Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


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Sergey Chuvakhin
Sergey Chuvakhin

The CIA had asked Ames to recruit a Soviet Embassy press attaché, but the Russian had made it clear from the beginning that he was not interested. He had, however, stunned Ames by suggesting that he contact Sergey Chuvakhin, a Soviet expert in arms control. Soviets didn't usually recommend their co-workers as potential CIA targets. Years later, the press attaché would surface in Moscow and explain that he had suggested Chuvakhin because everyone in the embassy knew he was a rabid American-hater. The attaché had been so desperate to get Ames off his back that he had sent him to see Chuvakhin, all the while, feeling safe that Ames had little chance of recruiting him.

Ames began pestering Chuvakhin in late December 1984 and after repeated telephone calls, the Russian finally agreed to meet him for lunch on April 16th. An hour before their meeting, Ames typed a note addressed to Stanislav Androsov, the KGB resident agent at the embassy. Exactly what Ames wrote is hotly disputed. Ames would later claim that he had come up with a "perfect scam." He told Androsov that for $50,000, he was willing to sell the KGB the names of three Russians spying for the CIA. The three agents, however, were actually "double agents," who had volunteered to work as CIA spies, but were actually still working for the KGB. "This way, I would be giving the KGB the names of its own agents," Ames explained, "so I would not be doing any damage really to the CIA or United States."

The FBI and CIA have a different theory about what Ames put in his note. They claim he told Androsov that Valery Martynov, and Sergey Motorin were CIA spies. Because both men worked inside the Soviet Embassy, they posed the greatest threat to Ames. The FBI and CIA theorize that Ames's first note to the KGB was aimed at "taking out" the two spies most likely to expose him.

Note from Ames to meet the KGB (FBI evidence)
Note from Ames to meet the KGB
(FBI evidence)

Ames attached one page from the CIA's Soviet division internal telephone roster, with his name underlined, to his note and sealed both in an envelope. That done, he left to meet Chuvakhin at a restaurant in the Mayflower Hotel, just down the street from the Soviet Embassy in downtown Washington D.C. As soon as he arrived, Ames began downing vodkas. Minutes passed. Chuvakhin didn't show up. Finally, Ames realized he had been stood up so he decided to improvise. He knew the FBI routinely photographed Americans entering the Soviet Embassy, but he didn't care since he was authorized by the CIA to make contact with Russians. He boldly walked up and opened the embassy's thick wooden front door. Inside, he handed the envelope to a security guard and left. A few days later, Chuvakhin called and suggested they meet for lunch on May 17th. He asked if Ames could stop by the embassy first. This time when Ames stepped inside, Chuvakhin was waiting to escort him into what was supposed to be a "clean" room that had been checked for CIA bugs. Even so, Viktor Cherkashin, the KGB counterintelligence chief at the embassy didn't want to risk speaking out loud. "He took a letter out of his pocket and handed it to me," Ames said later. "It said, 'We accept your offer and are very pleased to do so.' Then it said, 'Mr. Chuvakhin is not a KGB officer, but we have evaluated him and consider him reliable and mature, and he will be able to give you the money and be available to lunch with you if you care to exchange more messages.' I scribbled on the back of the note: 'Okay, thank you very much." We shook hands, and then I went out of the room, and Chuvakhin said, 'Let's do lunch.'"

They walked to the Mayflower and during the meal, Chuvakhin handed Ames a shopping bag filled with reports. "Here are some press releases that I think you will find interesting," he said. After they had parted, Ames drove to a remote park overlooking the Potomac River and pawed through the bag. In the bottom was a brown-paper-covered package. "There were $100 bills wrapped tightly inside. It was $50,000. " When he got home, he slipped the bag into his closet and told Rosario that he had gotten an interest free loan from an old college pal named Robert who had connections with the Mafia. She didn't press him for details.

Two days later, the FBI announced that John Walker Jr., a retired Navy warrant officer, had been arrested over the weekend making a dead drop in the Maryland suburbs. The timing of the arrest scared Ames. He thought Walker had been caught because someone in the Soviet embassy probably Motorin or Martynov had tipped off the CIA or FBI. (It turned out that Walker's ex-wife had told on him.) "I knew how well we had the Soviet system penetrated. It was only a matter of time before one of our spies learned what I had done. I was very vulnerable."

