In Washington, anxiety lingers over Aldrich Ames, the director of U.S. counterintelligence revealed as the highest-ranking Russian agent to operate in American intelligence.
Many details are still unknown, but some suspect Ames mounted a conspiracy against Jonathan Pollard to allay Panic in U.S. intelligence circles over the infiltration of a mole and to deflect all suspicion from himself.
It appears Ames spread the word about a Russian mole in Israeli intelligence and claimed Pollard was responsible for the arrest and execution of dozens of agents that Ames himself had exposed.
The UPI writer, relying on "American intelligence sources," reported that the chiefs of United States counterintelligence had learned that "sensitive intelligence material relayed to Israel by Jonathan Pollard had reached the KGB."
This past week it became clear that the false report was part of a disinformation campaign - and perhaps of a conspiracy - conducted by Aldrich Ames, Director of U.S. counterintelligence, to blame Jonathan Pollard for the arrest and execution of dozens of American agents that Ames himself had unmasked before he was recently exposed as the highest-ranking Russian agent ever to have infiltrated American intelligence.
Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 primarily because Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger alleged that he caused extensive damage to America intelligence as a result of the exposure and execution of numerous agents working for the United States in Russia.
The true story is altogether different. Like all tales of espionage and intelligence, some parts are clear and open; most are obscure, buried deep inside the safes of a half a dozen intelligence bureaus.
The obscure part is the one we aim to reconstruct, like a mosaic, from pieces of information and the evaluation of possibilities.
CIA Director of Counterintelligence Aldrich Ames was recruited in 1984 by the Russians and handsomely paid. For 10 years Ames supplied staggering amounts of information. The precise extent of the damage he caused may never be known. For the moment, what we do know is that in the early years he gave the Russians a great deal of information about the activities of U.S. intelligence agents in Russia. A good number of them, probably many dozens, were discovered, arrested and killed.
In the summer of 1984, CIA Director Bill Casey received a top secret briefing from the CIA bureau chief in Moscow concerning the collapse of the bureau. Bob Woodward, who investigated the affair, relates that the Moscow bureau chief's report resembled the opening paragraph of a spy novel.
Agents had been arrested, electronic intelligence systems rendered inoperative, and four members of the intelligence bureau in Moscow, including the undersecretary of the American Embassy, were declared personae non grata and expelled from Russia. Adolf Tulkgachev, a Soviet aeronautics and ballistics expert and CIA agent who supplied the West with copious information about sophisticated Russian weapons systems, had been arrested and executed. It appeared a general collapse had occurred. The American espionage network in Russia was virtually destroyed.
No doubt a red light flashed at the highest echelons of American intelligence with the dissolution of a major sector of their espionage network. Several began to suspect the existence of a Russian mole. But it is highly unlikely, even though the facts sound as if they came straight out of Le Carré, that anyone suspected Ames of being the mole - the very man charged with ferreting out Russian spies.
Rumors about Russian moles had circulated more than once in the intelligence agency. One of Ames's predecessors and a director of counterintelligence, the legendary James J. Angleton, was accused (falsely) by his rivals in the FBI of being a Russian agent.
It seems the investigation into the debacle in Russia created serious problems for Ames and the Russians. Ames searched frantically for a scapegoat that would keep him out of danger. The opportunity arose much sooner than he expected.
On November 22, 1985, nearly 2 years after Ames had begun working for the Russians, Jonathan Pollard was arrested and charged with spying for Israel. President Reagan was on the plane heading back for America, following a summit meeting with President Gorbachev in Geneva, when he received the top-secret FBI briefing about Pollard's arrest.
Ames received the news shortly after the President did and immediately recognized its tremendous potential and advantage. Soon thereafter Ames began assembling the file that - based on false information - was used to hold Israel responsible for leaking the data it received from Pollard to the KGB, a leak that Ames claimed blew the cover of American intelligence sources.
During the year he worked as an agent, Pollard passed on considerable intelligence to Israel about Russia weaponry in Arab states, among other things. The data about Russian arms and instructions for their use were gleaned, at least in part, from American agents in Russia.
In order to shift the blame onto Pollard and Israel for exposing the agents that Ames himself had delivered to the Russians, it was necessary to manufacture the story that a mole in Israel's Mossad was retransmitting Pollard's information to the Russians. According to Ames, the receipt of that information enabled the Russians to zero in on, and subsequently eliminate, all the agents who leaked out their information.
The Defense Department bought the story. So did Justice, since Ames's allegation was the primary basis for the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Jonathan Pollard on March 4, 1987 - an exceptionally harsh sentence when compared with those imposed on far more important and dangerous spies than Pollard.
