A History of Treason


Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodies: Who Watches the Watchmen?

After the Second Great War, the world was split into two ideological power bases, the liberal, democratic West led by the United States of America and the Communist East led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This era was known as the Cold War and for decades the two superpowers had conducted a global conflict that involved secret operations, sabotage, betrayal, and wars fought by the superpowers’ satellite states and allies. The Cold War seemed like a war with no end, for the superpowers fought a war where ideas, cunning, and tactical knowledge of the enemy proved more critical than bullets shot through a rifle. It was simply a war with no end in sight.

But the Cold War did end.

In November 9th, 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. In October 3rd, 1990 Germany is reunited. In Christmas Day, 1991, the Soviet Union fell and the United States was left the sole superpower left in the world. Within that three year period, the Soviet Union had collapsed by the pressure created by its own polices of Perestroika and Glasnost, had splintered into multiple, infant democracies, and finally, had signaled the failure of its radical, global communism as a viable ideology.

Apparently, Aldrich Ames had never gotten the memo nor did he care it was the end of global communism. The money was good and as long as it flowed he didn’t care where it came from. He would commit treason with the hope his money pipeline would not cease.


Aldrich Ames began working for the CIA in 1962 and until 1985 was a loyal member of the CIA. Ames’ career in the Central Intelligence Agency was one that specialized in the knowledge and the assessment of the Russian/Soviet Intelligence agencies. He was fluent in Russian and was a member of the Operations Directorate (now the National Clandestine Service). While in the Operations Directorate, his role, ironically, was to scout, recruit, and handle prospective agents out of Soviet officials and to extract critical information from those agents. He had only one minor success in Ankara, Turkey in his earlier role as a CIA operator.

However, in 1974 and 1978, he was handed crucial handling missions that were critical, praiseworthy successes, the latter being the highest-level Eastern defection to the West, Soviet UN Ambassador Arkady Nikolaevich Shevchenko.

After being passed for promotion a few times, Ames’ most prominent position in the CIA, was as an officer of the CIA European Division’s Counter-Intelligence Branch, whose role was the responsibility of directing analysis of Soviet Intelligence. In this capacity, Ames was in the position of knowing the identities and locations of US agents within the Soviet Union and their operational capabilities.

Ames, then, had the perfect position in which to betray his country: he was deeply embedded within the command structure of the Counter-Intelligence arm of the CIA, had the highest level of access to classified and secret CIA documents, he had the ability to cover his own tracks without suspicion due to his office, and he had intimate operational knowledge of American activities within the Soviet Union. With these perks, which gave him the greatest penetration into the CIA and the protection afforded by his position, he would prove to be the greatest intelligence asset the Soviet Union had during the Cold War.


On April 16, 1985, Ames secretly met with Soviet officials in the Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C. There, he had given the names of many U.S. sources within the Soviet Union. Within the early years of their relationship, Ames had given names of operatives he knew were double agents under the employ of the USSR and minor US operations within the USSR. His rationale was to give quick, harmless information for a quick sum of $50,000. He did not care about the repercussions of trading the information because the information was not significant enough to be a major national security issue for the US. Those exposed in his first report to the Soviet Union were either imprisoned or executed by Soviet authorities.

Upon receiving his first payment from the KGB, Ames could not give up the chance to gain quick money at the expense of Uncle Sam. In the summer of the same year he first began his relationship with the Soviet Union, he began to trade significant information on FBI and CIA HUMINT sources within the Soviet Union. The same year the CIA began noticing high-amounts of compromised operations within the USSR and had assumed that defector Edward Lee Howard was guilty of the compromises. Ames was safe and he continued living lavishly at his home with his co-conspirator wife.

His spying continued, but he had one folly. He wasn’t a bright accountant and did very little to cover his expenditures. There was a money trail and this would sow the seeds of his downfall.

In 1994, this money trail was uncovered and Ames was uncovered as a Soviet and later Russian double agent inside the CIA. In total, he had gotten around $2 million after being caught and was earmarked with another $2 Million dollars from Russian Intelligence. He was caught and found guilty of treason and charged with life imprisonment.


As a result of his role as a major source for the Soviet Union and its successor governments, Ames is considered as the most dangerous and volatile traitor the US government has ever uncovered. In his role, he had compromised over a hundred US intelligence operations within the Soviet Union, which resulted in disruption, imprisonment, and executions of CIA human assets within the Soviet Union.