Ames moved quickly to protect himself. On June 13, 1985, Ames met with Chuvakhin for lunch again and although the KGB had not asked him for any additional information, Ames decided on his own to give them the name of every CIA "human asset" that he knew, with the exception of his pal from New York City, Sergey Fedorenko. Besides giving the names of U.S. spies, Ames revealed that Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB resident agent in London, was spying for MI-6, the British intelligence service. He also gave Chuvakhin seven pounds of CIA intelligence reports, which he had simply carried out of the agency in his briefcase. No one had ever bothered to examine it or frisk him during the days he stole the documents.

He would later admit that he knew the "human assets" whom he had compromised would be, at best, put in prison, and more than likely, executed. But he insisted it was a case of either them or him. "All of the people whose names were on my list knew the risks they were taking when they began spying for the CIA and FBI. If one of them had learned about me, he would have told the CIA, and I would have been arrested and thrown in jail. Now that I was working for the KGB, the people on my list could expect nothing less from me. It wasn't personal. It was simply how the game was played."

Beginning with Motorin and Martynov, the KGB began rounding up the CIA's secret spies. In Moscow they were brutally interrogated. Both Motorin and Martynov were executed.

Ames would later attempt to rationalize his treason. "A lot of the barriers that should have stopped me from betraying my country were gone," he said. "The first barrier was the idea that political intelligence matters. It doesn't." Ames said he had become disillusioned because several presidents, beginning with Richard Nixon, had ignored the CIA's findings because they did not suit the White House's political agenda. "I realized these men's actions do not excuse mine, but they did influence my decision making and help grease the slope...I also had come to believe that the CIA was morally corrupt. The CIA is all about maintaining and expanding American imperial power, which I had come to think was wrong... and finally, I did not feel any sense of loyalty to what mass culture had become. How does treason fit into all of this? In some ways, not at all. I would love to say that I did what I did out of some moral outrage over our country's acts of imperialism or a political statement or out of anger toward the CIA or even a love of the Soviet Union. But the sad truth is that I did what I did because of the money and I can't get away from that. I wanted a future. I wanted what I saw [Rosario and I] could have together. Taking the money was essential to the recreation of myself and the continuous of us as a couple."

Not long after Ames made what he called "the big dump," he also betrayed his pal, Sergey Fedorenko. Ames had decided that if he was going to "do a good job" for his Soviet masters, he might as well tell them everything that he knew.

Alarms inside the CIA began sounding within months as the agency began to realize that its spies in the Soviet Union were disappearing. At first, the agency suspected the culprit was Edward Lee Howard, a disgruntled CIA employee who had defected around the same time Ames became a spy. Never before had so many of its spies been exposed. The TAW program monitoring KGB communications stopped sending signals and the Geiger counter used in Project Absorb was discovered. It soon became clear that Howard couldn't have known about all of the agents and covert operations that had been compromised. There had to be another explanation.

The CIA launched an immediate internal investigation, but rather than looking for a mole, it searched for other logical explanations. In 1986, CIA investigators mistakenly concluded that the arrests in Moscow were unrelated. While Howard probably caused some, the others had come about because of mistakes made by CIA case handlers or the spies themselves, the investigators reported. There was a good reason why the agency was reluctant to launch a mole hunt. It was still recuperating from a crippling witch-hunt that the legendary James Jesus Angleton had led years earlier. The careers of several promising case officers had been destroyed and the agency had been paralyzed because of Angleton's paranoid accusations.

Aerial view of CIA building (CORBIS)
Aerial view of CIA building (CORBIS)

Ames, meanwhile, applied for a CIA opening in Rome because he wanted to distance himself from CIA headquarters and because he felt Rosario would be happier living overseas. She felt most Americans lacked culture and style. Shortly after he arrived in Rome, he confronted his KGB handler. Ames had assumed the Russians would arrest the CIA's assets quietly, over time, not in a panic as the KGB had done. "You're going to get me arrested!" he complained. "Why not just put up a big neon sign over the agency with the word MOLE written on it?" His handler apologized but said the KGB had not been given a choice. The ruling Politburo had been so badly embarrassed by the CIA's success in recruiting spies that it had ordered the mass arrest.

