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Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed Hardcover – October 15, 2012
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“The authors provide intriguing insights into the background and tradecraft of a number of productive operations the CIA ran against the GRU and KGB from the 1960s through the 1980s. They also show how, when operations went wrong or were compromised by traitors, sources paid with their lives. Circle of Treason has the advantage of being written by two intelligence professionals, not by academics or journalists, and thus is an authoritative account of the Soviet sources that were providing the U.S. with invaluable information during the Cold War until Ames betrayed them. Because classified material on operational cases was going to be made public, the CIA took over three years to approve the book's publication. The authors note that 90% of the disputes were resolved in their favor.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“What makes this volume interesting is that it was written by longtime CIA insiders, who saw firsthand how the agency’s network inside the Soviet Union crumbled. They write authentic sketches of agents working for the CIA who were betrayed by Ames, such as Dmitriy Polyakov, a general in the GRU (Soviet military intelligence), the highest-ranking Soviet official in uniform to spy for the United States during the Cold War, who was arrested and executed after Ames identified him. This book adds an insider perspective to the bookshelf…” ―The Washington Post
"[A] fine book which is gripping without any pyrotechnics, a story that could not be told except by the women who brought Ames down.” ― The Dispatch (Columbus, MS)
"All in all, Circle of Treason is a disturbing read, but an essential one for anyone interested in the intricate detail work involved in a counterintelligence investigation ― and a tribute to two women who helped push it to a conclusion.” ― The Washington Times
“Circle of Treason is an enormously important account of a complex, often frustrating, case written by those who did much of the work to break it.” ―Studies in Intelligence
"In a brutally frank account of CIA traitor Aldrich Ames's career, Grimes, a 26-year veteran of the CIA's Clandestine Service, and Vertefeuille, a long-time CIA counterintelligence officer, pull back the curtain on the hunt for an American who spent years working for the KGB without being discovered. Espionage buffs will love the details taken from previously classified CIA files, as well as a penetrating view of him as an "All-American boy" and spy. Well-researched and written in a clear, no-frills style, this fascinating Cold War saga will allow any American without a security clearance to better understand how Aldrich Ames could have become one of the most damaging moles in U.S. intelligence history."
“Writing with inside knowledge and access, retired CIA officers Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille bring clarity and vivid color to the complex and often misunderstood story of the Aldrich Ames spy case. They were involved, supporting CIA’s most important cases in the Soviet Union, first witnessing the arrests of valuable agents and then uncovering Ames’ treachery with hard work and brilliant insights. Circle of Treason is a page-turner, the real story a thousand times more interesting than spy novels and fictional movies.”
―Burton Gerber, retired CIA operations officer, co-editor of and contributor to Transforming U.S. Intelligence and Vaults Mirrors and Masks: Rediscovering U.S. Counterintelligence
“You can now read the insiders’ own, long-awaited account of the unmasking and capture of Aldrich Ames, the most notorious and damaging CIA officer to ever work as a KGB mole inside the Agency. This is the team that caught him. This is the story of how they did it. His betrayal greatly damaged U.S. national security, led to the executions of at least 8 courageous Soviet intelligence officers, and roiled the U.S. Intelligence Community for years. No picture of this infamous case is complete without this gripping narrative by the investigators themselves.”
―Peter Earnest, Executive Director, International Spy Museum
“A story that only two CIA mole hunters could tell, Circle of Treason fills the gaps in earlier books, giving readers a vivid, behind-the-scenes account of how America’s worst CIA traitor, Aldrich Ames, was unmasked. Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille put human faces on his many victims, revealing important details about their personal lives, motivations, and the incredible secrets they provided us that cost them imprisonment or their lives. A thoroughly researched and riveting, must read.”
―Pete Earley, author of Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames
“Only the authors of Circle of Treason could write this fascinating insider account, which not only deals with their tenacious, painstaking pursuit of the CIA's most damaging spy but also reveals the extraordinary efforts the CIA took to ensure the safety of its sources fighting the oppressive Soviet regime. This is essential reading for intelligence professionals and for anyone interested in the day-to-day reality behind Cold War espionage.”
―Michael Sulick, former Director of CIA’s National Clandestine Service
About the Author
Sandra V. Grimes was a twenty-six year veteran of CIA’s Clandestine Service who spent the majority of her career working against the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Born in New York State and spent her childhood and formative years in Colorado. Joined the CIA in July 1967 shortly after graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Russian. A mother of two grown daughters and four grandchildren, currently lives in Great Falls, Virginia with her husband of forty-plus years.
Jeanne Vertefeuille was a CIA officer during the Cold War 1954-1992, specializing in the Soviet target, particularly in the Counterintelligence area. She led the small task force which resulted in the arrest of Soviet mole Aldrich Ames in 1994. Subsequently served on contract as an analyst 1993-present and lives in McLean, VA.