Panic over the mole engulfed American intelligence again. Ames exploited the information he had shared on Shabtai Kalmanowitz as a Russian agent, and leaked the news about a Russian mole in the Mossad a week before Kalmanowitz was unmasked in Israel. Yet Ames was unsure if the complete collapse of the Russian intelligence network in Moscow could be wholly attributed to Pollard's activity.
Previously, the Russians had tried to deceive the Americans differently in a ploy that had proven successful in the past, whereby an agent pretends to defect to the West, discloses information, and returns to Russia once the mission is complete.
In July 1986, KGB agent Vitali Yurchenko "defected" to the West. For four months, Yurchenko had numerous conversations with Ames's boss, CIA Director Bill Casey. Yurchenko sold the Americans a large quantity of information that included some truthful data mixed with a generous dose of disinformation. The primary goal was to keep the most highly prized Russian agent - Ames - out of the line of fire.
Sacrificing an Expendable Agent
In fact, the ploy temporarily misled U.S. Intelligence. To the Americans, Yurchenko "revealed" the existence of a mole in the CIA whose code name was "Robert." With Yurchenko's descriptions of "Robert" as their guide, the CIA (who else but Ames again?) tracked down their man, Edward Lee Howard, whom the CIA had recruited in 1981.
When he was 28, he underwent intensive training to become an "agent activator", and was ready to join the Moscow CIA branch as an activator of special agents in 1983. Ames had made the appointment so that the Russians could obtain inside information about U.S. intelligence operations in Moscow. But shortly before Howard was to leave for Moscow, he underwent a polygraph test that indicated he was a liar, heavy drinker, drug user and womanizer. The profile of a consummate agent…
Howard was immediately dismissed from the agency. His training for the Moscow post afforded him considerable information, but nothing that the Russians didn't already have through Ames. For the Russians, Howard was expendable and they had no difficulty sacrificing "Robert" in order to shield their senior agent, Ames.
The FBI entered the picture. Its agents located Howard in New Mexico, where he was placed under close surveillance in order to discover who his contacts were. But "Robert", forewarned by Ames about the FBI's plans, managed to circumvent the sophisticated surveillance and slip out of the United States undetected. Several weeks later he surfaced in Moscow, which granted him political asylum.
Now the Americans had information about a mole allegedly operating in the ranks, but couldn't identify the individual to ascertain what caused the collapse of the America intelligence system in Russia.
Actually, the ever-suspicious Casey didn't buy any of the merchandise the Russians tried to sell him. At one point, it seems that despite "Robert's" exposure, suspicions about the existence of a mole within the CIA didn't abate and actually intensified. The Senate subcommittee on intelligence affairs blamed Casey for the Russia debacle and sought to investigate if another Russian mole had burrowed its way into American intelligence.
In order to stem the new wave of panic engulfing U.S. intelligence over the mole, and to deflect suspicion from himself, Ames had to heighten the accusations against Pollard, and pad them with scenarios about a Russian mole in Israel's Mossad.
Using the information he already had about Shabtai Kalmanowitz as a Russian agent, (about 2 weeks before the story was released by UPI on December 14, 1987), Ames betted astutely that the anticipated arrest of Kalmanowitz, who was in fact jailed a week after the story broke on December 23, 1987, would buttress the false report about a mole in the Mossad who leaked Pollard's information to Russia.
Today we can assess that the report about Kalmanowitz's intelligence work was also part of Ames's disinformation campaign. For the Russians, it paid to sacrifice scum, and Kalmanowitz was no better than that, in order to magnify Pollard's "horrendous" guilt and keep Ames out of the limelight.
Meanwhile, staff changes took place at the KGB, and the new staff was no longer interested continuing the game with the same players. Ames became the chief party in the intelligence operation and specifically chief architect of a defense to prevent his exposure. To that end, he had to sabotage any attempt to free Pollard.
As far as Ames was concerned, Pollard's release could revive certain questions that might blow his cover. Ames's precise role in Pollard's suffering can only be determined when full details emerge during his trial. But even at this stage, the Government of Israel should demand the immediate release of Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard's Information Did Not Reach the Russians
Rafti Eitan was director of the Office of Scientific Liaison that activated Jonathan Pollard.
Maariv: Does the news currently gaining publicity in the States as well, that Ames exploited the Pollard affair to shift the blame for the collapse of the U.S. intelligence network in Russia onto Israel and Pollard, sound plausible to you?
Eitan: "Yes. Absolutely."
Maariv: Is there any basis to the accusation that Pollard's information reached the KGB through Israel?
Eitan: "To the best of my knowledge, not even one dot of Pollard's material reached the Russians."
Maariv: Is Ames the highest-ranking Russian spy to have been exposed within the U.S. intelligence establishment?
Eitan: "Without a doubt, one of the highest."