Neither Rick nor Rosario made any attempt to hide their newfound wealth in Rome. She replaced her entire wardrobe with designer outfits. Rich chucked his J.C. Penny navy blazers, gray slacks and half-priced socks for $1,500 custom tailored Italian silk suits with monogrammed shirts and hand sewn leather shoes. His teeth, which were yellow from years of smoking, were capped. He bought a Jaguar sports car, wore a Rolex. Their friends and his colleagues simply assumed Rosario came from a wealthy Colombia family. In fact, Ames was pocketing shopping bags full of money in increments of tens of thousands of dollars.

Although the agency's first internal probe had swept over the possibility of a mole, some agents in the agency weren't convinced. In November 1986, at the insistence of a tough talking, no-nonsense counter-intelligence officer named Paul Redmond, the agency agreed to assign Jeanne Vertefeuille, an unassuming 54 year-old with 32-years of service, to take another look at the "1985 losses." Her problem was that no one had ever found a mole based purely on detective work. Every spy caught by a U.S. intelligence service in recent history had been nabbed because of a snitch. The Russians did their best to distract her. The first year, she and a tiny group of analysts focused on Clayton Lonetree, a Native American Marine who had been convicted in August 1987 of spying for the Soviets while stationed in Moscow. By the spring of 1987, Vertefeuille had learned enough to know that Lonetree couldn't have been responsible.

At about this same time, a new CIA officer joined Vertefeuille's team. Dan Payne, was an ambitious 29-year old investigator with an accounting background who thought the best way to catch a mole was by looking for unexplained wealth. Ames had just about finished his tour in Rome, meanwhile, and was preparing to move back to headquarters. During a final face-to-face meeting, his Russian handler gave him a nine-page letter that contained instructions for how he would be contacted after he returned to Washington. The note also assured Ames that he would be paid a yearly salary of $300,000 as long as he continued spying. The KGB also said it had deeded him several acres of land to use when he "retired." It was just outside Moscow along a beautiful river. Touched, Ames kept both the note and three Polaroid color photos of the land a move he would later deeply regret.

Photo of land set aside for Ames
Photo of land set aside for Ames

Rick and Rosario's friend, Diana Worthen, was stunned when she welcomed the couple back to the U.S. in the fall of 1989. She had worked with Ames in Mexico City and had known Rosario before they had married. Worthen couldn't believe how wealthy they seemed. The Ameses bought a $540,000 suburban house with cash. Rick purchased a new Jaguar XJ-6 and Rosario refurnished the entire house. But it was the new draperies that would prove to be too much for Worthen. Rosario had invited her over one afternoon for coffee and to show her fabric samples.

"Help me choose," Rosario said.

"Okay," replied Worthen, "which room are you going to do first?" She had just had drapes put up in her house and knew they were expensive.

Rosario laughed. "Diana, don't worry about the price. I am going to have the whole house done at once."

"Where the hell did they suddenly get all of this money," she wondered. Unlike her colleagues at the CIA, Diana knew that Rosario's family in Colombia wasn't wealthy. Rosario had confided in her when they both were living in Mexico City that her parents in Colombia, while socially prominent, were poor. Suspicious, Worthen notified Sandy Grimes, a close friend who was part of the mole hunting team. Grimes didn't need anyone to twist her arm. She had always been suspicious of Ames because she knew he was bitter about being passed over repeatedly for promotions, especially since he thought he was smarter than his peers.

Grimes began digging into Ames's past contacts with the Soviets in Washington D.C. while Dan Payne plunged into his finances. When Payne obtained access to the Ameses' credit records, he discovered the couple routinely charged $18,000 to $30,000 per month even though Ames was drawing a salary of $69,843 per year. Despite this, there was no proof of wrongdoing and when Vertefeuille asked a CIA officer in Bogota to make several discreet inquiries there about Rosario's family, the officer reported that Worthen was mistaken. Rosario's relatives were among the wealthiest families in Colombia. Only later would the CIA learn that its officer in Bogota had only spoken to one source, a family priest who had no first hand knowledge but knew only rumors about the family's finances.

