Sunday, April 4, 2010

1995 Account of CIA Mole Yields Historical and Organizational Insight

Betrayal:: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy is a fifteen-year-old account of a generally incompetent, alcoholic and cynical CIA agent who, in the throes of an expensive divorce and remarriage, began passing highly classified information to the KGB, the Soviet Union's predominant state security and espionage organization.   In 1985, the first year of his treason, he exposed about a dozen Soviet double agents, condemning them to imprisonment, interrogation and death.  In few short years, his work led to the destruction of the entire network of Soviet CIA collaborators, each of whom had lost faith in the KGB or the Soviet system as a whole, and entrusted their lives to the CIA.

"Betrayal" is also a gripping recollection of the end of the Cold War, including the Iran-Contra affair, US support of the predecessors to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It also recounts the some of the intricate competition between the CIA and KGB.  For example, in 1986 KGB worked to divert CIA attention from Ames by arranging the seduction and compromise of  US Marine embassy guards Clayton Lonetree and Arnold Bracy in Moscow.

The most noteworthy part of the book is not the Cold War intrigue or Ames' perfidy, but rather the organizational inertia of the CIA, an elite organization with many highly-educated and well-connected employees.   Despite the carnage of intelligence sources and Ames' almost constant irresponsible, suspicious and drunken behavior, it was 1991 before the CIA began looking for a mole in its ranks, and 1994 before the FBI arrested Ames and his wife.  While the CIA is particularly burdened by the need for secrecy, most organizations and industries guard their internal affairs carefully.  Without effective external controls, reviews and cross-pollination, any organization or industry can enter a moral and perceptual reality of its own making.   Paul Krugman recently wrote that Wall Street requires adult supervision.  So does any other human endeavor.

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