“Why did you commit treason?”
Aldrich Hazen Ames repeats the word out loud as if he is shocked by it. The word itself sounds evil, doesn’t it? he says. He prefers spying. It is easier on the ear, exotic even, much more civilized. “Rick” Ames is excellent with words. He enjoys the sound of his own voice, listening to his explanations, repeating his detailed rationalizations. He is smart, extremely well-read (he has read an average of two or three books each week since he was a teenager) and he can be affable. A listener has to remind himself that Ames also is one of the most cold-blooded traitors in U.S. history. During the nine years that he worked for the KGB as a mole, Ames single handily shut down the CIA’s eyes and ears in the Soviet Union by telling the Russians in 1985 the names of every “human asset” that the U.S. had working for it there. In all, he sold the KGB the names of twenty-five “sources.” These twenty-four men and one woman, all Russians, were immediately arrested and ten were sentenced to what the KGB euphemistically referred to as vyshaya mera (the highest measure of punishment). The condemned person was taken into a room, made to kneel, then shot in the back of the head with a large caliber handgun so his face would be made unrecognizable. His body was buried in a secret, unmarked grave to further punish his loved ones. It was part of the Stalinist tradition. Although Ames didn’t know most of the spies whom he betrayed, one of them was a Soviet diplomat whom he considered to be one of his best friends. Ames betrayed him, not once, but twice.
Besides revealing the names of every U.S. spy in the Soviet Union, Ames derailed vital CIA covert operations and put dozens of CIA officers at risk. In return for his treason, the KGB paid him more than $2 million and kept another $2 million earmarked for him in a Moscow bank, making him the highest paid spy in the world.
His arrest in February 1994 badly embarrassed the CIA. He remains the most damaging mole ever to burrow into the agency. After he was caught, Congress criticized the CIA for badly bungling the Ames investigation. It should have been known that he was a mole much earlier but instead of investigating obvious clues -- he drove a new Jaguar to work that cost more than his annual salary -- it spent years chasing dead-end leads and focusing on obscure suspects.
While that criticism stung, what really infuriated CIA officers the most about Ames was that he was one of their own. He came from a CIA family. The CIA had trained him to recruit foreigners as spies. Yet, he was the one who had betrayed his own country. Why?“What really amazed me about Rick Ames is that I thought he had a feeling of loyalty to the people whom he dealt with and that is the betrayal that I can’t understand,” said FBI agent R. Patrick Watson. “I can understand why he didn’t have any loyalty to the agency. I can understand how he could have lost his way so that there came a point when it didn’t matter to him if he was the recruiter or the recruitee. But what I can’t understand is how he lost his loyalty, not only to his coworkers, such as me, but his friends! How can you ever justify betraying the people closest to you?”