'The Assets': Tracking Down a Cold War CIA Traitor

PHOTO: Left to right, Sandy Grimes, Paul Redmond, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diana Worthen and Dan Payne
CIA

In 1985, a number of Soviet double-agents who had been passing along critical intelligence information to the CIA during the height of the Cold War, were suddenly rounded up by the KGB for interrogation, imprisonment and often execution.

The CIA began an internal investigation to find out how the Soviet assets had been compromised and who could be the potential mole.

In 1994, almost 10 years later, Aldrich "Rick" Ames, a CIA counterintelligence officer who had worked in the Soviet-East European Division, was convicted of espionage.

Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, two of the five-person CIA "mole hunt" team pictured above, were directly involved with bringing Ames down and wrote a memoir about the case called, "Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and The Men He Betrayed." The ABC eight-part miniseries, "The Assets," produced by Lincoln Square Productions, is inspired by their memoir.

Read about the timeline of the actual events, and watch "The Assets," which premieres on Jan. 2 at 10 p.m. ET and airs Thursdays on ABC.

The 1960s: Ames Joins the CIA

After graduating from George Washington University in 1967, Ames was accepted into to the CIA officer training program, where he was trained as an elite agent to recruit spies from the other side.

In 1968, he was assigned to the then-Soviet Bloc (SB) Division, and married the following year.

The 1970s: Ames Gains Sources for the CIA

After struggling to get his career at the CIA off the ground, Ames was tasked with learning Russian in the early 1970s and was assigned to two cases that would bring him success.

Around the same time, Ames began carpooling to work with his CIA colleague Sandy Grimes. Recruited to the CIA from college, Grimes was assigned to study the Soviet security agency KGB.

Ames was assigned to gather information from Sergey Fedorenko, a well-connected Soviet nuclear policy expert who had been recruited by the FBI and the CIA, and Aleksandr Ogorodnik, a Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs officer who was recruited to the CIA while he was stationed in Colombia. In 1974, Ogorodnik was reassigned to Moscow, where he provided Ames with information about the USSR's foreign policy goals.

In 1977, Ames lost one of his sources when Ogorodnik was arrested in Moscow and committed suicide with a cyanide pill. That same year, Fedorenko went back to Moscow and lost touch with the CIA until 1989.

The Early 1980s: Ames Meets Rosario Dupuy

In 1981, Ames was relocated to Mexico City to head the counterintelligence branch working against the Soviets. There, he met and began an affair with Rosario Casas Dupuy, a cultural attaché at the Colombian embassy who had helped the CIA, according to the Grimes and Vertefeuille book.

CIA officer Diana Worthen was assigned to Ames' support staff and became friends with Rosario. She would eventually have a key role in Ames' downfall.

In 1983, Ames was sent back to Washington, D.C., and promoted to Chief of Soviet Counterintelligence for the Soviet-East European (SE) Division. He was briefed on the details of the CIA's penetrations of the USSR's security agency KGB, including the names of the Soviets working for the CIA.

As Ames divorced his wife and prepared to marry Dupuy, the couple struggled financially. Ames remembered that while he was in Mexico, another CIA officer had said that the KGB offered him $50,000 to spy for them.

1985: Ames Becomes a Soviet Spy

In April 1985, Ames asked Soviet diplomat Sergey Chuvakhin to meet him. According to the Grimes and Vertefeuille book, the FBI and CIA were aware of the meeting because Ames' guise was that he was gathering information from Chuvakhin for the CIA.

When Chuvakhin failed to show up for their lunch date at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., Ames walked into the Soviet embassy and handed a receptionist a sealed envelope he had meant to give Chuvakhin. Inside the outer envelope was another sealed envelope with the CIA-given pseudonym for the KGB station chief written on it. The second envelope contained information about two or three cases the CIA station in Moscow was handling and a telephone list that contained the names of SE Division personnel, including Ames' name. He asked for $50,000 in exchange for the information.

