AT US PENITENTIARY, ALLENWOOD (PA)
Aldrich Ames, Prisoner No. 40087-083
On 3 June 2011, I again drove to Allenwood Prison to visit Rick Ames. I wasn’t quite sure what I might usefully discuss with Ames, so I first contacted Ben Fischer asked him for suggestions. He said I might try to find out about the money the Soviets had promised Ames, but held in escrow, and if Ames was aware of any double agents among those he identified to the Soviets.
As I chatted with Ames for over three hours, he said he did not know Fischer (odd?). I did not get a clear response on the second item above (and, I must admit, I did not push for a clear answer) but he did say, definitely and with some force, that his wife and son have not received anything from the Soviets. In fact, the matter of his son being unable to afford either education in the States or a good school in Columbia was clearly disturbing to Ames.
|US Penitentiary, Allenwood, PA
Early in our chat, it was obvious that he was uneasy about talking to me. He kept his ankles and arms crossed. Part of that posture may have been due to the simple and fairly uncomfortable seats that are available in the visiting area. Even so, I sensed that he was a bit apprehensive. In various things he said, it was also clear that he likes visitors. He said not only am I the only CT classmate who has visited him, only one or two other persons, besides his sister, have made the trek to Allenwood to visit him. Later in our conversation, he relaxed and assumed other seating postures.
One of the first things he wanted to communicate to me was, again, how badly he felt about the shame that his traitorous conduct brought to his family and friends. Lest he choke up, as he did the first time, I steered the conversation away. Again, in the early part of the meeting, we talked about a lot of fluff, but then I told him straight out about Ben Fischer and the article on spy dust, etc. He was eager to hear what I could tell him about the article. I may not have given him a good summary of that article, but I did say that Fischer seemed to be of the opinion that the KGB had really duped the CIA many, many times. Ames quickly came to the defense of the CIA’s Soviet operations, in general, and the US military’s operations, in particular. He said we (US) had run far more successful operations against the Soviets than they had run against us. Asked for some specifics, Ames said he could not tell me, that that was classified information. I must have displayed my total surprise to hear that from a guy who will spend the rest of his life in prison for having betrayed secrets, and he gave me an explanation that I had not thought of: although he will never get out of the US Penitentiary at Allenwood, things could be worse. He could be put in the “shoe” (solitary confinement) at Allenwood, or he could be transferred to a truly maximum security prison in Colorado or Illinois. And, he says, he has to worry that the CIA could come after him again (if he discloses classified information) and get him moved to one of those places.
We chatted a good bit about CI. He said that most people in CI are too fond of themselves and their work, that instead of “applying ‘Occam’s razor’ and then just admitting that they didn’t and couldn’t know the answer, they rather enjoyed continuing to deal with a huge amount of detail and possibilities. As for one person who thought well of herself, he cited XXX. At first, he did not cite her name, but only described her as a “red-headed Celtic queen”, who worked in CI and who claimed to have a special “witch’s power” to know who was telling the truth and, thus, who might be working for the opposition. He told the story of when he (and XXX?) and some others took a swing through stations in EUR to talk about CI and the KGB efforts with double agents. After one such briefing session in London, they all went to a pub for some beer. While there, XXX made her boastful claim while looking at Ames. Ames said he just grinned and nodded his head. Interesting to me, was that, at first, he claimed not to remember her name. When I persisted in asking, he then told me, but he was clearly uneasy about doing so.
I had given his sister, Nancy, a copy of the Fischer article, but she did not sent it to him, so I mailed him a copy on Saturday. He can receive letters and Xerox copies of things, but he cannot receive books, etc. They could carry drugs, he explained. And he said there are plenty of drugs “in the yard”. Most of the drugs are passed in the visiting area. The checks are pretty thorough, so I cannot imagine how that is done. (In-body carries, then to the bathroom, then to the prisoner?)
I may go to see him again, but it is increasingly without meaning. The first visit was absolutely essential to me (not to him), and this visit was also interesting–although in a weird sort of way.
