February 21

This Day in History

Crime

Feb 21, 1994:

Double agent Aldrich Ames is arrested

CIA operative Aldrich Ames is arrested for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Ames had access to the names and identities of all U.S. spies in Russia, and by becoming a double agent he was directly responsible for jeopardizing the lives of CIA agents working in the Eastern bloc. At least 10 men were killed after Ames revealed their identities, and more were sent to Russian gulags.

Maria del Rosario Casas Ames, Aldrich's wife, who had been a paid CIA source, was also charged for her role in accepting approximately $2.5 million (the most the Soviets ever paid a foreign spy) for providing highly confidential information to the KGB. It was the Ames' spending that finally led to their downfall, but for many years no one questioned their ability to buy expensive cars and homes (paid for with cash) on his government salary. Ames picked up the cash at secret drops in the Washington, D.C., area and in unauthorized travels to Colombia and Venezuela.

Aldrich Ames was the biggest success of the Soviet Union's reinvigorated espionage program. After their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Russians decided that spying was their best bet for improving their strategic position vis-a-vis the United States. Dimitri Yakushkin headed up the effort, and put more emphasis and money into clandestine operations; his efforts were rewarded when Ames became a double agent. Ames, who had worked for the CIA full-time since 1962, and whose main duties had included contacting Soviet sources, was the crown jewel for Group North. His information destroyed almost the whole American intelligence program in Russia. Later, a Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report that harshly criticized the CIA leadership for their negligence in allowing Ames to get away with his subterfuge for so long.

Both Ames and his wife were later convicted. Ames was sentenced to life in prison, while his wife, as part of a plea-bargain agreement, was a given a five-year sentence.

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