at the spending habits of his colleague Rick Ames. By the spring of last year, the FBI was tapping the phone, bugging the computer, following the car and going through the trash of a man who had been, up to then, a faceless mediocrity in a vast bureaucracy.
BETRAYING ONE'S COUNTRY BY SPYING for the Russians seems like an extreme way of overcoming boredom on the job. Still, in Ames's past there are some clues as to why he may have taken such a drastic step. At McLean High School, he was part of the in crowd, gregarious and a thespian who starred in "Show Boat" and was voted "wittiest" by his class. After only two years at the University of Chicago, he dropped out to join the CIA, where his father worked in counterintelligence.
Ames was an underachiever. "He was an incompetent, a goof-off who liked to have a good time," said a close colleague in the agency. After two decades in the agency, Ames was stuck in the middle grades-a GS-14-and not likely to rise higher. He was drinking, and his marriage was troubled. An old high-school friend, Margaret (Peggy) Anderson, says she got calls from him from time to time, always late on a Saturday night, after he had been drinking alone. "He was reaching out to someone, but he didn't seem to know how to do it," she says. She suspected he was frustrated by his job, but "he could never say anything about his work. I had the feeling that he wasn't attached to anything solid in his life. He didn't have a good friend."
That is precisely the psychological profile that CIA psychiatrists dread. It breeds betrayal. The agency looks for agents who make friends easily and keep them or have some other anchor, like religion. Ames was clearly a risky operative. Yet after hitches in Turkey, Washington and New York, he was sent in 1981 to Mexico City, where he was told to recruit spies.
Mexico City is a mecca of espionage; Cubans, Russians and Americans circle each other in the cafes, trying to double each other's agents. In 1982, Ames recruited an agent named Maria del Rosario Casas Dupuy, the cultural attache at the Colombian Embassy in Mexico City. A literature scholar from an old Colombian family, Casas Dupuy had Lies to the intellectual elite of her country that could be useful to the CIA. Though still married, Ames began having sex with his new agent in a CIA safe house. Some intelligence officials now wonder whether she was already working for the Russians, but the FBI found no evidence to support the charge.
Ames was, according to an intelligence source. in flagrant violation of a batch of CIA rules: an operative with a drinking problem and a bad marriage who was sleeping with a foreign national (who was also a CIA agent) in an agency safe house. Still the agency paid no particular attention; the reason, say CIA insiders, is that many CIA officers, lonely and bored in Third World countries, fit the same profile.
Instead of getting reprimanded and dried out, Ames was assigned the very sensitive job of running counterintelligence operations against the Russians in Washington. Given permission to try to recruit Soviet officials in 1984, Ames was himself recruited. according to the FBI. Court records say the first bank deposit-$9,000-showed up in his account on May 18,1985.
There would be many more payments, though apparently never enough. "My most immediate need," he wrote to his handlers, according to the FBI, "is money ... I will need as much cash delivered in Pipe [his prearranged "dead-drop"] as you think can be accommodated [sic]-it seems to me that it could accommodate [sic] up to $100,000."
MONEY, NOT IDEOLOGY, IS THE reason all modern spies sell out, according to one Senate intelligence committee study. Ames was strapped by a divorce settlement, and greed was a national pastime in the mid-'80s. But if the FBI is right, money alone does not explain Ames's perfidy. FBI agents describe an "in your face" profile that fits Ames's personality, as well as the "John Walker syndrome," referring to the navy warrant officer who became a Russian spy partly to prove how clever he was. "I think he wanted to show that he was smarter than the other guys," said Ames's old friend Peggy Anderson, now a history professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His downfall, she conjectures, began with "disgust with himself. Then it was an intellectual challenge ... a game. Who's really the smartest person on the block? If he had had real friends and a happy marriage. he would not have done it."
Ames was cocky enough to beat a lie-detector test in 1986 and then again in 1991. Ames would not be the first spy to go undetected by the polygraph. The FBI suspects that the Russians coached Ames-and, possibly gave him a special pill to make him "flutter-proof." By the early '90s, Ames became sloppy, as if he was playing catch-me-if-you-can. Despite a CIA requirement to report all foreign travel, the FBI claims that Ames took two trips-to Caracas in 1992 and Bogota in 1993 to meet his Russian handlers. He spent freely-$455,000 on credit cards, $30,000 on the phone. There was even $5,000 in contributions to the Democratic National Committee.
