CIA Officer Charged With Selling Secrets
Wife Also Accused; Breach Described as 'Very Serious'
By Bill Miller and Michael Isikoff
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1994; Page A01
A CIA counterintelligence officer and his wife were charged
yesterday with turning over top-secret documents to the Soviet Union and
later to Russia in what authorities described as one of the most
damaging espionage cases in years.
Aldrich Hazen Ames, 52, had been paid more than $1.5 million since
1985 for his work as a double agent, federal authorities said -- nearly
five times what he was paid during that time as a CIA officer. He and
his Colombian-born wife, Maria Del Rosario Casas Ames, 41, lived
lavishly, buying a $540,000 house in Arlington, a 1992 Jaguar and a farm
and condominiums in Colombia, investigators said.
In court papers, authorities painted a picture of a trusted career
CIA agent who sold secrets about the agency's operation and agents,
including a Russian KGB officer who had been aiding the CIA. Long after
the Cold War was over, the spy games continued, investigators said.
Ames, his Russian handlers and suspicious U.S. officials played an
elaborate cat-and-mouse game in Washington and suburban neighborhoods,
court papers said. On one occasion, Ames allegedly left a chalk mark on
an outdoor mailbox at 37th and R streets in Northwest Washington
signaling that he wanted to meet with Russian agents, and he allegedly
left material to be picked up across the Washington area.
Meanwhile, the FBI was shadowing Ames and his wife, a graduate
student at Georgetown University and former paid CIA source in Mexico
City. Agents tapped his phone and monitored his home computer and North
Arlington house. His office and home were searched, and at least twice
agents rummaged through the couple's household trash.
Federal intelligence and law enforcement officials said yesterday
that Ames had access to virtually all information about U.S.
intelligence activities within the Soviet Union during the late 1980s.
He specialized for many years in that region for the CIA, and he once
headed the Soviet branch of the CIA's counterintelligence group.
"How serious can you get?" commented one official, noting that Ames
is believed to have compromised more than a half-dozen Soviet agents
recruited by the CIA during his years on the Soviet and Russian
A Justice Department official declined to confirm the number but
agreed yesterday that the "human assets aspect of this is very serious."
According to the official, Ames "exposed and rendered useless" several
U.S. spies. Officials declined to say whether any of the agents have
been killed as a result of Ames's information.
Equally significant, officials said, was Ames's role as one of the
debriefers who handled Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB colonel and
counterintelligence official who defected in August 1985 and then
changed his mind three months later.
Sources yesterday provided few details about Ames's role in the case
of Yurchenko, who served in a high-ranking position in the KGB
department responsible for intelligence operations against the United
States and Canada. But they said his involvement with debriefing the
former KGB official raised the prospect that all of the information
Yurchenko was providing the CIA about Soviet espionage operations was
immediately being fed back to the Soviets.
The White House issued a statement saying President Clinton "views
this as a very serious case involving our national security." The
statement said Clinton has ordered National Security Adviser Anthony
Lake, CIA Director R. James Woolsey and others to examine the case's
national security implications.
Ames and his wife each were arraigned yesterday at U.S. Magistrate
Court in Alexandria on a charge of conspiracy to commit espionage. Ames
was arrested late Monday morning as he walked near his home in the 2500
block of Randolph Street. His wife, who goes by the name Rosario Ames,
and is working on a doctorate in philosophy, was arrested later at their
home. Authorities said she was involved in the planning and sometimes
accompanied her husband in the spy activities.
At the urging of prosecutors, a judge ordered the couple held without
bond. Prosecutors also got a court order freezing the Ameses' assets,
including a dozen bank accounts in the United States, Switzerland, Italy
and Colombia. Both face life in prison and $250,000 fines if convicted.
The Ameses were charged after an exhaustive FBI investigation, which
Clinton was told about.
In 31 years with the CIA, Ames has had Top Secret security clearances
and myriad assignments in Washington, New York, Turkey, Mexico and
Italy. He currently is an operations officer in the CIA's
counter-narcotics center at the agency's headquarters in Langley.
Ames headed the Soviet counterintelligence branch in Washington from
1983 to 1985. In that assignment, he was supposed to get information
from the Soviets and recruit Soviet intelligence officers and other
officials to the U.S. side. In March 1984, Ames was given authorization
to begin cultivating sources at the Soviet Embassy. During the next
year, however, Ames switched sides and began sharing U.S. secrets with
the Soviets, authorities said.
The FBI became suspicious of a potential "mole" within the CIA as
early as 1985, when intelligence operations involving the Soviets began
to go awry, law enforcement officials said. But the bureau's
investigation did not start to develop until about two years ago, when
officials concluded that there were "too many things happening to accept
as coincidence," one official said. Shortly thereafter, the FBI received
an outside tip that helped point the bureau to Ames, the officials said.
The investigation intensified last summer when FBI agents began
following Ames and his wife. They reviewed the couple's financial
transactions, culled airline records, gathered credit card and other
receipts and eventually wiretapped the couple's telephone and listened
to conversations in their home.
In the monitoring of Ames's home computer, authorities copied a
document dated June 8, 1992, described as a pitch to the Russians for
more cash, the FBI said. It included this passage:
"My most immediate need, as I pointed out in March, is money. . . .
Now, I am faced with the need to cash in investments to meet current
needs -- a very tight and unpleasant situation! . . . Therefore, I will
need as much cash delivered in Pipe as you think can be accomodated
(sic) -- it seems to me that it could accomodate (sic) up to $100,000."
"Pipe" was a code name for a designated drop-off point for cash, the FBI
Besides delivering packages in the Washington area, Ames allegedly
met with his Russian handlers in October 1992 in Caracas, Venezuela, and
again last November in Bogota, Colombia. Court papers said $86,700 was
deposited into the Ameses' bank accounts in the weeks after the Caracas
trip, and another $21,600 was deposited shortly after the trip to
Bogota. The FBI found a typewriter ribbon in the Ameses' trash that
contained plans about the Venezuelan trip, the court papers said.
Neighbors said yesterday that the Ameses appeared to be among the
more affluent residents on their quiet, wooded side street. Several said
they assumed the couple, who have a young son, had family money.
According to court papers, the Ameses spent nearly $1.4 million from
April 1985 through last November on expenses that included $455,000 in
credit card bills alone.
"They obviously had a lot of cash," said William Rhoads, a neighbor
who said he was stunned by the arrest.
Staff writers Steve Bates and
Charles W. Hall contributed to this report.
© 1996 The Washington Post Co.
Back to top