Friday, January 27, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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FBI Tells How It Nailed Spy -- Note In Trash Was Key Evidence Against CIA Mole Aldrich Ames


WASHINGTON - Under fire because Aldrich Ames had eluded his surveillance teams, FBI supervisor Les Wiser ignored his boss's order and sent agents on a risky midnight raid of the garbage outside the Ames home.

They found seven tiny yellow scraps of paper that convinced them they had found Russia's agent inside the CIA.

"It was a marvelous piece of insubordination," said Robert "Bear" Bryant, assistant FBI director for national security.

Not long before, Bryant had ended the FBI's secret collection of Ames' trash for fear neighbors might spot the agents and warn Ames of the snooping. Bryant admitted yesterday that he would have denied permission for the Sept. 15, 1993, trash pickup - if Wiser had asked.

The note reassembled from the trash container outside Ames' $500,000 Northern Virginia home contained a draft message from Ames to the Russians offering to meet in Bogota, Colombia, and told them how to signal their approval or set a different time or place.

"We knew he was the guy when we found that note," Wiser said.

Bryant, his deputy John Lewis and Wiser gave reporters an inside look yesterday at their 2 1/2-year hunt for the man who turned out to be the most damaging spy ever caught inside U.S. intelligence. Ames caused the death of 10 Western agents and compromised dozens of operations. He is serving life in prison without parole; his wife, Rosario, is serving a five-year sentence.

The FBI officials disclosed that:

-- One Russian diplomat, not named, was expelled from this country for supervising Ames.

-- In prison, Ames volunteered information the FBI would never have known but for his cooperation, but still had problems on a polygraph.

-- The CIA failed to answer FBI questions about Ames' activities as early as 1986. Ames became a Soviet spy in 1985.

By August 1991, a joint FBI-CIA analysis team, tipped by a CIA employee to Ames' lavish spending, had noticed a correlation between Ames' meetings with a Soviet diplomat and his cash deposits.

Ames was assigned to meet Soviets in Washington in the 1980s; the CIA was supposed to inform the FBI about each meeting but Lewis said FBI surveillance picked up meetings for which there were no reports.

Ames was transferred to Rome in 1986. "We asked CIA to go to Rome and get the reports," Lewis said. "Unfortunately, that was not done."

Several days before the trash pickup Ames twice lost the FBI teams trailing him. Ames was leaving his final draft of the message and documents under a footbridge in Washington's Rock Creek Park.

"We were getting beat up pretty good" from FBI superiors and colleagues for losing the surveillance, Bryant said. Everyone remembered ex-CIA agent Edward Howard slipped past the FBI in 1985 en route to Moscow.

Wiser knew Bryant had halted the "trash cover," but "I took the view that he had merely suspended the trash cover, so I unsuspended it."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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