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Betrayal:: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy Hardcover – June 6, 1995

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Editorial Reviews Review

Aldrich Ames, according to this account by a team of New York Times reporters, was an incompetent, office-bound, alcoholic spy in the middle of an undistinguished career. Even so, he was promoted to lead the counterintelligence branch of the CIA's central Soviet division, and there, in 1983, he began calling for the files on every important CIA operation involving Soviet spies in every corner of the world. He sold these files to the Soviets in order to fund tastes not appropriate to his salary; dozens of U.S. operatives were exposed, and many were killed.

Until his arrest and conviction for espionage in 1994, Ames received nearly $3 million for his treason, about which he was quite unsubtle. Yet the CIA took years to wonder why Ames could afford an expensive home in a Washington, D.C., suburb and frequent weekend trips to Europe. The agency was so slow to act, the authors suggest, because its leadership was more concerned with institutional self-preservation than with doing its job properly. This suspenseful book draws on interviews with Ames himself to show that major housecleaning is in order at Langley.

From Publishers Weekly

This New York Times reporting team's taut, riveting, remarkably vivid account of former CIA agent Aldrich Ames's treason, arrest and 1994 conviction as a mole for Moscow reads like a spy thriller. The Wisconsin-born son of a history professor-turned-CIA-agent, Ames, depicted here as a slovenly, procrastinating, inept, mediocre, alcoholic bureaucrat, rose to become counterintelligence chief of the CIA's Soviet division. In 1985, he revealed to the KGB the identities of 12 Soviet intelligence officers who were secretly working for the CIA. Despite the ensuing wave of KGB arrests and executions, the CIA would not acknowledge that someone within its ranks was a traitor, and the agency's slapdash mole-hunt made progress only after 1991, when the FBI was called in to crack the case. Through hours of jailhouse interviews with Ames, sentenced to life without parole, the authors establish greed as his overriding motive-he stashed away $2 million in payoffs from Moscow in secret bank accounts. This is an amazing tale of institutional hubris and bungling. Photos.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (June 6, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067944050X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679440505
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tim Weiner has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his reporting and writing on American national security. As a correspondent for The New York Times, he covered the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon in Washington, and reported on war and terrorism from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, and many other nations over the course of 15 years.

His new book, ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, was hailed as "[an] eye-opening study of Richard Nixon's booze-soaked, paranoid White House years and the endless tragedies they wrought" by Kirkus Reviews prior to publication. "It speaks volumes about Nixon that there is still more to learn about him, 40-plus years after Watergate. It speaks further volumes that what we are learning is even worse than what we knew."

Publisher's Weekly said ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD is a "devastating account of Nixon's presidency, drawing on documents declassified in the last seven years.... Chilling excerpts from tape recordings that have only recently been made accessible include cold-blooded exchanges between Nixon and [Henry] Kissinger in which the two debate the merits of committing war crimes in order to win in Vietnam. This is powerful raw material, but Weiner's brilliant turns of phrase transform it into something extraordinary."

