The history of counterintelligence must have a quirky sense of humor else how explain the bizarre convergence this week of three events that linked three ex-spies who, long ago, walked through each other’s stories.
Wednesday, Nov. 8, Robert Gates, who rose through the ranks to become Director of Central Intelligence, was named by President George Bush as the next US secretary of defense.
As he spoke, two ex-KGB spies, Russian president Vladimir Putin and defense minister Sergei Ivanov, cut the ribbon for the new headquarters of Russian military intelligence the GRU in Moscow. (picture)
Twelve hours later, Markus (Micha) Wolf the legendary former head of the HVA, the East German Ministry of State Security’s foreign intelligence section, died in Berlin aged 83. He had lived quietly in retirement for some years after hanging up his cloak and dagger
Most of the histories of these three ex-spooks and, in particular, how they intersected, will never be known.
In 1979, Robert Gates was appointed the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union. His was a success story. He did well at the job and climbed the ladder fast to Deputy Director for Intelligence in January 1982. As DDI, he was responsible for all CIA analysis.
A month later, Director of Central Intelligence William Casey appointed a young, ambitious officer called Aldrich Ames head of the combined CIA-FBI counterintelligence center of operations, the most secret American counter-intelligence arm for the undercover war against the Soviet Union.
Neither Casey nor Gates was to know that the clever young man they had promoted had been recruited in Istanbul 10 years earlier by the KGB’s First (Foreign) Directorate as a mole in the heart of US intelligence. He and the German super-spy Micha Wolf were well acquainted. Ames owed his long career as a double spy until he was finally caught in 1974 very much to the deep cover provided by Wolf.
The German spymaster would transmit Ames’ reports through his European networks to Moscow, where it was delivered to GRU headquarters and forwarded to the KGB’s First Directorate at Yasenevo.
In August 1991, two months before he was appointed Director of Central Intelligence, Robert Gates led a coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
The attempt failed because the agents Gates used for the operation, who had been provided Ames, were in fact doubles whose first loyalty belonged to the KGB.
But still Ames did not come under suspicion. By then, however, many people in the CIA had begun to suspect there was a mole in their midst. They made an approach to Wolf, who was living in retirement in Berlin, and asked him to name the double agent they suspected the Russian had planted in the CIA.
He was offered a large sum of money and a permit to live in the United States. But he refused. Wolf would only confirm the presence of a high-ranking mole operating deep in US intelligence even after the fall of the Soviet Union. He declined to divulge any clues to his identity.
It took another three years for the mole to be exposed. On February 21, 1994, Aldrich Ames was finally arrested as a Russian spy. He is still serving a life sentence.
Twenty-seven years later, the fragments of the three Cold War stories came together by sheer chance in November, 2006, in Washington, Berlin and Moscow.