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To Catch a Spy: 25th Anniversary of the Aldrich Ames Arrest

Aldrich Ames was one of the most damaging moles in CIA history. He compromised numerous CIA assets in the Soviet Union, some of whom were executed.

Twenty-five years ago this week, Ames was arrested because of the work of a small team of CIA officers led by a quiet, unassuming gray-haired woman named Jeanne Vertefeuille.

The Spy Hunters:

Jeanne Vertefeuille is a far cry from the spy hunters portrayed in movies, but appearances can be deceiving.

She started at CIA as a typist in 1954, and as professional opportunities for female officers became more numerous, she got assignments at various posts overseas. She learned Russian and finally found her niche in counterintelligence.

In the spring of 1985, after an alarming number of Agency assets run against the Soviet Union disappeared in rapid succession, Jeanne was asked to lead a five-person investigative team to figure out what or who was behind the disappearances.

The task was a long and exhaustive one, complicated by the fact that many in the CIA did not believe there was a traitor in their midst. Among the other explanations floated was the idea that outsiders were intercepting CIA communications.

An extensive search ultimately yielded the answer: Ames, who was initially working in the Agency’s Soviet counterintelligence division, began spying for the USSR in 1985.

Ames’ position gave him the perfect cover because he was authorized to meet with Soviet officers for official purposes. It was his extravagant lifestyle, however, that brought him under the task force’s suspicion in November 1989.

The Breakthrough:

The big breakthrough came in August 1992, when Jeanne’s colleague, Sandy Grimes, discovered Ames made large bank-account deposits after every meeting with a particular Soviet official.

The FBI took over the investigation and used surveillance, as well as evidence discovered in Ames’ house and on his home computer, to build the case. He was arrested outside his home on February 21, 1994.

During his nine years of spying, Ames received payments from the Soviet KGB that totaled $2.5 million. The KGB kept another $2.1 million earmarked for Ames in a Moscow bank. Ames is the highest paid spy in American history.

On April 28, 1994, Ames plead guilty and is now serving a life sentence without parole in a federal prison.

Posted: Feb 19, 2019 07:05 AM
Last Updated: Feb 19, 2019 07:09 AM