Aldrich Ames arrest as an alleged Soviet
mole in the CIA raises serious question about both the CIA's
past and future as an espionage services. "Think of
an espionage service as a highly specialized employment
service," explained James Jesus Angleton, the former
chief of counterintelligence. Such recruiters aim to find
foreign government officials with legitimate access to secret
documents. Up to a point, like more conventional corporate
headhunters, they consults biographical files to find a
candidate to fill an opening, observe his work (or even
interview him) and make him an offer to change his loyalties
that will have difficulty refusing. But unlike their counterparts
in the private sector, these recruiters do not ask the candidates
to give up their old jobs. Instead, they insist he maintain
two positions simultaneously: one for his own government
and one for his new and secret employer. If the recruit
does not have access to needed material, his secret employer
takes on the task of managing his career by providing him
with "successes" in the form of cases and information,
so he rises to where he is useful. As the CIA's Soviet bloc
division noted in 1973 about its own capabilities at career-managing
a potential mole recruited at a foreign embassy: "we
are prepared to guide and assist him in his career, running
him in place until he develops the access we need".
Yet while CIA officials have the utmost
confidence in their ability to successfully mount such grand
plots against Russia, many of these same officials are unable
to accept that the KGB has a similar capacity for conspiracy.
(Former CIA Director Colby admitted, for instance "I
thought the function of the agency was to penetrate the Kremlin
not protect itself against the KGB." ) These officials
placed great faith in the CIA's lie detector tests and other
routine security procedures and derided those who had less
faith in these defenses-- notably Angleton and his counterintelligence
staff-- as "paranoid," indulging in "sick think"
or otherwise out of touch with reality. The Ames case demonstrates
that such faith was misplaced.
The KGB clearly had the ability to
compromise, recruit, career-manage, service and utilize the
intelligence product of Ames for an extensive period of time.
According to the FBI affidavits, Ames had been in illicit
liaison with the Soviet intelligence service since at least
1984-- and, according to a former CIA counterintelligence
executive, he may have been recruited much earlier. Moreover,
he had been, while a Soviet mole, head of the CIA's Soviet
counterintelligence unit. From this vantage point Ames could
vet the secret information coming in to the CIA from its own
spies in Russia and tell the KGB what the CIA was learning.
The implications of this case are
far reaching. To begin with, it casts new light on the intellectual
provenance of the information supplied to the media by retired
KGB officers. For example, Oleg Kalugin, who served as a Major
General in the KGB up until 1987, was certainly in a position
to know of the KGB's success in penetrating the CIA. Yet,
he stated categorically in 1992 "No responsible politician
or government employee was ever recruited by the Soviets in
Europe or America in the last 20 years." Kalugin added
that the KGB had so little hard currency at its disposal that,
to pay operating expenses abroad, it had to open up "its
archives to the foreign media" and sell documents. While
this picture of KGB ineptitude and poverty may have come as
welcome news inside the CIA, it hardly squared with the millions
the KGB was then paying to Ames to get leverage over CIA counterintelligence.
More important, Ames' work for the
KGB calls into serious question the validity of the secret
intelligence derived from Russia in the mid and late 1980s.
Ames is said to have identified to the KGB the 10 CIA agents
in the Soviet Union which were supplying the CIA with data.
Yet, just as a Mafia suspect who found out some of his phones
were tapped by police could use them to mislead the police,
the KGB, following the usual practice in counterintelligence,
would not immediately arrest the 10 sources Ames told them
about but use them to pass misleading information to the CIA.
If it controlled all the CIA's sources through Ames, it could
assure that each reports persuasively dove-tailed with the
others. This might explain why the CIA was egregiously wrong
in assessing various Soviet capabilities in the mid 1980s.
The Ames revelation also helps to
understand some pivotal KGB activities of the 1980s. Consider,
for example, the short-lived visit of Vitaliy Yurchenko to
Washington in August 1985. He claimed to be a KGB defector,
and Ames, as the relevant CIA counterintelligence officer,
was assigned to the debriefing team. Yurchenko identified
himself as the deputy chief of the KGB unit specifically responsible
for organizing and supervising its espionage against the United
States, which conveniently put him in a perfect position to
identify KGB recruits in the CIA. Thus the head of the debriefing
team immediately asked him whether or not there were any KGB
moles presently working in the CIA and offered him, as is
the practice, a substantial bonus if he provide any information
that could help locate such a mole. Since Ames was already
a mole, Yurchenko, if he were a genuine defector, had a truly
golden opportunity. But instead of naming Ames, he insisted
falsely (like Kalugin later did) that the KGB had not succeeded
in making a single recruit of any CIA officer on active duty.
(On the contrary, he diverted attention away from Ames by
identifying a former employee of the CIA, Edward Lee Howard
who had contacted the Soviet Embassy, as both the FBI and
CIA had already determined from its routine surveillance.)
After 90 days as a temporary defector-- during which period,
he helped Ames, who was checking out his story, expand his
access into such compartments as the NSA' top secret anti-submarine
detection devices in the Pacific-- Yurchenko redefected back
Finally, the most serious ramification
of the Ames case is the indication that Ames might not have
been alone. As one top former CIA counterintelligence officer
put it, "moles, like mice, are not often found as singletons".
Ames, who had access to counterintelligence files, would be
in a position to provide the KGB with a roster of candidates.
The ex-CIA officer recalled that in similar mole operations
into the intelligence services of West Germany, England and
France, the KGB had acted to widen the original penetration
by having the initial recruit spot, assess and find vulnerabilies
of others in the service for its head-hunters. It is assumed
that Ames did the same. Moreover, the fact that Ames managed
to rise to be head of the CIA's Soviet counterintelligence
unit despite his reportedly lackluster performance and, at
the same time, avoid all the CIA's security defenses, suggests
that he might have had inside "career management"
help. This possibility is reinforced by the chronology of
the payments Ames received from the KGB, as detailed in the
FBI affidavits. These payments extended six years after he
had been transferred out of the counterintelligence unit to
Rome, the UN in New York and the CIA's boon dock anti- narcotics
unit, where his "need to know" access would be greatly
curtailed. In the words of the ex-CIA counterintelligence
officer: "the KGB does not pay bonuses of such magnitude
on spec." So it appears Ames was able to deliver secrets
on the Soviet's shopping list from areas in which he did not
have access. If so, he must have relied on others. For the
last two decades, the CIA hoped it could evade this nightmare
of moles by such mechanistic means as lie-detect examinations.
Now, that the KGB succeeded in its conspiratorial enterprise,
the CIA again has to confront the issue of of protecting itself.