To catch millionaire spies, send CIA-FBI to the movies

February 25, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- How many times have you seen this movie?

The gang pulls off the big job. They rob an armored car, a bank, whatever.

4 And they get away clean. The police are baffled.

The gang meets to divide up the loot.

And, sure enough, the youngest member of the gang grabs up his stack of money and says: "I'm gonna buy me a new Chevy truck! I'm gonna buy me a new Harley! I'm gonna buy me a new suit and take my best girl to Vegas!"

Which is when the crusty, experienced gang leader steps up to (( the young kid, grabs the money out of his hand and slaps him across the face with it.

"You're buying nothing and you're going nowhere!" the crusty gang leader says. "Don't you know that big spending is the first thing the cops are going to be looking for? You start tossing the moolah around and we'll all land in the can. Use your noodle, you mug!"

And the kid rubs his cheek and says, "Yeah, I never thought of that. That makes sense. Thanks, boss."

How many times have you seen that movie? Five times? Ten? It is a staple of American filmdom.

So how come the FBI has never seen it? How come the CIA has never seen it?

The FBI has just caught what is said to be a high-ranking spy within the CIA, after that spy allegedly sold our top secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia for the last eight years.

According to the Justice Department documents, Aldrich Ames had a take-home salary of $336,164 from April 1985 through November 1993.

I'll do the math for you: His average take-home pay was about $3,233 a month or $38,800 a year.

Yet in 1989, he bought a home for $540,000 and paid cash for it.

He spent $99,000 on home improvements and $7,000 on furniture. He bought a $25,000 Jaguar and $19,500 Honda.

And his credit card bills for 1985 through 1993 were $455,000 or $4,700 per month.

Wait a second. His monthly take home was $3,233 a month but XTC his monthly credit card bills were $4,700 a month?

How did he do that? you wonder.

Well, for years and years, his bosses didn't wonder.

During which time Ames and his wife allegedly sold secrets to the Russians for about $1.5 million.

Ames was so busy allegedly selling out his country, he had no time to go to movies. Because if he had, he would have known that living beyond your means is one sure way of attracting attention.

So how come it took so long to catch him? How does he get away with lavish spending year after year and nobody notices at his office, when most of us can't walk into our offices without somebody saying: "Hey, is that a new sweater? Really nice. Must have cost a bundle."

But at the CIA, nobody notices. At the FBI, nobody notices. At the IRS, nobody notices.

The guy pays more than a half-million cash for a house, and nobody bats an eye. Happens every day.

And it's not like the CIA had no reason to be suspicious. In fact, they were looking for a "mole" within the agency because so many of our intelligence operations with the Soviets had been going wrong since 1985.

But it takes them eight years to nail this guy?

I know what you are going to say: Your boss can't check up on your private financial affairs, so why should Ames' boss be able to check up on his?

Because he was the head of Soviet branch of the CIA counterintelligence unit, that's why!

He wasn't pumping Slurpees at a 7-Eleven. He was in charge of top-secret information.

And when you have a job like that, you waive certain privacy rights. You expect your bosses to check on you.

But Ames knew his bosses were not. He knew how trusting his bosses were.

So for years, he allegedly sells our secrets to the Russians and throws money around and nobody notices.

And when he finally does get caught this week, Attorney General Janet Reno says:

"The FBI is to be commended for its tenacious efforts and the CIA for its complete support no matter where the difficult trail led."

I'm just sorry that the trail didn't lead into a few more movie theaters.

If it had, they would have caught this guy years ago.

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