I hadn’t planned on going to see Rick so soon after my last visit on 3 June, but word of a good friend’s death came and, to divert my mind, I made a last minute decision to run up to Allenwood on Friday, 24 June. Rick’s sister, Nancy, was away on a cruise, so I had no way to make a last minute check to see if Rick was sick, in the SHU (segregated housing unit, or solitary confinement), or, otherwise, just didn’t want to see me. Making such a long trip without the assurance that I would see him when I got to Allenwood was, thus, a bit risky. (Later, Rick told me that I might phone the prison the morning of my travel north and the authorities could, at least, tell me if the whole place was on lock down.)
I left quite early this time, around 0600 hours and got to Allenwood in good time, with markedly less traffic than before. The first thing visitors must do when entering the facility is complete a form showing who you want to see, making certain declarations (not carrying weapons, drugs, etc.). With that completed form and the visitor’s driver’s license, the girl at the front desk then issues a locker key so the visitor can put all personal possessions there before entering the prison. Wrist watches, up to twenty dollars in cash, and medical necessities are allowed in. Fortunately, and surprisingly, the female guard at the front desk remembered me. I had forgotten to bring along Ames’ prisoner number, and that could be used as a reason to deny entry to a visitor. I think she remembered my giving her a copy of an email I had sent to the warden earlier, an email complementing her and others on the staff there.
After clearing the metal detector and other such checks, I took a seat with two other visitors in the interior area and waited for a guard to come and escort us into the visiting room, located two barred doors and two hand-stamp checks further into the building and up two floors above ground level. While waiting, I saw the Warden, R. Martinez, stroll through. I stood and offered my hand and my thanks for his having helped me get a refund on some money lost in a vending machine on my last trip there. Although I was dressed quite casually, Martinez shook my hand and accepted my thanks graciously.
Although I had first entered the building at 0906 hours, and completed my security checks in hardly twenty minutes, it was almost 1000 hours before we visitors were escorted upstairs. I think visiting hours are supposed to begin at 0915 hours, Friday through Sunday.
In chit-chat with the guard who escorted us in, a white male in his mid-30’s, I learned that he is a college graduate who used to be a parole officer, but who found that he could not support his family on that salary, so he took a job at the prison. He also coaches wrestling at a local high-school. I told him that it must be tough dealing with prisoners, and he said it was sometimes worrisome because he was often the only guard (and with neither a gun nor a spray) with one or two hundred prisoners, who could kill him easily if they wanted. (Such a threat, whether specific or general, must be how the prisoners get the guards to get them drugs, cell phones, and other such contraband that the guard specified.)
As I sat at the assigned table waiting for Ames to appear, I asked a passing guard if he would mind if I upended the small table before me. He said he would not mind, so I tipped up the table for a close look at its construction. It was solidly built with 3/4″ plywood covered by plastic on top and reinforced with metal brackets below. And no microphones. During my visit, a heavy rainstorm on the thin roof almost drowned out normal conversation and, even in the best of conditions, I think the ambient noise level in the visiting area would be too much for a good recording. Still, I have to admit that today’s technology may well be capable of producing bugs that could do the job, bugs I could never find in such a table.
Ames finally arrived and I told him about the table. He laughed and said he didn’t believe anyone was taping our conversation.
I again got Ames to promise to raise one finger if he found himself listening to one of my stories that I had told him before–or he could raise a finger if he was simply uninterested in what I was saying. I don’t think he will ever raise a finger, but he has interjected with a comment to the effect that I had told about such and such before. He is quite sharp in conversation. I have tested him by deliberately telling a story twice-and he did not hesitate to say I had told him that story. And I deliberately said some dumb, dull things, and asked if I had told him about that before. He accurately said I had not.
