Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Assets - ABC Miniseries

ABC begins a eight-episode miniseries The Assets on January 2, 2014.  The series deals with the  capture of spy of Aldrich Ames.

Aldrich Ames was a CIA counterintelligence analyst whose career as a spy lasted so long he was able to betray the United States with the Soviet Union and the Russian republic. He was convicted in 1994 of spying and is believed to have compromised the second-largest number of CIA assets.

Aldrich Ames
Ames routinely assisted another CIA office that assessed Soviet embassy officials as potential intelligence assets. As part of this responsibility, and with the knowledge of both the CIA and the FBI, Ames began making contacts within the Soviet Embassy. In April 1985, Ames provided information to the Soviets that he believed was "essentially valueless" but that would establish his credentials as a CIA insider. He also asked for $50,000, which the Soviets quickly paid.

Ames later claimed that he had not prepared for more than the initial "con game" to satisfy his immediate indebtedness, but once having "crossed a line," he "could never step back." Ames soon identified more than ten top-level CIA and FBI sources who were reporting on Soviet activities. Not only did Ames believe that there was "as much money as [he] could ever use" in betraying these intelligence assets, but their elimination would also reduce the chance of his own espionage being discovered.

By 1985, the CIA's network of Soviet-bloc agents began disappearing at an alarming rate. The CIA realized something was wrong, but was reluctant to consider the possibility of an agency mole. Initial investigations focused on possible breaches caused by Soviet bugs, broken codes, or another CIA officer. However, when the CIA lost three other important information sources, it became clear that the arrests and subsequent executions came from another source.

As one CIA officer put it, the Soviets "were wrapping up our cases with reckless abandon," which was highly unusual because the "prevailing wisdom among the Agency's professional 'spy catchers'" was that suddenly eliminating all the assets known to the mole would put him in danger. In fact, Ames' KGB handlers apologized to him but said the decision to immediately eliminate all American assets had been made at the highest political levels.

Meanwhile, Ames continued to meet openly with his contact at the Russian embassy, who Ames said he was trying to recruit.  Instead, the meetings were to pay Ames from $20,000 to $50,000 over lunch. Ames received $4.6 million from the Soviets, which allowed him to enjoy a lavish lifestyle.

In 1986, Ames told the KGB that he feared he would be a suspect after the loss of several CIA assets. The KGB threw U.S. investigators off his trail by constructing an elaborate diversion whereby a Soviet case officer told a CIA contact that the mole was stationed at Warrenton Training Center, a secret CIA communications facility in Virginia. CIA investigators identified ten suspects however none of them were blamed for problems.

In 1990-91, Ames was assigned to the CIA's Counterintelligence Center Analysis Group, providing him with access to "extremely sensitive data," including information on U.S. double agents.

By 1990, the CIA was certain that there was a mole in the agency and the Agency stopped recruiting  new Soviet agents because the Agency did not feel they could protect  its current  assets. In late 1989,
another CIA employee reported that Ames seemed to be enjoying a lifestyle well beyond the means of a CIA officer.  In spite of the signals, the CIA moved slowly. In 1986 and 1991, Ames passed two polygraph examinations. Ames was "terrified" at the prospect of taking the test, but he was advised by the KGB "to just relax." Ames' test demonstrated deceptive answers to some questions but the examiners passed him. In retrospect, the CIA said perhaps because the examiners were "overly friendly" and did not induce the proper physiological responses.

In March 1993, the CIA and FBI began an intensive investigation of Ames that included electronic surveillance, combing through his trash, and a monitor installed in his car to track his movements. From November 1993 until his arrest, Ames was kept under virtually constant physical surveillance. When he was scheduled to attend a conference in Moscow in early 1994, the FBI decided to arrest Ames and his wife.  At his arrest on February 21, 1994, Ames told the officers, "You're making a big mistake! You must have the wrong man!"

On February 22, 1994, Ames and his wife were formally charged with spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. He pleaded guilty on April 28 and received a sentence of life imprisonment. His wife received a five-year prison sentence for tax evasion and conspiracy to commit espionage as part of a plea bargain by Ames. Ames admitted that he had compromised "virtually all Soviet agents of the CIA and other American and foreign services known to me" and had provided the USSR and Russia with a "huge quantity of information on United States foreign, defense and security policies." It is believed that Ames' information led to the compromise of at least a hundred U.S. intelligence operations and to the execution of at least ten U.S. sources.

Ames said he was not afraid of being caught by the FBI or CIA. He was afraid of Soviet defectors, saying, "Virtually every American who has been jailed in connection with espionage has been fingered by a Soviet source." When he was asked about the polygraph tests, Ames said, "There's no special magic...Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner...rapport, where you smile and you make him think that you like him."

The ABC mini-series is based on the book on the book Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed by Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, two of the investigators who uncovered Ames' espionage. Grimes is the central character in the series.

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