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Ames Admits KGB Spying, Sentenced to Life in Prison

By Robert L. Jackson and Ronald J. Ostrow
Los Angeles Times
ALEXANDRIA, Va.

CIA agent Aldrich H. Ames calmly admitted Thursday that he gave to the KGB the names of Soviet officials cooperating with American intelligence -- many of whom were later executed -- as well as the details of super-secret U.S. surveillance of the East bloc.

For his crimes, Ames was sentenced by a federal judge to life in prison without possibility of parole, the harshest punishment possible under current law.

In a statement striking for its lack of remorse, Ames dismissed the idea that his actions caused any significant harm to his country, saying "there is no rational need" for most CIA operations.

"I had come to believe that the espionage business as carried out by the CIA and a few other American agencies was and is a self-serving sham," he told U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton.

"The information our vast intelligence network acquires at considerable human and ethical costs is generally insignificant or irrelevant to our policy-makers' needs."

Ames, 52, who rose to chief of Soviet counterintelligence in the CIA's Soviet-East European division during 31 years with the agency, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage as part of a negotiated agreement in return for a recommendation of leniency for his wife, Rosario.

Mrs. Ames, 41, whose role was described by the government as considerably smaller than her husband's, also pleaded guilty Thursday, but to lesser charges of "aiding, advising and encouraging" her husband's activities.

The Ameses, arrested Feb. 21 at their suburban Virginia home, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to evade federal income taxes for concealing an estimated $2.5 million in cash payments from the Russians.

Officials said that Ames agreed to cooperate in exchange for a lighter sentence for his wife, who has experienced emotional problems since her jailing. Ames also believed their 5-year-old son Paul needs the care of his mother, the officials said.

Mrs. Ames will be sentenced Aug. 26 to a term of 63 to 72 months but she will receive credit for time served since their arrest. The four-month delay in her sentencing will allow prosecutors to assess how well Ames cooperates in disclosing whether any colleagues at the CIA assisted him, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Under the plea agreement, both of the Ameses must forfeit all their remaining assets, funds derived from spying and profits from any book they might write.

At a news conference following the pleas, U.S. Attorney Helen F. Fahey said that this was "the most damaging spy case in the history of this country." She said that U.S. intelligence officials now will begin "an extensive debriefing" of Ames to learn even more about the damage to CIA operations caused by his espionage and whether anyone else helped him.

Ames has not previously cooperated with federal investigators because he was maintaining silence on the advice of his attorney, Plato Cacheris.

Espionage was a capital offense until ruled out in a series of Supreme Court decisions. The Senate-passed crime bill restores capital punishment for espionage, but even if the House agrees to the Senate language, Ames would not be affected.

A "statement of facts" filed by the government Thursday disclosed that Ames had caused greater damage to U.S. security than previously had been revealed. Ames' actions ranged from naming to the Soviets at least 11 military and intelligence officials in their country who spied for the CIA or other friendly intelligence services, to turning over "a substantial amount of top-secret information including signals intelligence," a reference to the interception of Russian communications.

Those communications could range from military units in the field to more sophisticated links between embassies and satellite transmissions. Knowledge of the security breach would enable the Russians to feed disinformation, develop more secure methods of communication and determine which secrets had been exposed.

"Ames' compromise of these penetrations of the Soviet military and intelligence services deprived the United States of extremely valuable intelligence material for years to come," prosecutors said.

At least four of the U.S. spies were arrested and executed after Ames revealed their identities, the government said.