Aldrich Ames

updated 12/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

In the eyes of his CIA bosses, Aldrich "Rick" Ames was a failure as a spy. During a 32-year career, he had earned a reputation for sloth and on-the-job boozing. It turns out, however, that Ames was a devastatingly effective agent—for the Soviet Union. Last February, in the worst scandal in CIA history, Ames, now 53, was arrested for passing secrets to the Russians. Over a nine-year period, in exchange for $2.5 million, he exposed more than 100 intelligence operations. The information he sold led to the execution of 10 top operatives. "They died," said CIA director R. James Woolsey "because this warped, murdering traitor wanted a bigger house and a Jaguar."

Almost as astonishing as the damage Ames did were the warning signs the CIA ignored. The agency suspected it had a mole in its midst, yet ignored the fact that Ames and his wife, Rosario, 42, were living the high life on his $69,000 salary. In 1989, they paid cash for a $540,000 Arlington, Va., home and filled it with expensive art. Ames was caught after he carelessly tossed a secret document into his home trash bin in 1993.

Last October, Rosario—who knew of Rick's activities—was sentenced to five years and three months. Now serving a life term without parole in Pennsylvania's Allenwood prison, Ames seems to have only one regret: that the Soviets so quickly arrested the agents he named, thus tipping off the agency to his betrayal. Had I known they were going to do that...," he said in a jail-house interview, "I would have passed them out one by one."

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