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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anger and Abuse: The Spymaid's Tale

WASHINGTON -- The tale Maria del Rosario Casas Ames tells is compelling and heartbreaking. The wife of confessed spy Aldrich Ames, she paints herself as a victim, isolated by a controlling husband, caught in an expanding web of secrets. It is a story of the mental and emotional deterioration of a woman, orchestrated by a clever and manipulative man intent on power and control.


Arrested with her husband on Feb. 21, she will be sentenced Friday for conspiring to commit espionage and to defraud the government of taxes. Now her lawyer, John Hume has invited two reporters -- one print, one television -- to interview her before the sentenced is handed down. He hopes that once she tells her side of the story, she will be perceived more sympathetically. Whether her tale is the spontaneous truth or a carefully crafted fabrication intended to sway her interviewer, she tells it with conviction.


Sitting in a detention center in Alexandria, Va., she seems bewildered and incapable of comprehending her situation, by turns angry, desperate and distraught. When she talks of her husband, described as the most notorious and destructive spy in CIA history and now serving a life sentence, she alternates between rage and disbelief, crying often at the thought of his betrayal of her, of his country, of their child. When she talks of her son, 5-year-old Paul, she cries most of the time.


She is acutely aware that her public portrayal up until now has been that of an arrogant, extravagant foreigner who conspired with her husband to betray the United States in return for large amounts of money, and helped cause the deaths of possibly 10 or more Russian collaborators.


But nothing is ever quite that simple. And like any story that involves the CIA, this one is like entering a hall of mirrors, where things are not what they seem, where you can never be sure who is telling the truth.


"The day my life ended," Rosario says, came in the summer of 1992.


A couple of weeks earlier, she had needed a small wallet to fit into a special purse and remembered an unused red wallet in the closet that belonged to Rick, as her husband is known. In it she found a typewritten list. Two items on it worried her: a reference to "the city where your mother-in-law lives'' and one to "our embassy.'' She thought it strange and was worried about the reference to her family. She had never told them her husband worked for the CIA. She assumed the note was related to his work. But she knew his work involved Soviet affairs and was not related to Latin America.


She asked Rick about it that night. He didn't want to talk about it. "For a couple of weeks he did what he should've kept on doing,'' she says, "which was to say nothing.'' When she continued to press him about it, though, he said he would tell her and finally did so at a Washington restaurant.


They ordered drinks and dinner, and then he told her. "I'm working for the Russians." It was that simple.


At first she didn't believe him. "My first reaction, apart from utter panic, was one of denial. My first impulse was to say, well, this is obviously something that has to do with your work ... like the CIA told you to do this, some strange sort of operation. I knew that these things happen, that people get sent over ... and he said no.


"I didn't want to know what it was. I said, I don't want you to tell me anything else. He never went into details. I knew, though, that he had met them in Bogota, that's why there was a reference to Bogota there. That's when my panic was total. He had used my family. I was just so panicked, devastated, scared, speechless.''


The Russians, he told her, had asked for pictures of her and Paul. "He made it very clear that the Russians were not going to like it that I knew. He suggested very clearly that I was a liability. I was a problem because I wasn't supposed to know. He had told me so I was in danger, and they had pictures. "That was one of the main reasons for my ruinous decision (not to tell anyone). My panic was that these people know what I look like, what my son looks like. ... I had nightmares in which I dreamt that the Russians are coming after me and Paul. They know what my mother looks like. They know what her name is too.''


But she knew. So the question was, would she tell?


"Who could I tell what? Where would I start? Nobody even knew he worked for the CIA," she says. "How could I tell all these people all of a sudden, no, my husband is not a diplomat. He really works for the CIA, but he doesn't even work for the CIA, he works for the Russians ... My self-confidence was totally crushed at that point. I just didn't have any will. I couldn't do anything, I was like a robot.


"That was my biggest mistake. I could not confide in anyone. ... I ended up concluding that Rick was the one who had to save me or protect me. That's why I stuck there.


"But it became a nightmare because obviously I hated what he was doing. I despised it. I insulted him. We fought all the time.'' She became sick, she says, with migraines, hives, allergies, "all sorts of psychosomatic things. ... I just felt totally trapped. I did not know what to do and the fear got so bad I was unable to function like in my normal life.''


Life had become so intolerable she says that, as devastating as her eventual arrest was, "in a horrible sort of way, yes, it was a relief.''


By this stage, she says, she was begging her husband to stop working for the Russians. He promised her over and over he would, even telling her once that he had discussed retiring. But he never did.


The FBI learned of Rick's activities nearly a year after she found out. It began bugging the house and the car, following the car and setting up surveillance in the neighborhood. It was also during this time that the bureau taped several comments by Rosario Ames relating to the Russians, comments that were widely publicized at the time of her arrest.


On one mission she told him, "I hope you didn't screw it up.'' On another, she told him that she hoped a lost suitcase didn't contain "anything that shouldn't have been (there).'' She warned him about the weather, and suggested he send a message to the Russians before it got bad. Another time she suggested the possibility that the house was bugged. And in one instance she drove with him when he went to a site to check a signal. It is these incriminating conversations and events that resulted in her being accused and ultimately pleading guilty to espionage.


Most of those incidents, she says, refer to one period at the end of 1993. And she did it, she says, because "I panicked. ... I was so scared. It was fear. That's really the first time I said, 'Oh my goodness, what's going to happen?' And I thought, stupidly I guess, that by saying these things I was going to prevent something else. Of course, I wasn't.''