CIA official, wife accused of spying for Russians Couple accused of spying lived well but quietly, say neighbors

February 23, 1994|By Victoria White and Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Victoria White and Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — ARLINGTON, Va. -- Neighbors of Rick and Rosario Ames in the ritzy Cherrydale section of this northern Virginia suburb regarded the middle-aged couple as ordinary enough, living respectable lives in a friendly neighborhood.

Little did they know the far different impression FBI agents were getting as they sifted through the trash the couple put outside their gray two-story home with its red shutters for routine weekly collection.

There, among the leftovers of daily living, the agents found bits of the evidence they were looking for -- proof, according to court papers released yesterday, that the couple were Soviet and Russian spies who spent $1 million more than he earned at his CIA job over the past eight years.

Analysis of a typewriter or computer printer ribbon recovered from the Ameses' trash produced a reference to getting cash in Caracas, Venezuela, with a request for "some safer, paper transfer of some sort of a large amount."

According to the complaint filed against the Ameses yesterday, Mr. Ames met "surreptitiously" several times with his spymasters in Bogota, Colombia, and Caracas. After his return from one trip to Caracas, in October 1992, cash deposits totaling $86,700 were made into three personal bank accounts. These were in addition to his salary deposits.

According to court papers, Mr. Ames became chief of the Soviet branch of the CIA's counterintelligence group in 1983. In 1984, he was assigned to establish contact with officials at the Soviet Embassy in Washington "for assessment as possible sources for intelligence information."

But he started a series of private meetings with the Soviets in defiance of the CIA regulation that all such meetings should be reported, according to the papers. He also started to make frequent large deposits in his bank accounts.

The day after one meeting, in February 1986, he made two cash deposits of $5,000 and $8,500 in his Virginia checking account, and one of $6,500 in his wife's.

Their lavish lifestyle apparently contributed to their downfall, according to court papers. Mr. Ames was earning $69,843 a year at the time of his arrest.

The FBI charged that from 1985 until the present, the couple was paid more than $1.5 million by their spymasters. They spent some of the money to buy a $540,000 house in Arlington for cash, $99,000 for home improvements, $165,000 for stocks and securities, $25,000 for a Jaguar automobile, $19,500 for a Honda and $455,000 on credit cards over a period during which Mr. Ames earned a total of $336,164, the court papers said.

The couple lived with their 5-year-old son, Paul, on North Randolph street in Arlington, a hilly neighborhood of winding roads and expensive homes. Signs on the street feature the warning, "This area is under neighborhood watch."

Neighbors yesterday described the Ameses, who had lived in their home since 1989, as friendly and obviously well-to-do but not ostentatious with their money.

"I have nothing bad to say about them," said William Rhoads, a retired officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development who lives across the street. "I'm very surprised. They seemed to be ideal neighbors in every way."

Mr. Rhoads said Mrs. Ames is a slim, well-dressed, intelligent woman who was pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Georgetown University.

He and other neighbors described Mr. Ames as a tall, thin man with receding gray hair and glasses.

Tommye Morton, a romance novelist who lives across the street from the Ames home, said she exchanged cookies with the family at Christmas time.

"I just knew they were very nice people," she said.

Another neighbor, Jerry Groves, said nothing unusual or exciting had ever happened at the Ames' house or in the neighborhood.

Neighbors said they did not know anything was amiss until Monday morning, when several cars were parked on the street.

A little while later, Mr. Rhoads said, Mrs. Ames was taken into custody. Mr. Ames was arrested about the same time, on his way to work.

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