Uncovering the Greatest Information Breach in CIA History

Dan Harris, Ben Newman and David Miller

In the early 90’s Sandra Grimes, a CIA expert in Soviet intelligence, cracked the case of the greatest information breach in the history of the CIA, leading to the arrest of CIA spy and colleague, Aldrich Ames.

Ames had passed the names or identifying information on every current reporting source the CIA had on the Soviet Union to the KGB in exchange for millions of dollars.

“He basically wiped out all the U.S. government’s human source collection,” says Grimes.

Her story is now the subject of the ABC miniseries, “The Assets,” based on the book, “Circle of Treason,” which she wrote about the investigation with colleague Jeanne Vertefeuille.

Ames and Grimes were once friendly colleagues who carpooled from the modest Virginia suburb where they both lived. But Grimes and others at the CIA began looking into Ames when he became suspiciously wealthy.

He told everyone that the money was from his wife, who was from a well-connected Colombian family, but that story didn’t completely add up. Grimes and a colleague were concerned because Ames had access to top-secret files that went missing.

Once the CIA began looking into Ames as a possible mole, Grimes meticulously mapped Ames’ every move from 1984 to 1994. In the chronology she reported several bank deposits that eventually gave them the information they needed to determine Ames was the mole.

Ames had been meeting with a Soviet national without reporting it to his superiors and depositing thousands of dollars into a bank account the same day.

Depositing the “money after a meeting with an official Soviet national was the connection that was needed,” says Grimes.
“Rick's damage was in human life, there's no question about that,” Grimes concludes. “It had never happened before in the history of CIA Soviet operations.”