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Top Customer Reviews
The authors - Vertefeuille&Grimes - two tenacious and experienced CIA officers made a superb team (supported by many other colleagues) and wrote, with authority and convinction, a book with many priceless stories.
What makes this book so compelling is that almost every word is true, but, by no means, a complete picture of many Cold War episodes, as you can see below.
The book starts in the first two chapters with a personal description of authors' careers, a fine team as I said, after a short, but explanatory, preface.
In chapter three we were provided with an insightful look and general overview of SE (Soviet and East European) division operations.
Starting with chapter 4 and continuing with the next two, we're providing with the best account about Polyakov case, the GRU general receiving a special attention from the authors and a special dedication at the beginning of the book.
The facts are as detailed as possible, but omitted one important factor - the death of one of Polyakov sons in US, because he was not allowed, by his superiors, to carry out a life-saving surgical operation in a US hospital (Cherkashin&Feifer/Spy Handler) a fact emerging in revenge on the Soviet system, a key element in supporting his double life.
I liked the story of Walt Lomac, an example of personal integrity, in the clash with his CIA superiors about Polyakov bona fide (page 33-34).
Major spy cases are presented in a genuine manner in the next two chapters (40 pages) summarizing the activities of Kulak, Chernov, Poleshuk Piguzov, Yuzhin among others, actually the most valuable CIA network in history. Speaking about B. Yuzhin I noticed, for the first time in the public domain, "the contribution" of FBI's Pitts in this case.
Vertefeuille&Grimes related with accuracy and in fascinating detail each case and I believe that no one knows as much background on these cases as they.
Chapters 9-16 are dedicated to the first reactions to the losses of 1985, gradually focusing on Ames investigation specifically.
The last chapters are more analytical describing Ames (as person and as spy), a comparison between Ames and Hanssen- a fascinating look into the minds of these two characters and concluding with "Final thoughts", a chapter filled with substantial evidence of a somehow troubled US intel community. The book did not spare criticizing some key figures of SE division- for example, M. Bearden activity receiving a particular "scrutiny" (page 19, 100, 133, 211 etc).
The interval between pages 194-207 is filled with an extremely valuable Chronology, a true intelligence history of events and main characters.
The book is well supported by 18 B&W photos showing the main characters of the book (5 are with Polyakov).
There is a useful and short notes section and bibliography to indicate the sources of various statements, so the readers can verify their accuracy, consider the context, or follow them further. There is also a comprehensive index.
In searching for a title to my review I was about to write "a complete study", but few "anomalies" convinced me to change my mind. Ocassionaly, I also did not like the switching between first and third person, often in a very confusing manner. (sometimes a third "person" is speaking about the authors!)
Firstly, there are no accounts about the help of a Russian defector in capturing Ames, a deliberately omission, in my opinion. The authors gave no details about the defector's support - providing no name, but dates, places and times that meshed with the background of Ames - a fact mentioned in two books (Bearden&Risen/The Main Enemy and Cherkashin&Feifer/Spy Handler) and named by R.Kessler (The secrets of the FBI) as being Alexander Zaporozhsky, one of the four Western spies involved in the July 2010 spy swap. This man truly deserves a book for the story of his life.
Another intriguing account referred to the fate of V. Vetrov, the famous "Farewell". It is hard to believe-after reading several books and professional opinions- that Vetrov, as KGB veteran, made the stupid mistake to confess his spying to an unknown person (in prison!), the story so frequently stated in earlier books about this case. Much close to the truth, I believe, is that he was betrayed by someone in the CIA (Bearden) or DST/DGSE (Kalugin).
Thirdly, the fact that both traitors were discovered with the help of ex-KGB/SVR agents was not included in chapter 18 - A comparision between Ames and Hanssen, obviously also a deliberate omission.
Eventually, throughout the book, the authors are not addressing rumors of an undiscovered KGB spy- another Ames or Hanssen- still at large in the US intel community, the so-called "the fourth mole", an interesting episode confirmed by both Bearden (as one involved in the investigations) and Cherkashin (who, as KR line chief, should have direct knowledge or could be the handler of this spy). However, inside the book (page 72) there are a few tidbits about some anomalies represented by O. Gordievsky and S. Bokhan cases. In later case, it is not clear when he was recruited (1975/page 97 or 1976/page 72 and 196); also, in some studies, Gordievsky is suspected that he was recruited as back as 1966, SIS taking over in 1974.
Written by two fine and skilled storytellers as a lesson in the murky world of intelligence during Cold War, this book is a remarkable and major contribution to the literature of espionage that treats spy wars between KGB/SVR and CIA.
For every serious student who likes dead-serious nonfiction books it should be a required and indispensable reading.
Five stars and recommended!
