The 4 Dumbest Blunders by the CIA’s Worst Agent
Aldrich Ames is a liar, a traitor and a drunk. But his worst sin of all? Nepotism.
Well, his worst sin was probably handing over like a dozen CIA agents to the KGB. But more on that later.
Ames’ father was himself a pretty terrible CIA agent, who got Aldrich his first job shuffling classified documents — something they used to trust high school interns with, for some reason. This set in motion a long career of being handed way more authority and trust than he deserved.
Watch “The Secret Agent the CIA Hopes You Never Learn About,” the latest episode of Honest History, to find out about Ames’ meteoric rise from high school intern to KGB double agent. And continue reading below for a quick rundown of some of his dumbest, cruelest blunders.
He Was Distracted by His Love of Theater
Ames never wanted to be a CIA agent, or a Soviet double agent. He wanted to be a star! After three years interning for the CIA, he went off to the University of Chicago, where he was so preoccupied with the extracurricular theater scene, he failed out of the History Department. He spent a couple years working for a Chicago theater, but ultimately gave in to his destiny, moving back to Washington to do the exact same work he did in high school, only now as a 20-something college dropout.
He Left Classified Information on the New York City Subway
Not to worry — he wouldn’t be a desk jockey for long. He failed his way right up the ladder to more exciting roles. For example: handling two high-profile Soviet assets in New York City. Here he was, doing spy shit, in the middle of the Cold War; surely this mediocre nepo baby rose to the occasion!
That depends on what you mean, exactly. Would you consider leaving a briefcase full of classified documents on the subway “rising to the occasion”? Apparently, the CIA would, because they gave him a finger wag and several more promotions.
His Master Plan? Get Drunk, Tell Secrets
He eventually bumped up against a glass ceiling at the CIA. He was promoted to Head of Soviet Counterintelligence in 1983, and there was no higher for him to soar — unless, of course, he made a lateral move. He was hard-up for cash after a divorce, which is all it took to make him go full double-agent. He freely offered up some random classified info to the KGB, asking for $50,000 in return, which they gladly forked over. Once that pipeline was in place, he’d stuff it full of sensitive information until the day he got caught.
He sold out about a dozen CIA agents and assets, in the most cartoonishly inept way possible. First, he’d get pants-shitting drunk, in order to assuage the guilt he felt over getting his compatriots straight-up murdered. He’d then meet up with his KGB handlers, party a little more, and if he were still conscious, he’d enact his brilliant scheme: walk into the Russian embassy with a briefcase full of documents, and walk out with a cigar box full of cash. A true master of disguise!
With a foolproof plan like that, how did he ever get caught?
He Dressed Better Than His Boss
He had such a long track record of sucking at his job, no one really got suspicious when his reports started disappearing. What tipped off his co-workers was the lavish lifestyle he suddenly maintained, on his $60,000 salary. He fixed up his house, fixed up his teeth, got a new whip and started wearing bespoke suits.
Suddenly, it all clicked. As Agent Sandra Grimes put it: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you what is going on here. Rick is a goddamn Russian spy.” He was intercepted just before a big trip to Moscow, briefly maintained his innocence, then ultimately admitted to compromising “virtually all” of the people and information he knew. He’s currently serving a life sentence in federal prison, and presumably killing it at the prison talent show.
Aldrich Ames proved that you really can make a difference in the world, with nothing but a little confidence, a lot of alcohol and a father in the CIA.
Watch “The Secret Agent the CIA Hopes You Never Learn About,” and the rest of our new series, Honest History, to learn more about all the coolest shit they never taught you in school.