It has become obvious that Ames does not want to spend the whole day talking with me, that he does not want to settle for one of those awful, tasteless, and overpriced sandwiches from the vending machines for lunch. The last time I was there, he mentioned that the prisoner mess hall was having baked fish, macaroni and cheese and a salad for lunch. Yet all I could provide him was a Pepsi and a lousy sandwich. Well, this time, about 1015 hours, when I mentioned the lousy sandwiches (and my getting a refund from the last time), Rick looked at the clock and said that I could probably get out of there by 1215, in time to get a nice lunch. I think he meant he would, thus, be in time to get a good lunch. That was OK with me, although I am increasingly wondering why I spend so much time, and gas, to visit him. Driving up there and back in one day takes 7-8 hours. All that for 2-3 hours of conversation?
Why, indeed, do I want to visit him? I posed that question to him directly. He said I probably like interesting conversation. And he is right. However, I also told him that unlike other of my friends, I consider him two different levels: on the intellectual level, I quite disapprove of what he did, but in my heart, I feel sorry for him. Rick showed no particular response to that.
I also told Rick that I was not prepared to discuss either of the two Ben Fischer articles that I had sent him. I mentioned my own health problems and the death of my good NZ buddy as reasons for having neglected proper preparation for the visit. Besides, I told him, I rather dislike all the complexity of CI thinking, all on top of the fact that I shared none of his experiences in SE, CI, etc. I went to EA. (But neither did I know Nicholson, the EA traitor that Rick had referred to before.) But Rick wanted to tell me what he thought of the Fischer articles. He said, essentially, that Fischer was way off the mark, and that Fischer had made two points that were almost contradictory because one point did not require the other for his argument: the KGB was great and oh, so capable of deceiving the CIA, and the CIA was a gang of absolute dummies. And, said Ames, Fischer thus wants to show himself as the oh-so great mind.
Agreeing with him in general, I again said that I was in no position to make judgments about the KGB because I just didn’t have the experience, but I did tell him that one very trusted friend in the Agency also opined that Fischer’s articles were not reliable. Ames obviously liked to hear that. I said that I could not identify that trusted friend because I had specifically promised not to mention his name. I added that the man was a ranking officer still working part-time at the Agency, a man who knew that Ames had produced some excellent work in the days before he threw in with the Soviets. Rick smiled and said “I know him.” I again said I could not say his name, but if Rick knew to whom I was referring, he could whisper the name in my ear. Rick said, “It’s Jack”. I said “Jack? Who?” and Rick just smiled and nodded his head. We let it drop there.
Rick mentioned the name of Shevchenko and Yurchenko (or I mentioned one name and he followed up with the other name). I lamely joked that Rick was a “master of Chenkos”, and Rick told me some of the story of Yurchenko. (He again told me that there was much he could not share with me because it was all classified.) He said he was the Case Officer for Yurchenko for the five months before Yurchenko re-defected. Rick said he was Andrews AFB when the flight arrived from Rome carrying Yurchenko and that he (Rick) greeted Yurchenko in the name of DCI Casey. During the next five months, Yurchenko provided much information of great value. However, Yurchenko became increasingly uneasy over Rick’s impending PCS to Rome Station. Rick said he was brought back once or twice from Rome to assuage Yurchenko’s concerns, but that Yurchenko apparently had too much, and, that fateful evening while dining in Georgetown, he took off and went to some Soviet installation, there to begin the ballyhoo about having been “kidnapped” by the CIA. I wondered why Yurchenko would re-defect, given the likelihood of being executed once back in Russia, but Rick said Yurchenko was not executed, that he was rather treated well.
At another point in our conversation, I said that while I did not know all the players in SE Division, I did know John Hart, that I did some work on Soviet exchange students, and that I had heard of one Rod Carlson. Rick immediately responded to the name of Carlson. He gushed that Carlson was a great man who was greatly underappreciated by the Agency. Indeed, Ames became noticeably choked up and would have shed a tear, I believe, if I had not intervened with a comment. Ames added that of all the things that he looks back on with great regret (“late at night, sometimes, when I think of him . . .”), the poor treatment/rewards given to Carlson stands out in his mind.
I mentioned some things about our old CT classmates, XXX and YYY, and Rick responded with the story of ZZZ as DCOS, Caracas. (I didn’t raise a finger, but he told me that story before.) I said that I occasionally exchanged email with Fred Hitz, and Rick said, “Yeah, but he is so far out of things in that law school.”