Sandra Grimes/ Jeanne Vertefeuille "Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames"
First things first: Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, the two CIA professionals most central to the uncovering of the CIA's most calamitous traitor, Aldrich "Rick" Ames, have produced an insider's description of the case which clearly outclasses five earlier treatments by outside authors, whose access was limited. Their analysis is certain to become the classic description of this treason which resulted in catastrophic damage to CIA's Moscow operations and the deaths of at least eight CIA agents. They tell not just the Ames case but embed it in a compendium of all the major Soviet KGB and diplomatic agents who worked for the CIA and FBI in this period. They are candidly critical of the FBI, especially the bungled surveillance of Edward Lee Howard, but equally censorious of many CIA misadventures--of which there were many including constant breakdown of compartmentalization. They forthrightly (remember the book was subject to the Agency's standard pre-publication "review") offer their pantheon of heroes--Soviet Division Chief Burton Gerber; Gus Hathaway; Paul Raymond; Ray Reardon; Dan Payne. And in their view the hapless--DCI Bill Casey; SE Chief Milt Bearden; and, worst of all, CIA's Counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton. All of these are familiar figures to everybody in the CIA.
The book might equally have been entitled "Handbook on CIA," for it provides details on internal structure and the true names of many operatives long considered classified. Jeanne and Sandy (as they call themselves in the book) offer delightful accounts of their recruitment to the Agency, and how in the 50's women were deemed fit only for the typing pool, not professional intelligence operatives. What eventually brought them together was their Russian language and they ended up in the SR (Soviet Russia) division.
Of particular interest is their insider's view of the "maze of double and triple-think" which developed in the wake of the defection of the KGB's Anatoliy Golitsyn and subsequently Yuriy Nosenko. The unpardonable treatment of Nosenko is not only a huge debacle for the Agency but led to a vast witch hunt--led by Angleton--for a `mole' in the Soviet section. This was dubbed the "Monster Plot" by skeptics who baptized the subscribers to this plot theory the "Black Hats." "According to the Monster theory, every CIA or FBI success against the Soviet target was really KGB success, with the KGB controlling the operation from beginning to end--misleading, confusing, and deceiving the naïve Americans." The "Black Hats" virtually paralyzed operations against Soviet targets for a decade and shattered the careers of CIA officers.
Operations against the Soviets appeared to be going splendidly until suddenly in late May 1985 the Soviets began rolling up, one after another, all the Agency's Moscow assets, arrested and executed. DCI Casey designated John Stein to do a report. Parallel to this, Burton Gerber, recognizing by November the CIA faced a huge problem, instituted his own personal crusade to explain the arrests. A series of clever ploys made clear the problem was not with communications. In November 1989 a seemingly innocuous tidbit emerged which was to play a major role in catching Ames. A colleague of the authors who had known Ames in Mexico remarked how he suddenly seemed to have acquired a lot of money. Operating on the basis of "follow the money" the investigative team discovered unusually large bank deposits by Ames. A variety of indicators suggested a polygraph, which Ames took--and due in part to his ability to talk his way out of conflicts--and passed.
The final phase began in early 1991 when Jeanne was authorized to revisit the 1985 losses in Moscow. The Agency set up a Special Investigation Unit--which diplomatically reached out to the sometimes cantankerous FBI for cooperation, eventually establishing excellent working relations with some agents. The first list of possible suspects they put together included 160 names. Despite this enormous number, members of the team were generally agreed that Ames was likely their man. Still, the investigation involved scanning thousands of documents and a whole litany of other time consuming and labor intensive efforts. One major problem was that Ames, in his normal assignment of recruiting KGB officers, was allowed to meet and fraternize with them. Thus his job provided cover for his espionage operations. Financial records remained critical. At one point reviewing the latest deposits, Redmond exclaimed, "Rick is a goddamn Russian spy." The CIA's extensive investigation paid off in May 1993 when the FBI took over for a criminal investigation. A combination of personal surveillance, cameras and other data prompted the bureau to act: On 21 February 1994, Ames was enticed on a ruse to the office and arrested. His wife, Rosario, was also later taken into custody.
The authors' last chapter, "Final Thoughts" is of particular interest given their decades of experience and insight. They cautioned future investigators to write more memoranda to cover themselves when, as happened, Congress asks questions such as why the CIA inquiry didn't proceed more quickly. They admonished themselves for not catching on to "follow the money" earlier. They advised successors to be more forthright with Congress with periodic updates.
Especially arresting, however, is the authors recognition that the challenges of counterintelligence have changed dramatically since the Cold War. They realize they worked in a simpler world than we have now. The Soviet Union was the enemy; there were no moral ambiguities. Now targets are scattered, amorphous, discrete, non-governmental."We could concentrate our efforts on one country and one government. Alas, the colleagues who have come after us do not have that luxury."
(Jeanne Vertefeuille died in December, 2012.)