By now, however, the FBI was on to him. The tapped phone conversations cited in Ames's indictment make him look pitiful, and his wife, Rosario, like a shrew She addresses him as "asshole" and orders him to use a carry-on bag instead of a suitcase to carry the cash. "You always have this envelope with this big hunk [of cash], I mean really," she scolds. When he is late to leave a signal for his Russian handlers, she demands, "Why didn't you do it today for God's sake?" He answers that it was raining too hard. "Well honey," she sighs, "I hope you didn't screw up.
The FBI finally arrested Ames last week on the eve of his trip to Moscow on normal agency business. The Feds were afraid that Ames, who had been assigned to a less sensitive job in the counternarcoties division and was perhaps beginning to feel the heat, would take the opportunity to flee. In his office, the FBI found stacks of top-secret documents that Ames was not allowed to have. Even after he had been shifted out of counterintelligence, he had continued to hang around the CI offices. This access may have helped him in 1990 to burn an important CIA agent code-named Prologue. who worked in Russian counterintelligence.
Cleaning up after the mess left by the scandal is going to be like "cleaning out the Augean stables," said Richard Helms, a former director of the CIA. In theory, every operation that has Ames's fingerprints on it in any way is compromised. Since he was in a position to know a great deal about what the United States was doing to penetrate the Soviet Union, and what steps it was taking to keep from being penetrated, every agent the United States has in Russia may now be useless. While it is true that "signals intelligence"-electronic intercepts by spy satellites-produces more useful information than human spies, the human element is still important. The Russians obviously thought so: they are notoriously cheap as spymasters, and $1.5 million is more than even the Walker spy ring received for its secrets about American submarines.
AMES COULD HELP UNRAVEL THE mystery he caused-if he agrees to cooperate. So far his lawyer, Plato Cacheris, is using his client's knowledge as leverage, refusing to deal and threatening to go to trial. It is probably a bluff, but one the CIA must take seriously. There is no end to the secrets Ames could divulge in a public trial. The government does have one wedge to use against Ames: his wife, after a long first night in jail, agreed to cooperate. The couple have a 5-year-old son whom they dote on, a powerful incentive to talk in exchange for reduced jail time.
The CIA will face some trials of its own in the months ahead. Congress will investigate; already the old hands are saying I told you so. "You could call this Angleton's revenge," says Helms. When Angleton was purged in 1974 for his endless witch hunts, "they threw out the baby with the bath water," said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA officer and National Security Council staffer. There is a feeling among old spooks that the swashbucklers let go in the 1970s were replaced by overcautious bureaucrats. Counterintelligence, in particular, "became a dumping ground for people who couldn't cut it elsewhere," said Paul M. Joyal, former director of security for the Senate intelligence committee.
Now counterintelligence staffs will be built up and security procedures tightened. New spiders will have their work cut out for them. The CIA is overstaffed with senior officers who have nowhere to go; many are restless and bitter. They will make tempting targets for the Russians, who are not about to stop spying, just as the United States will not stop spying on Russia. Not every burned espionage operation in the last few years can be explained by Aldrich Ames. Indeed, already there is talk of a "second man" in the CIA: another mole.
< b>THE DECADE OF THE SPY</ b>
..CN.-Spies working for the Russians
Head of a family spy ring, he pleaded guilty to selling navy secrets in exchange for leniency for his son, Michael, who spied aboard the USS Nimitz.
A National Security Agency employee, he was convicted of selling information about top-secret signals intelligence between 1980 and 1985.
Sacked by the CIA in 1983, he began selling secrets to the Soviets. After two-time defector Vitaly Yurchenko fingered him in 1985, he escaped FBI watchdogs, resurfacing in Moscow.
An army communications specialist, he inflicted serious damage on electronic-spying efforts in Europe by selling top secrets to the Soviet bloc.
..CN.-Spies working for the United States
Officials fear the Soviet official was among several spies betrayed by Ames. He reportedly was arrested after escorting Yurchenko back to Moscow in 1985 and executed later.
Like his colleague, Martynov, he was a Soviet official recruited by the FBI in Washington and ordered back to the Soviet Union in 1985. He reportedly was arrested and executed.
A Soviet defense researcher and expert on "stealth" technology, he was arrested as he met with a U.S. Embassy official in Moscow and later executed for being a CIA spy.
A KGB counterspy known by his code name, he was secretly working for the CIA in Moscow. U.S. officials say he, too, was betrayed by Ames in 1990 and may have been executed.