Tim Weiner, David Johnston, and Neil A. Lewis, reporters for The New York Times, tell how the barons of the CIA could not believe that its headquarters harbored a traitor. For years, the Agency was baffled by a wily Russian spymaster who played a high-stakes chess game against the Americans, deceiving the CIA into thinking that there were other moles—or no moles at all.
It took nearly eight years for the CIA to share the full facts of the scenario with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Once they knew those facts, the men and women of the FBI tracked Aldrich Ames day and night for nine months before they arrested him. They tell their story here in astonishing detail for the first time.
The interviews are entirely on-the-record. There are no pseudonyms, anonymous quotes, or invented scenes. The men betrayed by Ames were real people, and the stories of their lives are the true history of the espionage game in the waning years of the Cold War.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
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About the Author
David Johnston covers the Justice Department and Federal law enforcement agencies for The New York Times. Since coming to the Times in 1987, he has had several reporting and editing assignments, including coverage of criminal trials arising from the Iran-contra affair. Before coming to the Times, Mr. Johnston covered national politics for the San Francisco Examiner. Born in Boston, he grew up in Florida and New York and attended Purdue University in Indiana.
Neil A. Lewis began working for The New York Times in 1986, covering the State Department, the Justice Department, and the public school system in New York City. He has worked in Washington, Johannesburg, and London as a correspondent for Reuters. A native of New York City and a graduate of its public schools, he holds degrees from Union College and the Yale Law School, where he was a Ford Foundation Fellow.
Read an Excerpt
“You Must Have the Wrong Man!”
Les Wiser snapped awake in a rush of adrenaline. His watch—the one he’d bought in Berlin, with the red star and the letters “CCCP” on the dial—said three A.M.
He showered quickly, dressed in a pale gray suit, left his wife and two sleeping kids in bed, and drove swiftly from his home in the Maryland suburbs toward Washington. The roads were empty on this Monday, Presidents’ Day, February 21, 1994. The federal government was closed, and most of the people who made it run were still asleep.
“He steered his 1991 black Ford Taurus through the deserted side streets of the capital and into the garage of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington Metropolitan Field Office. The ugly high-rise building, wreathed in the deathly orange glow of mercury vapor streetlights, stood in Buzzard Point, a grim and isolated backwater of the city. It housed the FBI’s street humps, the agents who worked in the District of Columbia and its surrounding suburbs.
Wiser was a tall man of thirty-nine, low-key, bespectacled, his mustache flecked with gray. At first glance he could be taken for an ordinary government bureaucrat, but the nine-millimeter Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol on his left hip gave him away. Wiser was an FBI supervisory special agent, a squad leader, who had joined the Bureau in 1983 after working as a Navy lawyer. He had started at the bottom, working wiretaps, fugitive cases, and graveyard shifts.
He rode the elevator to the eleventh floor, letting himself in through the secured doors, and walked down a corridor with beige walls and threadbare carpeting. He stopped at an unmarked door just a few yards from his boss’s office, pressed the buttons on a coded lock, and entered a windowless interior room, the squad bay for his case.
For nine months, Wiser had worked out of this cramped cocoon of an office twelve hours a day, sometimes longer. Everyone working on his case—Wiser, his agents, the surveillance teams—had had to take lie-detector tests and abandon the idea of time off. Wiser himself had spent Christmas Day with headphones on in a tiny downstairs office jammed with blinking electronic gear, listening to wiretaps. Everybody knew Wiser hunted spies, but he waved off anyone who asked what he was up to, telling them he was working on a case from The X Files, a television show about FBI agents investigating paranormal phenomena.
In fact, he was working the biggest case of his life. It was an espionage case, code-named “Nightmover.”
He and his squad had found a mole inside the Central Intelligence Agency. The mole had burned almost every Soviet agent who was secretly working for the United States. At least ten of them had been arrested and executed. It had been a disaster without parallel for the CIA. But the Agency had refused to believe it harbored a traitor, and it had surrounded the disaster in a shield of secrecy. It had not called in the FBI until 1991.
Once the Bureau knew the facts, in 1993, it had opened a full-fledged criminal investigation. Wiser and his agents—the listeners who tapped telephones and planted bugs in the mole’s house, the accountants who sifted his American Express bills, the watchers who trailed him around the clock, the black-bag agents who stole his trash and surreptitiously searched his house, the pilots who flew the light plane that secretly trailed his car—had amassed a mountain of circumstantial evidence against their target. They had come to be on intimate terms with him, calling him by his first name, listening to the chatter and babble of his telephone conversations with his wife, and picking up clues that she was entangled in his espionage. They shadowed him when he took his five-year-old son to the movies, reacted with disgust when he paid $9,000 in cash one day at the Neiman-Marcus department store to settle his bills, surveilled him in airport bars as he drank vodka and smoked cigarettes like a man bent on giving himself a heart attack.
