In September 1983, he was assigned to the Department of Operations, where he had access to all C.I.A. plans and operations against the K.G.B and G.R.U., the Soviet military intelligence. At the end of the year, Ames divorced his first wife and as part of the settlement agreed to pay her $46,000 in alimony. On top of this financial burden, he supported his new fiancée, and later wife, who was spending far more than he could afford on his $60,000 annual salary.
Ames resolved his money dilemma by approaching an official in the Soviet embassy in Washington, and offering his services for $50,000. The K.G.B was happy to oblige, and paid him $20,000 to $50,000 every time he had lunch with his Russian handler. Over the next nine years, he was paid by the Soviets a total of $4.6 million, and provided them with a vast amount of U.S. government secrets, including the names of at least ten well-placed Russian officials who spied for the C.I.A.
Betrayed by Ames, they were executed as traitors or received long prison sentences.
After his arrest by the F.B.I., Ames cooperated with the prosecution in exchange for a lighter sentence for his wife, who also had spied for the K.G.B. Following his sentencing, he gave an extensive interview to the New York Times' Tim Weiner that ran in the NYT's Sunday Magazine on July 11, 1994. Ames' answers below highlight the reasons - and, to Ames, justification for - his betrayals:
HE WAS MOTIVATED BY MONEYAccording to Ames, "Money - money was the - money was the motivation. These other ideas and reasons were only enablers, if you will."
But he was not alone in this motivation. Ames alleged that "[a] number of people throughout the agency's history have stolen money from the agency and have done terrible things for money." One of the reasons that "very few" C.I.A. employees had sold secrets to the K.G.B., he said, was "because many of them would have found - there were a lot of barriers in the way."
HE FOUND STEALING SECRETS TO BE EASYBy contrast, Ames bragged, after he became the station chief in Rome in 1985, for him "some of those barriers weren't there anymore." He said he received "a wide range of ... information that the K.G.B. was eager to get, and happy to get."
In Rome, Ames claimed, every day "you would find it hard to believe… I know the K.G.B. found it very hard to believe... I would have a stack of paper ... from headquarters, from stations elsewhere in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Just tremendous volumes of stuff." He added that most of it rather trivial, mostly general operational stuff, "but some of it was of interest. And so I passed a lot of that [on to the Soviets]."
HE THOUGHT HE WAS DOING NO HARMAmes has stated, "I don't believe that I was affecting the security of this country and the safety of its people."
HE DRANK HEAVILYAmes said that before each meeting with his Soviet handlers, he would usually have "several drinks [and] I would drink during the meeting." He said the KGB agents would keep him busy by asking questions, "and so I wouldn't be completely drunk, but I would definitely have had more than just enough to put an edge on."
HE QUESTIONED THE ROLE OF THE AGENCYAlthough no longer a C.I.A. employee, Ames seemed to be personally offended by what he perceived as a betrayal by the agency. "We [at C.I.A.] don't have a special mission. We have been... deluding ourselves politically and convincing ourselves that we have a special mission..."
In fact, he complained, the C.I.A. was deceiving its employees and the American public. He said it was attacking "... a hyped-up threat from abroad," to justify "the repression of ... movements for economic and social justice in this country..." He added: "I hate to sound like an old-line Stalinist or something, but..."
HE BETRAYED THE SOVIETS WHO SPIED FOR THE U.S. TO WIN THE GRATITUDE OF THE KGB, TO SAVE HIS OWN SKIN, AND BECAUSE HE THOUGHT IT WAS FAIRAsked why he gave K.G.B. the names of Soviets who spied for the C.I.A., Ames cited three reasons. First, according to Ames, "There was a sense in which... I was saying: 'Over to you, K.G.B... I have demonstrated that I'm holding nothing back. You guys now take care of me.'"
Ames also suggested that by sending the Soviet spies who knew him to jail or to their death, he was getting rid of potentially damaging witnesses: "There also was a sense here [that]... '[i]t will help protect me in the future if these guys go away.'"
Finally, Ames suggested that the spies he betrayed ran similar risks of being discovered as he had run, and therefore their fate was nothing to feel guilty about: "That is a callous thing to say, but there is a certain amount of truth to that...These two guys in the K.G.B. residency in Washington [who spied for the U.S.], and lots of [spies] elsewhere [whose names he gave to the K.G.B.]...
"You know, they took similar risks [to mine]. So there's that reciprocity, if you will. I don't mean it to be taken in terms of dismissing the men I sold and trivializing that. In other words, what happened to them also happened to me."