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'Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames' by Pete Earley

Too Many Agendas For 'Confessions' To Ring True

Sunday, February 23, 1997

By Bob Hoover, Book Editor, Post-Gazette

 
 

Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames

By Pete Earley

Putnam
$27.50

   
 

We return again to the house of mirrors, the bureau of disinformation, the world of spy vs. spy wherein nothing is to be believed except that everybody is lying.

The Aldrich Ames affair, which broke three years ago this month with the arrest of the CIA bureaucrat turned Soviet agent, rekindled a subdivision of the publishing industry called the Tom Clancy brigade.

It's made up of former journalists who covered the Cold War beat and had contacts in the defense and spy agencies. Four books on Ames were rushed into print a year later, each representing a different agency's take on the case.

For example, Peter Maas' "Killer Spy" depended heavily on the FBI, which used him to toot its own horn for catching a mole who eluded the spy agency for nearly nine years.

The CIA's image was in free fall, already reeling from the Walker spy ring and books by such Washington big-time insiders as Bob Woodward. There was also the exposure of the damaging antics of James Angleton, a CIA chief whose misguided mole hunting hurt the agency in the 1960s.

Oliver Stone's 1993 film "JFK" didn't help either, and then came charges last year that the CIA introduced crack into Los Angeles as a way to raise money for rightwing forces in Central America.

The agency's defenders, which include the nation's biggest newspapers, have been working overtime to get the CIA's side out. Americans have again been led inside the house of mirrors asking the question, "Who is telling the truth?"

Now, we have Pete Earley's revelations about Ames to add to the mix. He's a former Washington Post reporter who gained Ames' confidence and interviewed him extensively in prison. Earley also spent some time in Moscow, using Ames' name to question members of the Russian spy bureaucracy.

He also believes he's the only writer to interview the CIA's own "mole" team about its efforts to find the traitor. Previous books, particularly Maas', gave most of the credit to the FBI, but Earley cites the CIA investigators for major disclosures.

His chief contribution to the Ames case, however, is his revelation that Ames betrayed at least 20, if not 25, Soviets who were working for the CIA; earlier, "official" tallies were half as many.

Earley also stumbled on to a curious and damning incident from the 1970s that Ames helped to corroborate, at least partially. A memo from Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin that claimed Henry Kissinger advised him on ways to scuttle the SALT II talks in order to embarrass the Carter administration was obtained by the CIA, then conveniently lost to protect the former secretary of state.

Ames confirmed that a copy of the memo was cut out of a roll of microfilm in the CIA files.

Can these people be believed? Hardly. Ames has built up plenty of animosity toward the agency that employed him for more than 20 years and is also out to avenge his wife, who is also serving time in the espionage case.

And, sure, we're going to take the word of the "new" KGB, which not only benefited from Ames' work, but continued to use him after the Cold War ended.

The CIA? Wouldn't it do what it could in the way of damage control, including giving a writer access to staffers and records beneficial to its cause?

Earley loves the cloak-and-dagger world the way a cop reporter loves to ride in a squad car on a bust. It's not for everybody, particularly in this age of skeptics like myself who have learned to question the motives of governments.

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