His previous books include ENEMIES, a history of the FBI acclaimed as "fascinating" by The Wall Street Journal. LEGACY OF ASHES, his chronicle of the CIA, won the 2007 National Book Award; it was a bestseller across the United States and around the world. He has lectured at the CIA, universities, political think tanks, and Presidential libraries. He directs the Carey Institute's nonfiction residency program in upstate New York and teaches as the 2015 Anschutz Distinguished Fellow in American Studies at Princeton.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ryan W. on September 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Betrayal" is the perfect book for readers interested in espionage but rusty on their Cold War history. It's also a welcome change to fans of Current Events and True Crime books tired of the mediocre research and rampant overwriting endemic to each genre. The authors wisely stick to the case at hand and introduce background only as it pertains to Aldrich Ames. In this way they avoid the odious True Crime approach of devoting multiple chapters to the family tree and childhood of their subject. Better still, the writers do not take undue authority by stating what motivated Ames; rather, they present aspects of the spy's life, such as alcoholism and a faltering marriage, as evidence of what made him tick. Not only do the authors practice good journalism, they respect their readers enough to avoid padding out the book with meandering anecdotes in lieu of characterization. Instead of slogging through forty pages about Ames's high school grades, the reader gets four or five pages of concise and useful detail on U.S.-Soviet relations of importance to this case. It's a shame this book is out of print. It's lean style, respect for relevancy, and use of on-the-record sources make it the most credible study of Aldrich Ames and an enjoyable read years after its release. On a final note, this book should be available second-hand in a normal size format and for less than five dollars. Look around. If you actually found this review it will be worth your time.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 22, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I've read every book on the Aldrich Ames case (including a new one that recently came out) and I must say that this book was the most difficult one to put down. The story reads like one you would expect from professional journalists -- well documented, precise, and interesting from beginning to end. If I had to recommend one book on this pathetic case of espionage, it would be a "no-brainer" -- get _Betrayal_!!
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By southpaw68 VINE VOICE on April 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I picked up Betrayal on a whim and although I was initially just casually interested, I was surprised how engaging the book was from first sentence to last.

I learned a lot about how this bureacracy worked during the time of Aldrich Ames' treason. I was amazed that hardly anyone was even fired even if they were an incompetent, lazy, dissatisfied, alcoholic misfit like Ames was. Even though Ames wasn't very good at his job, he still expected to be promoted. Amazingly, he was, even into some very sensitive areas where he could do the most damage. Ames' dissatisfaction with his job and the agency was one of the reasons he began working for the "other spy company", the KGB. He thought that all the spy games were meaningless.

Some interesting moral situations are brought up such as when a Soviet diplomat is entrapped by making him look like he is traitor to his country, when he isn't, so that he would be forced to spy for the US. Soviets who betrayed their corrupt country were praised as heroes in the US, but were executed in the USSR. It brings up questions of how loyal you should be to your country. Also, the CIA is supposed to be devious in another country, but expected to be totally honest when dealing with US government. Lastly, defectors can't be considered honest or sincere, they could still be spies. I can see how someone could end up morally warped after awhile.

The CIA didn't want to face the reality that they had a mole in their own camp working against them, so the investigation took years to pinpoint Ames. One guy did think so, but it was generally viewed as too paranoid a viewpoint, even in this place where people are paid to be paranoid. But eventually the paranoid proved to be right, which is heartening for all us paranoids out there.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Raghu Nathan on April 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Aldrich Ames was an American spy who turned traitor and served the USSR from deep inside his position in the CIA headquarters in Washington DC. He helped the KGB nab the CIA's many Soviet spies who operated from Moscow and many other European capitals. He is billed as the most notorious American spy ever. This book slowly takes you through the nine years during which Ames met with his Soviet KGB handlers in DC, Bogota and Rome and supplied them with the names of Soviet spies who operated for the CIA thereby helping the KGB nab them all and send them to the firing squads. The CIA was flummoxed for eight years as to how they are losing their prize assets. They had little clue that there was a mole right in their headquarters in DC. Finally, they call in the FBI and share the full details with them. Over the next nine months, the FBI, through painstaking efforts, zero in on Aldrich Ames as the mole and arrest him.
The book is written in fast-paced style and rings with authenticity. All the players are identified with their real names and the espionage drama is brought out with absorbing detail at the end of the cold war. It makes no bones about the blunders and bloomers of the CIA as well. Contrary to the James Bond thrillers, Aldrich Ames turns out to be an ordinary spy who is sloppy in his work and drinks his way to stardom. He leaves behind a lot of clues to his treacherous endeavors but the CIA remains simply oblivious to his deeds in spite of losing most of their prized assets over just 24 months.

There are a number of aspects in this sordid episode that I found very interesting.
1. Early on in his training, Ames went through his routine psychological tests. His evaluators apparently reported that he lacked the 'right stuff' to make it as a spy!
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