What Damage Was Done?

IT WAS QUITE A STASH OF TREASURES FBI agents carted away from the $540,000 home of Aldrich and Rosario Ames last week: designer gold bracelets, a wedding band studded with seven diamonds, 119 pieces of French Provincial silverware, a signed Marc Chagall print, the promise of a lakeside retirement dacha in Russia, a financial statement for $2.7 million stashed in 11 banks. What's more, his alleged nine-year adventure in espionage apparently didn't require much overhead-a few cameras, computers, a Russian dictionary, plus 10 sticks of chalk to mark "signal sites."

So what would Moscow have gotten for its millions? The CIA is drawing up an inventory of the secrets to which Ames had access. A formal damage report won't be written until near the end of the couple's trial. The agency doesn't want to produce a paper trail too early, which defense lawyers might demand and expose in court. But in 32 years of spying, first for the agency and then allegedly for the Russians, Ames was privy to countless classified documents and clandestine operations. The CIA is even probing whether Ames, whose wife is Colombian-born, sold secrets to the cocaine cartels during his last posting with the agency's counternarcotics center. "You assume that everything he knew was compromised and work back from there," says a congressional intelligence source.

Intelligence experts think Ames helped to ensure that the United States had no reliable political intelligence on the Kremlin. The CIA believes that Ames passed secrets to the Soviets that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 spies for the United States. Valery Martynov and Sergei Metorin, two KGB agents the FBI recruited, had been providing valuable insights on the inner workings of the Soviet Embassy in Washington until Ames allegedly compromised them in 1985. During the 1991 attempt to oust Mikhail Gorbachev, senior Bush aides had to rely largely on National Security Agency intercepts of the coup plotters' phone calls, as there were no spies on the ground who could provide inside information on the plotters' intentions and motivations.

The CIA is just as worried about the classified reports Ames may have passed, and about the possibility that he didn't act alone. Officials now are investigating whether someone else slipped him the National Security Council and Pentagon intelligence reports found in his desk in the counternarcotics center. And Ames had a nine-page "wish list" of secrets Moscow allegedly wanted, plus 100 sensitive CIA documents going back three decades. One, titled "What Angleton Thought," was a top-secret treatise on the agency's legendary mole-hunter James Jesus Angleton, who was ousted in 1974.

Is a million-dollar agent worth it? Human spying is generally overrated by politicians and novelists. Satellites and signal intercepts produce a larger volume of intelligence than spies on the ground. 'At the end of the day we're going to have a lot of technical losses from his spying that matter to the pros," says a U.S. intelligence official. "But in the whole scheme of things what he passed didn't matter a nickel." Certainly the later secrets he may have passed were of marginal value. In his last year at the counternarcotics center, he was assigned to study drug trafficking in the Black Sea area while the FBI secretly investigated him. "If he leaked, it was actually helpful to us because it was intelligence we wanted the Russians to have," says a CIA source.

But Ames is still worth a lot, even in jail. Swiss authorities so far refuse to freeze his bank accounts. And an Ames autobiography could reap millions (though the government would likely seize the royalties). Among the items taken from his home last week was "A Manual for Writers."