More than that, they knew his mind. He was arrogant. He was book-smart but not streetwise. And he was one of the sloppiest, most brazen, and least savvy spies imaginable.
But Wiser had been careful not to underestimate him. The man was, after all, a trained intelligence officer, schooled in the art of spotting somebody on his tail. And though the FBI knew their man was in touch with the Russians, and though they had tracked more than $1.5 million he had mysteriously deposited into his bank accounts, they never had caught him in the act of slipping CIA documents into a cache or pocketing a payoff from Moscow.
Six o’clock. Wiser waited in the dismal squad bay as the day dawned gray and dreary over the capital. His surveillance crew had spent the night at checkpoints throughout the mole’s neighborhood across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia—a fancy suburb, a lot fancier than Wiser or the rest of his squad could afford. The lookouts had the mole’s half-million-dollar split-level house surrounded.
Downstairs at the field office, the listeners sat in a tiny cubicle before a blinking circuit board tuned to the telephone taps and hidden microphones in the house on North Randolph Street. Wiser checked the surveillance. Nothing stirring. The mole was unaware that an intricate web of electronic and physical surveillance was about to snare him. Still, Wiser felt a lump tightening in his gut, the fear that the slightest mistake would make his quarry bolt. The mole was scheduled to leave tomorrow on an official trip that would take him to Moscow. The idea that he might defect was on everyone’s mind, and no one cared to contemplate the consequences.
Six-thirty. The Special Surveillance Group, the FBI employees who tailed the target night and day, reported that all remained calm. They knew their man’s habits by heart. He would have left the house by now if he were going to send a clandestine message to his Russian controllers, a chalk mark on a mailbox signifying he was ready to deliver a computer disk of classified documents covertly copied at CIA headquarters. If he went out early to leave a signal, they would postpone the arrest to see what he was up to. But if he did nothing, they would arrest him.
A few minutes after seven, Wiser gave the order to proceed as planned. Nearly a hundred FBI agents, technicians, and support personnel quietly converged on the neighborhood. The men who were going to arrest the target drove directly to their forward staging base, the parking lot of an Italian delicatessen a quarter mile from the house on North Randolph Street. They had gone there a lot during the investigation. Great sandwiches.
Wiser waited until nearly eight o’clock to drive across the Potomac River to the U.S. attorney’s office on King Street in Alexandria, Virginia. Wiser met Mark J. Hulkower, the federal prosecutor whom he had asked to handle the case in court. The two men drove to the tidy red-brick office building in Alexandria that housed the courtrooms of the federal magistrates. Wiser carried a sheaf of papers, including a thirty-five-page affidavit he had written outlining the evidence amassed from electronic eavesdropping, break-ins, and thefts.
The day before, the prosecutor had asked Barry R. Poretz, the U.S. magistrate-judge, if he could be available on Monday morning. Wiser handed Poretz the papers, then left the magistrate alone in his chambers. The agent and the prosecutor waited in an outer office of the deserted building. As the clock crawled past nine and toward midmorning, Wiser grew more nervous with each passing minute. He visualized Poretz slowly reading every word of the dense, single-spaced affidavit while the complicated machinery Wiser had set into motion was put on hold. After what seemed like an eternity, Poretz summoned the government men to his chambers, asked a few questions, and at five minutes to ten began signing warrants for the arrest of the mole and his wife, the postarrest search of his house and safety deposit box at First Union Bank, and the seizure of his 1992 Jaguar and her 1989 Honda.
Armed with the warrants, Wiser called his immediate superior, John F. Lewis, Jr., at the command post in the FBI’s Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, satellite office. The office corridors were crowded with agents and bristling with the nervous energy and bravado that always accompanies a takedown in a big case. There was no fancy code word. Wiser just said, “Okay. Go ahead.”
The trap was baited. One of the FBI agents telephoned the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and talked to the target’s boss. The CIA official then called the target at home and gave him a carefully scripted message.
“Rick,” he said, “something important has just turned up. It has a direct bearing on the Moscow trip. You better come into the office. I think you need to see it now.”
Rick Ames put down the phone and told his wife, Rosario, that he was going over to the CIA for an hour or so. Whatever this was, he needed to get it out of the way. He had been looking forward to this trip for months.