It wasn't until mid-May 1985 that the Soviets decided to pay Ames the money he asked for and Chuvakhin became his handler. Ames continued to periodically meet with Chuvakhin to swap classified documents.

According to the Grimes and Vertefeuille book, in June 1985, Ames walked out of CIA headquarters with an enormous collection of documents containing information about major cases the CIA and FBI were operating against the Soviets, which included names of Soviet assets. The KGB set aside $2 million for him.

In the months that followed, several Soviets working for the CIA were arrested by their own government.

PHOTO: Left to right, Sandy Grimes, Paul Redmond, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diana Worthen and Dan Payne
CIA
The Late 1980s: Ames' Lavish Spending Raises Red Flags

In 1986, CIA officer Jeanne Vertefeuille was tasked with finding out why a rash of Soviet assets had been compromised. Around the same time, two other CIA officers, Sandy Grimes and Paul Redmond, were assigned to keep new Soviet assets alive.

Vertefeuille began asking a few colleagues if they suspected any potential moles inside the CIA. Dan Payne, who was a CIA officer in the Office of Security, started interviewing CIA officers who had been based in Moscow from 1985 to 1986 and eventually joined Vertefeuille and Grimes on the "mole hunt" team.

Meanwhile, Ames was transferred to Rome to continue counterintelligence work for the CIA. He continued to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Soviets.

When Ames and Rosario returned to the D.C. area in 1989, he had earned enough money from his activities to buy a half-million dollar home in Arlington, Va., and two new cars, a Jaguar and a Honda Accord. He continued to secretly pass documents to the Soviets in exchange for money.

His CIA colleague Diana Worthen became suspicious when Rosario told her they had paid cash to buy the house for its asking price of $540,000, without bargaining, that they were remodeling and had bought new cars.

Worthen brought her observations to Grimes and Vertefeuille, who told her to talk to Payne. After listening to Worthen, Payne started reviewing Ames' Office of Security and Office of Personnel files and collecting information on him.

1991: 'Mole Hunt' Team Struggles to Stay Focused

By 1991, the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Soviets were no longer considered an enemy to the U.S.

Ames was transferred to the Counternarcotics Center, but continued to visit the SE Division and pick up information.

By that time both the CIA and the FBI were conducting separate investigations into what had happened to the Soviet assets in 1985.

Dan Payne and Sandy Grimes went through the tedious task of tallying Ames' financial transactions and up to that point nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Ames had often told colleagues their money had come from Rosario's family and her personnel file showed she had come from a wealthy, politically connected family in Colombia.

1992: A Breakthrough

The CIA investigated dozens of employees who worked on operations against the Soviets in the mid-80s. Sandy Grimes, Paul Redmond and Jeanne Vertefeuille, along with several others, began going through lists of names and marking those whose activities had raised red flags in the past, including Ames.

Then in August 1992, the "mole hunt" team had a major breakthrough. Grimes discovered three correlations from 1985, where Ames had met with Soviet diplomat Sergey Chuvakhin and then received a large amount of money shortly after.

Ames became the prime suspect in the investigation into the 1985 compromises of the Soviet assets.

1993: FBI Turns Its Sights on Ames

On May 12, 1993, the FBI opened a full investigation into Ames.

While he was out of town, they bugged his house and wiretapped his phone. In the process, they recorded a series of incriminating conversations.

PHOTO: Former senior CIA office Aldrich Hazen Ames is led from U.S. Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Feb 22, 1994, after being arraigned on charges of spying for the former Soviet Union.
Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images
1994: Ames Is Convicted of Espionage

On Feb. 21, 1994, under the FBI's direction, Ames' supervisor, who was in on the investigation, asked him to come into work under false pretenses. As Ames got into his Jaguar and headed to work, the FBI stopped and arrested him. Rosario was arrested shortly afterwards at their home.

On April 28, 1994, Ames and his wife appeared in the Alexandria Federal Courthouse and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage. Rosario claimed she didn't learn about her husband's espionage dealings until the summer 1992 and was sentenced to five years in prison. Ames was sentenced to life.

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