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Tracking Down a CIA Mole

March 11, 2014
By George I. Seffers
E-mail About the Author

Former CIA officer discusses her role in investigating Aldrich Ames.

Sandra Grimes, a former CIA officer and co-author of the book "Circle of Treason," was working in the Soviet-East European Division in the 1980s when sources began being rounded up, arrested, tried and executed because fellow CIA agent Aldrich Ames had voluntarily begun providing information to the Soviet intelligence agencies. Grimes told her compelling story as the morning keynote speaker at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

Grimes knew Ames as "Rick," a co-worker of more than 20 years. They even carpooled together in the late 1970s. "On April 16, 1985, Rick Ames decided to walk through the front door of the Soviet Embassy here in Washington, D.C., and volunteer his services to the Soviet Union," she reported. "Two months later, he also made the decision to provide his KGB handlers with the names of, or identifying information for, all of our Soviet sources. And in doing so, Rick knew exactly what was going to happen to them. They would be arrested, interrogated, tried, sentenced and executed. In all cases, it was a bullet to the back of the head."

Grimes reported than the CIA was enjoying success against their Soviet intelligence competitors when things started to go horribly wrong. It was clear the CIA either had a mole in its ranks or their communications had been compromised. They immediately instituted "draconian" security measures, severely limiting the number of people who had knowledge of new sources. They also stopped using their primary communications and returned to basics. For example, a handler would meet with a source in a safe house, return to a hotel, type up the notes from the meeting on an encrypted laptop and then return to headquarters where the notes would be decrypted. Grimes pointed out that at that time an encrypted laptop was cutting-edge technology and "not the least bit user friendly." The CIA, in fact, was still using IBM typewriters at the time.

During that time, the KGB pulled off two deception operations. In both cases, someone volunteered to provide information about the CIA mole, demanding money in return. The so-called "Mr. X" was discovered to be a fake, and the CIA dropped contact. In the second case, the source refused to meet in person, demanding instead that large sums of money be dropped off at specific locations and that the CIA would exfiltrate him from the Soviet Union, when and only when he felt the time was right. Grimes and others were unable to convince their leadership the entire set up was a KGB ruse. The phony source was provided "large sums of money" that ended up in KGB coffers. He also received a passport and knowledge of CIA source exfiltration processes.

The draconian security measures worked, and the CIA stopped losing sources. In fact, the number of Soviet sources began rising once again. "In other words, we were back," Grimes said. Some believed the problem, whatever it was, had disappeared. Grimes' co-author, the late Jeanne Vertefeuille, was nearly ready to retire and determined to uncover the mole. The investigation ultimately led to Ames, who was convicted in 1994 of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia.

It was only recently that Grimes was cleared to tell the story.

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