Rick told me that two other Agency persons had wanted to visit him, and that he had specified them on his list of “friends and acquaintances” who he would agree to see. However, they never got Agency approval. He thought my perseverance, and the fact that I wrote a letter to Panetta, paid off for me. The other two were not so dogged in their request.
Well, I said goodbye to Rick around 1206 hours, and drove to Gettysburg Visitors Center, then on home.
Will I go to see him again? Probably, but the whole thing is still something of a disturbing mixture in my mind. I will send him some of my papers on Asian crime, just so we might have something that I can meaningfully discuss with him. I cannot usefully discuss CI or Soviet ops with him. Further, I have resolved to continue just being totally straight-forward with Rick. Frankly, I don’t think I have the skill to trick him into disclosing some great secret that he has for so long kept to himself. However, if he does one day whisper in my ear the name of someone in cahoots with him, what should I do? (Now, you see where all that CI stuff has led me?)
July 15, 2011. I saw Rick again today. I think it will be the last time. Nothing special happened, and I guess that is largely the reason I see no further use in going up to see him. It’s an odd feeling, however. After the first, and very important, meeting, I wondered when my interest would wane. And now, it has.
A few weeks ago, I sent him a collection of my papers about Asians (“Writings on Asian Crime”), plus a partially jestful set of “Southern Culture Instructions”. I thought those items would allow some conversation that was not in the SE/CI field (about which I know practically nothing). As it turned out, however, Rick had no interest in discussing anything Chinese or Asian. And when I asked him directly to give me a brief sketch of the Russian mindset, he said there were whole libraries of books devoted to the matter. I asked about the critical sense of “Mother Russia”, and he just said that was true. Basically, he said Russians are just Europeans and regular people like everyone else in the world. I was tempted to tell him “Thanks a lot for your oh-so capable response to my request.” I really think he could have done better, even in the limited time we had today. And when I asked if he had read the Southern Culture Instructions, and whether he was singing “Dixie” yet, he just laughed and said that stuff had no effect on him. Well, that “stuff” is basically jestful, but there are some serious parts (e.g. Lee’s Farewell) that could have moved him to give me a better answer than he did.
I said that I should have prepared for today’s meeting by remembering the names of our CT classmates that I saw on a list many years ago. Rick quickly said that I should not send him such a list. He said he gets his mail directly, but one never knows who in the prison might read his mail and what they might do with it. He again said he has to be careful about disclosing classified information lest he be sent to an even harsher prison.
Asked about Petraeus, Rick said he was a “fraud”, who had to be bitter about being relegated to the CIA, instead of being made Army Chief of Staff or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I mentioned my hope that a recent letter to Petraeus might produce a posthumous award for Ernest L. Cuneo, but Rick scoffed at that possibility. He opined that Petraeus would hang in as DCI for two years, and then fully retire, a bitter man.
I chatted with him for only an hour. I got seated in the visiting area around 1030 hours and he appeared a half-hour later. I had asked a guard about lunch hour and was told that it began early around 1030 and closed around 1230 hours, so I wanted to leave in time for Rick to get some chow. As it turned out, he had taken an early lunch so as to get to a barber’s appointment at 1230. He wanted to get trimmed before his sister, Nancy, came for a visit the next day. I had called her last night and told her of my last-minute decision to go up to Allenwood today.
The drive up and back was fairly easy. I left home around 0630 hours and got back at 1530 hours. All that driving for one hour of chit-chat. It’s not worth it.
The week after my last visit with Rick, I met his sister for lunch and told her that I would not go to see Rick again. She showed no particular reaction. Then, I wrote a letter to the warden at USP, Allenwood, and thanked him and his guards for treating visitors so efficiently and courteously. I told him that I had arranged for some mini-pecan pies to be sent to him and that he would certainly want to share them with his guards.
CH, an native of Arkansas, loved to gift people with really good pecan pies.