But what really comes to mind, especially involvement the case of Aldrich Ames, is the prime concern about who is watching the watchmen? Ames was the worst case scenario for the US Intelligence Counter-Intelligence Arms. He was a man who had unrestricted access to all CIA operations and operators within the Soviet Union and he was in the most trusted of all CIA directorates. With very little over-sight, he had done over ten years of damage to the CIA. By the time they had uncovered their culprit the damage was done and the losses irrecoverable.


“How could the CIA be infiltrated at such a high level? How can this be prevented from happening again?”

When Ames was uncovered as a double agent in the employ of the Soviet Union the CIA felt that it was dealt a double blow, they were infiltrated at the highest of levels and the damage that was done compromised the most crucial geographical operation during the Cold War. What was the most frightening Ames’s practice had survived after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Therefore, since the whole Ames debacle, the CIA has taken more precautions to prevent further betrayal. In conjunction with earlier periodical polygraph tests, the CIA now compartmentalizes and sub-compartmentalizes important information. By compartmentalizing information to a need to know basis, the CIA gives certain officers certain information that is important to their part of the mission but part of a greater, overall mission. Therefore, the access to information an agent has would not be similar to the amount of access Ames had. For the adversary, then, in order to compromise future CIA missions would still be possible, but more difficult because the information is diffused through different sections and sub-sections and they would need more informants, therefore more funding, to put together the puzzle.

All those are on the operational level, but the best way to prevent treason is to understand why people betray there governments and how to prevent further defections. In the past, people have turned more frequently because of ideological, ethnic, religious, the need for excitement or vengeful reasons. Since the 1980s, however, the motive has been for monetary reasons. Greed and the need for a lavish life-style, then, is often the greater motivator than ideals or loyalty for spies.

In order to conduct the best counter-intelligence and to prevent or counter the desire for agents to turn traitor, the CIA must adapt some guidelines similar to James Olson’s Ten Commandments of Counter-Intelligence:

Be Offensive: The CIA must be pro-active in its search of moles and double agents.

Honor the Professionals: The CIA needs to dispel disgruntlement within its ranks and recognize the work each officer does and ensure that such recognition comes in the form of juicier assignments, praise or awards.

Owning the Street: Olson speaks of not conceding to the enemy a single inch of safety and security while within our cities and towns, therefore, our CI will have to gain the initiative to work on uncovering adversarial meeting areas and safe houses. What the CIA can do in a similar capacity is be sure other agents aren’t doing something they otherwise would not do.

Know your History:  It would be prudent for the CIA to learn from history that it does repeat itself, and that people such as Ames and Howard examples of corruption and treason. It is the obligation for the CIA to study the failures of the past, reflect on these failures, and to counter them from being repeated again.

Don’t Ignore Analysis: In CI, Olson writes that this area has been heavily understaffed and that field operators, no matter how hard they try, make poor analysts. Simply put, the more reactive, passive analyst is an important part of the CIA and has the key to most of the information the CIA holds. The lesson here is to make sure they feel their job is important and not surpassed by their impulsive, pro-active operational colleagues.

Don’t be Parochial: Stop inner-conflict within the CIA and create an atmosphere of cooperation.

Train Officers: CIA must invest in training counter-intelligence officers with as much importance as case officers, analysts, or other specialists. Therefore, it should prove prudent that the CIA train its officers with basic courses of counter-intelligence.

Don’t be shoved aside: More of a counter-intelligence problem than an overall CIA problem, Olson states that there are enemies within and outside the intelligence community that would stop at no end to deter CI officers from doing their job. CI officers should continue to be the inquisitors and zealots with the mission to uncover traitors.

Rotate: Agents from the other arms of the CIA should receive tours of duty within CI operations, in order to inform them of the overall importance of career counter-intelligence officers.

NEVER GIVE UP: Through adversity or moments of failure, the CIA agent never gives up his mission and commission to defend the United States from her enemies and his duty to strengthen the US by any means necessary.


In the case of Aldrich Ames, the US learned of a traitor within their own ranks and dealt with Ames before he could further destroy the CIA from within. They could not prevent his fall from grace nor could they stop the harm that had already been wrought. They learned that it wasn’t simply ideology or principle that motivated one to betray their countrymen (as most Soviet to American defectors and agents had sought) but the sin of greed that led Ames and traitors like him through the pipeline of treason. The CIA would learn how to confront this, for itself needed to create armour against such adversity.

Juvenal wrote in his satires about the problem of who watches the watchmen, as there is very little oversight for those who watch and defend our countrymen. His concern was left with what people would do when given enough power over others. This is an important question for the CIA to answer because their watchman Ames had failed in his duty to protect and had betrayed his organization.

The answer is simple:

Without trust amongst the Watchmen, then the Watchmen must now watch amongst themselves and keep vigilant against their enemies from within and without.