Thursday, August 14, 2014

Made in Wisconsin: Aldrich Ames

So many wonderful people hail from Wisconsin. But, in the interest of full disclosure, like all places, we've got our bad apples too. 

And this includes one of the worst traitors in US espionage history, Aldrich Ames.

Yes, lamentabile dictu, Aldrich Ames was born in 1941 in River Falls, Wisconsin. The family relocated to Virginia in 1952 when Ames' father went to work for the CIA. As a result of his father's connections, Ames got low level employment there while still in high school and began to work his way up the ranks.

Now, I worked for four years myself at the National Security Agency as a Top Secret cleared Arabic linguist. And the security background checks and ongoing monitoring to which I was subject were virtually created by the lessons learned of the Aldrich Ames case.

Here was a man who had an ongoing serious alcohol problem while in service, which was noted in numerous performance reviews and yet he kept right on working. He had extra-marital affairs with foreign nationals, a nasty divorce, and ends up deep in debt. When he began selling the Soviets the names of CIA assets, he suddenly had enough money to buy things his CIA salary could never have afforded. And by the time the Agency finally figured out that he was the mole responsible for the deaths of dozens of CIA assets, it was all obvious only in retrospect.

When asked how he was able to continually pass polygraph tests, he reported, "There's no special magic. Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner. Rapport, where you smile and you make him think that you like him."

Despite the fact that both Ames and Robert Hanssen (an even more damaging traitor, and born in Chicago, thank God) passed numerous lie detector tests, the US Intelligence Community still requires their use routinely for obtaining and retaining Top Secret clearances. 

The Intelligence Community does, however, maintain a constant watch on the credit status of people under Top Secret clearance, and deep debt or sudden influxes of money are red flags of potential issues. If they had skipped the polygraphs and been checking on those things routinely back in the 80's and 90's, they would have caught both Ames and Hanseen more quickly. 

At any rate, a Wisconsinite who failed upward at the CIA as he betrayed his country.

Keith Massey was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. He has his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Biblical Hebrew, with a minor in Arabic. After 9/11, he served as an Arabic linguist at the NSA. He is currently a Latin teacher at a public high school in New Jersey.

Keith is the author of Intermediate Arabic for Dummies. His fiction novels follow the adventures of Andrew Valquist, roughly patterned after himself--a man born and raised in Wisconsin who gets pulled into the world of international intrigue. 

Keith's novels are A Place of Brightness, Amor Vincit Omnia: An Andrew Valquist Adventure, Next Stop: Spanish, and In Saecula Saeculorum.