ABC’s ‘The Assets’ gets spy intel right, says ex-CIA agent

Sandra "Sandy" Grimes. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
Sandra “Sandy” Grimes. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

There’s reality TV (catfights, duck calling, bachelors), the highly fanciful stuff (complicated crimes, solved in 30 minutes!)  and then there are the real-real-life stories on the small screen, like the drama-packed hunt that began in the 1980s for a CIA mole, led by a young and plucky female agent.

On Monday night, ABC screened the upcoming episode of its new miniseries, “The Assets,” based on the book co-authored by Sandy Grimes, the agent who led the hunt for the traitor (who turned out to be her colleague, Aldrich Ames). The show’s creators praised real stories over manufactured ones.

“There’s a lot of great TV about spying and espionage,” executive producer Morgan Hertzan said during a panel discussion following the viewing. “‘Homeland’ is great, ‘The Americans’ is great. But when we came across this, it was great — and it was true.”

The screening, appropriately held at the Spy Museum, attracted a mix of military and intelligence-world folks: Grimes; Admiral Peter Daly, the head of the U.S. Naval Institute; and former CIA officer Dan Payne (he was the one who went snooping through Ames’ shady finances), as well as ABCers, like senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz.

Grimes, who marveled at the process of seeing her story get the television treatment, says it hews mostly true to life. One fanciful diversion: she didn’t make pancakes for her family before work the way her on-screen doppelganger does.

“Me? Flipping pancakes like that?” she laughs. “Noooo.”

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Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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