The chief of the Russian armed forces general staff said publicly that Aldrich Ames, the CIA official arrested on espionage charges earlier this week, had been spying for Moscow.
"He worked there and worked for us," Lt. Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov said at a news conference in Moscow. "He defended our interests because he exposed spies who were pumping Russian secrets to the United States."
Kolesnikov's comment was the first from a high-ranking Russian official acknowledging U.S. charges that Ames had been working for Moscow. Since Ames' arrest on Tuesday, Russian officials had been accusing Washington of overdramatizing the case without denying that Ames had betrayed American secrets.
However, it is not clear how Kolesnikov, as a military man, would have firsthand knowledge of sensitive espionage activities carried out by the Russian Security Ministry _ or its notorious predecessor, the KGB security service. In the past, there has been considerable tension between the Russian defense and political-security officials.
U.S. officials have charged that Ames, former head of the CIA's counterintelligence branch for the Soviet Union and Russia, had worked as a double agent for the Kremlin since 1985 and had been paid $1.5-million for the information he provided. During that period, U.S. officials have said, 10 intelligence agents spying on Moscow for the United States were exposed, and they suspect that Ames may have been responsible for the betrayal of at least some of them.
On Friday, the State Department announced it would expel Alexander Lysenko, the intelligence chief at the Russian Embassy in Washington, in reprisal for the Ames affair, and administration officials also hinted at further punitive actions.
On Saturday, a spokesman for the Russian intelligence service _ another KGB successor agency _ reiterated remarks by Russian diplomats that Moscow soon would retaliate by expelling a U.S. intelligence official from Moscow.
Ameses get top defense lawyers: Aldrich and Rosario Ames, whose lavish lifestyle allegedly was financed by $1.5-million they received as spies for Moscow, are getting the best defense money can buy from two of Washington's top criminal lawyers.
The money is coming from U.S. taxpayers.
Although the Ameses own a half-million-dollar house and have a six-figure stock portfolio, those assets were frozen by the government. So they will be represented by court-appointed lawyers.
Making $60 an hour, a fraction of his usual rate, to defend Aldrich Ames is Plato Cacheris, who has represented several high-profile clients including Oliver North's former White House secretary, Fawn Hall. She was accused of shredding documents as part of the Iran-Contra affair.
Former federal prosecutor William Cummings, who was the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Va., in the late 1970s, is representing Rosario Ames for the same fee.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Poretz declined to discuss his choices. But longtime court observers said the judge likely chose Cacheris and Cummings because a high level of expertise is needed in such a complex, delicate and highly scrutinized case.
"You don't want a bomb thrower in there, prepared to do very crazy things for no legitimate reason," said Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney. "There's going to be a lot of classified information. You don't want to have a screwball."