Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Aldrich and Rosario Ames are close to agreement on guilty pleas in the couple's espionage case, sources familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.
The agreement could come as early as next week, the sources said.
"How much time she will spend in prison" is at the heart of the discussions, according to one source. Neither prosecutors nor the couple's attorneys, William B. Cummings and Plato Cacheris, would comment.
Aldrich Ames, a 31-year CIA counterintelligence officer, faces a life prison term for delivering sensitive documents to the Soviet Union and Russia during the last nine years. Government officials say his actions may have cost the lives of up to 10 U.S.-paid Soviet citizens, and prosecutors have said in court that the couple received at least $2.7 million from Moscow.
The sources said that Ames is reconciled to spending the rest of his life in prison but wants a deal that would permit his Colombian-born wife, who also faces a life sentence, to be released within a reasonable amount of time to take care of their 5-year-old son, Paul. They said that Ames, 52, recognizes that he will have to cooperate fully with prosecutors and take part in an exhaustive CIA debriefing to determine the damage done in what authorities have called the worst security breach in the intelligence agency's history. Although discussions concerning Aldrich Ames have proceeded smoothly, dealings with his wife have been influenced by her resistance to spending any time in prison, sources said. She has been unpredictable, wavering between accepting responsibility and denying any involvement, according to the sources.
Rosario Ames, 41, appeared to lay the groundwork in three interviews in recent days for her eventual release. She would not discuss the case against her, but strongly denied stories that she was a paid CIA informer recruited by Ames while she worked for the Colombian Embassy in Mexico City. She said she never provided the CIA with information about her native Colombia, leading government investigators to believe she expects to one day return there.
Sources said the plea negotiations, which have unfolded in the last five weeks, frequently have invoked the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard and his wife, Anne, who were arrested in November 1985 on charges of delivering secret government documents to Israel. Pollard, a former Navy counterintelligence analyst, got a life prison term for conspiracy to commit espionage, and his wife was given a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to lesser charges.
Anne Pollard, according to the government's case, had a code name and provided signals to her husband in case of danger. After he was caught, she tried to hide evidence. [J4JP: Not true! Anne Pollard did not have a code name. She was never accused of being part of the operation. She was convicted of being an accessory after the fact in that she was aware of Jonathan's activities on behalf of Israel, and she failed to alert the authorities.]
In contrast, Rosario Ames has told the FBI that she did not know of her husband's activities until 1991, according to court testimony. In talks with prosecutors, her attorney has argued that Rosario Ames was not as culpable as Anne Pollard and should be treated accordingly.
However, government sources said that the damage caused by the Pollards is far less than the harm done in the Ameses' case. "No one died as a result of the Pollards," one government source said. [J4JP: This is true! Why then do unnamed Government officials continue to falsely claim otherwise in the media, but never in a court of law where Jonathan Pollard would be able to challenge these lies? What motivates these lies? Hatred of Israel? Hatred of Pollard? Hatred of American Jews? Given the relentlessness of the disinformation campaign against Jonathan throughout the years, it is clear that he figures prominently in a war in the shadows aimed at calling into question both the loyalty of the Jewish community and the propriety of the U.S.-Israel special relationship.]
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. Hulkower, who is prosecuting the case, would not discuss either the Pollard or Ames's cases yesterday.
Ames and his wife have been in the Alexandria jail since their arrests Feb. 21. Attorneys on both sides agreed Thursday to delay any indictment of the couple until at least may 13 to permit further negotiations.
A plea agreement would benefit both sides.
Defendants avoid indictment and trial in which they likely would be convicted, which, in Rosario Ames's case, could mean significantly more prison time. Prosecutors are relieved of the requirement to give the defense vast amounts of classified information and then reveal it at a trial. A trial not only would be costly but could embarrass the CIA and possibly other government agencies.
In addition, information that Ames would provide the government as part of his plea bargain could help the CIA and FBI in pursuing and possibly prosecuting other potential moles within the U.S. intelligence community.