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Russia paid spy $2.7-million, U.S. says

Published Mar. 2, 1994|Updated Oct. 6, 2005

The government on Tuesday revealed a wealth of new details about its espionage case against Aldrich Ames and his wife, including a financial statement from Moscow listing $2.7-million in payments and a nine-page letter that prosecutors said was a shopping list of American secrets the Kremlin wanted Ames to steal.

The documents were disclosed in a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Barry Poretz, who ordered Ames and his wife, Rosario, held without bail. The judge concluded that the government had provided probable cause to hold them on charges they conspired to commit espionage, a crime punishable by life in prison.

The paper trail offered in court Tuesday presented an almost serio-comic espionage operation. A man whom government lawyers depict as skilled enough in the arts of spying to slip off unnoticed to Vienna, Bogota and Caracas to meet his contacts left scores of highly compromising papers and files where authorities could easily find them, in a box in the back of a closet in his study and on a computer diskette.

One of the documents disclosed Tuesday was a balance sheet, apparently from a contact in Moscow, that was addressed to Ames as "Dear Friend."

It said that as of May 1, 1989, Ames had received $2.7-million, far more than the $1.5-million prosecutors originally estimated that Ames had been paid over the nine years in which they say he was a mole for the Kremlin.

At the hearing, federal investigator Leslie Wiser, testified about the nine-page letter sent to Ames in the mid-1980s, which the investigator described as a "tasking list" from Moscow.

"They were well aware of their priorities," Wiser said. "They wanted information on the CIA's penetration of their intelligence services, the KGB and the GRU, the military intelligence service."

Also Tuesday, intelligence officials and members of Congress said the CIA actually first became aware that Ames might be a Soviet mole nearly seven years ago, but failed to focus on evidence pointing at him until last year.

They said the CIA took two years to question Ames about a 1989 tip that he was living far beyond his means. Another year passed before the agency tried to verify his response that his wife had inherited money.

The investigation finally intensified in 1992, the officials said, when Ames committed an act so careless that he betrayed himself, traveling to Venezuela after telling his superiors that he was going to Colombia to visit his mother-in-law.

But not until June 1993 did the CIA's internal-security officers search Ames' office at the agency.

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