The mole hunting team seemed stymied until Sandy Grimes noticed that the dates of Ames's 1985 bank deposits matched the days that he had lunch with Sergey Chuvakhin. Incredibly, Ames had taken few precautions to hide his money, often depositing it on the way home from his lunchtime exchanges with the Russian.

Rushing down to Paul Redmond's office, Grimes showed him her discovery. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell what is going on here," she said. "Rick is a goddamn Russian spy!"

While the mole hunting team was busy zeroing in on Ames, he received a surprise telephone call from Sergey Fedorenko, his old Russian pal from New York City. He had been accused of being a spy after Ames first told the KGB about him, but he had managed through his family's political connections to avoid arrest. He was now calling Ames from Canada where he was on a diplomatic trip. Ames arranged for him to be smuggled into the U.S. so they could meet in person. During their emotional reunion, Fedorenko said he wanted to move to the U.S. and Ames promised to help. Instead, as soon as Fedorenko left, he contacted the KGB and told them once again that Fedorenko was a traitor.

Rick Ames in FBI surveillance video
Rick Ames in FBI surveillance video

Armed with Sandy Grimes' findings, the CIA contacted the FBI, since it is responsible for arresting spies in the U.S. Cameras were posted outside Ames's home and in his office ceiling at the CIA's headquarters; an electronic bug was hidden in his Jaguar. Yet, almost entirely by happenstance, Ames managed to elude agents when he made a "dead drop" delivery to the KGB. (At one point, an FBI airplane tailing him was forced to abandon its mission because Ames had driven under the flight zone being used by passenger jets landing at Washington's Reagan National Airport.) Finally, on October 6, 1993, an industrious FBI agent stole the trash can from in front of Ames's house and discovered a computer printer ribbon inside it that showed Ames had written several long letters to the Russians. Using that evidence, the FBI got approval to secretly break into Ames house while Rick and Rosario were out of town and plant hidden microphones. They also discovered a wealth of incriminating evidence, including the note that the KGB had given him in Rome. It turned out that Ames had made another colossal blunder. He had recently upgraded his word processing program on his computer and failed to realize that it automatically saved copies of documents that he typed. The FBI was able to recall every message he had typed.

Rosario Ames in FBI surveillance video
Rosario Ames in FBI
surveillance video

Over the next several weeks, the FBI listened to conversations between Rick and Rosario and quickly determined that she not only knew about his spying, but also constantly badgered him about demanding more money and being careful. FBI agents said later that the conversations they overheard made them want to arrest Rosario just as much as Ames. On the tapes, she could be heard sniveling about money, belittling her friends, and constantly berating Ames.

By mid-February 1994, the FBI began running out of time. Ames, who had been quietly transferred to a job where he no longer had access to classified information, was scheduled to leave the country to attend an overseas conference. The agents were afraid he might bolt. On February 21, 1994, he was lured out of his house on the pretext that he was needed at work for an emergency. As he was leaving his neighborhood, his Jaguar was pinned in by FBI cars. Back at his house, a Spanish speaking FBI agent told Rosario that she too was being arrested. Inside they found signs of the Ames's unchecked gluttony: dozens of designer dresses never worn, nearly a hundred unopened boxes of panty hose, a half dozen Rolex watches, several hundred shoes.

Ames quickly offered to confess if the government would free Rosario, but the Justice Department refused to release her. She, meanwhile, turned against him. "I offer you no excuses for my conduct, only explanations," she told the judge at her sentencing. "In order to understand how I got caught up in Rick Ames's deceit, you have to understand that he was, and is, a liar and manipulator. Exactly those qualities that made him a good intelligence officer for our country." But the judge didn't buy it. He sentenced her to five years in prison. She was deported to Colombia as soon as she was paroled in 1999. She still lives there today. Ames was sentenced to life in prison. He jokingly told a friend that he had sealed his own fate. The KGB had no one to swap for him. It had killed all of the spies it had arrested who were worth trading.


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