Magazine article The Spectator

La Dolce Vita Costs Lives

Magazine article The Spectator

La Dolce Vita Costs Lives

Article excerpt

The life of Aldrich Ames followed the trajectory of America's rise to global empire. Born seven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Rick Ames grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin, where his grandfather was president of the local college. His father was a dreamy ne'er-do-well, whose interest in South-east Asia landed him a job as CIA case officer. For three years the Ames family lived on an unaccustomed scale of luxury in Burma, but Rick's father proved a failure as an officer. Summoned back to a desk job in Washington, the senior Ames proceeded to drink himself to death.

It took more than personal and professional failure to dissuade the Ameses from believing in their superiority, and Rick, although his school performance was mediocre, saw himself as the hero of many a cloak-and-dagger mystery. Early on he learned to play a part, or rather many parts, and most of his closest friends from high school were never sure they really knew him. Failing in his brief acting career, he took to the bottle until his father rescued him by setting up a clerical job in the CIA. In 1967, after graduating from George Washington University, he was admitted to the agency's Junior Officers' Training Programme. He married a fellowofficer and spent two undistinguished years in Turkey.

Like his father, Rick Ames found it difficult to recruit agents, but he always attributed his failures to the stupidity and careerism of his superiors. His successes, such as they were, came when he was assigned to handle Russian agents with whom he struck up a rapport that turned into friendship. These were the men whose death sentences he wrote after he went to work for the KGB.

Ames's life story might have been written by John Le Carre, who would not have been content with Mr Early's technique of stitching together quotations and interviews into an incoherent pastiche. What is valuable in his book is the investigative research and the persistent digging into the question of why Ames betrayed his country and his colleagues. Ames always acknowledged that the primary motive was money. By 1985, when he offered to sell himself for a down payment of $50,000, he was divorced and remarried to an impoverished Colombian aristocrat. Rosario Ames had always lived with rich people, but her father was the rare Latin American politician who did not amass a personal fortune. Paying off his first wife and setting up a new home cost money, and Rosario began to develop expensive tastes, which were subsidised by payments from the KGB.

In Rome, Ames exchanged his discountstore blazer and polyester trousers for silk suits; he had his tobacco-stained teeth capped, and the couple began to live, if not the good life, at least la dolce vita. …

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