Case Study Analysis Aldrich Ames Espionage September 5, 2018 – Posted in: Order Custom Essay Paper

Case Study Analysis Aldrich Ames Espionage

Espionage is a risky criminal act with devastating consequences. Yet spies continue to emerge and carry on the cycle of activities. Intelligence agencies also continue to recruit other intelligence agents from foreign country agencies. The CIA of the United States assigned Aldrich Ames to recruiting Russian intelligence agents, but he ended up recruiting himself as a KGB agent and causing the death, arrest, and transfers of many of their agents in the Russian intelligence system. Despite such distressing consequences, Aldrich continued to spy for the KGB for nine years. Here is an analysis of his actions that details the personal and agency factors that made it possible. It reveals Aldrich as a person who had narcissistic tendencies, but whose life situations triggered the decision to commit espionage. Other supporting motivations are disgruntlement, and the opportunity provided by the agency. Lastly, the theory of planned behavior shows that he had all the elements that supported criminal behavior.  (Case Study Analysis Aldrich Ames Espionage)

Factors that Motivate Espionage

Various factors motivate people to espionage. Sims (2015) noted that some of the reasons for engaging in espionage include the aspiration to amend international policy, financial issues, sympathy, and strong ties with a foreign administration, and whistle blowing. He further notes that there are certain psychological and personal factors that drive one to commit espionage. For example, an analysis of existing data revealed that a prevalent behavioral characteristic was a disgruntled employee. The latter must be of concern to respective agencies dealing with sensitive national security issues because he or she will easily compromise his or her feeling of loyalty to the organization and the State for several reasons (Sims, 2015; Jackson, 2012). Nunamaker, Burgoon, and Giboney(2016) also explain that one of the characteristics of a malicious insider is disgruntlement. Other features are ethics and personality disorders.

According to Fischer (n.d), the common denominator among all those is money. Others include ideology, blackmail, and personal ambitions. The FBI analysed these factors and concluded that “Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Ego (MICE)” are the dominant motivators of the crime (Michalak, 2014). More factors also highlighted are revenge, thrills, coercion, ingratiation, and self-importance.


This ranges from finances needed to manage family bills, loans, and situations such as treatment to personal greed for wealth. In most cases, it is a combination of many. Later after all that is settled, their motivation changes to the greed for wealth and more (Sarbin, Carney &Eoyang, 1994; “Why Do People Spy”, 2017). According to Terry Thompson, a research psychologist at the CIA, there are a variety of factors that contribute to this vulnerable state. These are: the social power that is accompanied by material success, the cultural tendency of equating success with material gain, the thought of relief that will be achieved if the spy receives the money, and the ego-gratification effect of receiving the money (Charney& Irvin, 2016).


An ideology is a philosophy, a thought, or a system of belief. Charney and Irvin (2016) define it as a “set of beliefs about how the world is or should be” (p. 4). A spy can commit espionage if he or she believes that it is for a good course. It is noted that such beliefs reflect on individuals’ egos therefore act as a motivation because it is through which the person can express the respective philosophies. Not only is it a motivator, but also a means of justifying behavior (Charney& Irvin, 2016).   


Compromise can be equated to blackmail or coercion. In this case, the motivation is negative because the offender is forced to perform the act out of fear of being punished (Charney& Irvin, 2016; Burkett, 2013). According to Charney and Irvin (2016), contrary to other forms of motivation, this one has no free will. However, it is unreliable because the person recruited in this manner will only act up to the point that it is necessary.


Data analysis of the offenders’ responses revealed that some did it as an adventure, a personal challenge, and an opportunity for excitement. Negative attitudes such as disgruntlement, risk-taking behavior, and narcissism are some of the personality traits associated with this factor (Sarbin, Carney &Eoyang, 1994; Charney& Irvin, 2016; Parsley, 2015).

All the above are the four factors that define the acronym MICE used by the authorities to determine why someone would engage in spying. However, PERSEREC added three more inducement aspects: ingratiation, disgruntlement, and thrills.


There are two ways of describing this as an inducer to espionage. In one case, a recruiter can target an individual in an organization of interest. He or she will develop a romantic relationship just to receive information. The victim on the other hand will feel obligated because of the love to provide the information. Additionally, the victim can be influenced through ideologies to work to please the partner. On the other hand, some spies just act to please their handlers (Sarbin, Carney &Eoyang, 1994).


Some people engage in spying activities because they are dissatisfied with the way they are treated at work. Examples include, when they believe they are not recognized for their work, not appreciated, or are not promoted as they expect. A variety of factors leads to this state: one’s overestimation of talent, unrealistic expectations, a culture of dissatisfaction, and real injustices (Sarbin, Carney &Eoyang, 1994; Charney& Irvin, 2016).


This motivation is similar to the ego. According to Charney and Irvin (2016), spies engage in espionage because of the superiority and excitement they attain from it. The researchers further note that it could be because of low self-esteem rather that the perpetrators suffer after a professional or personal impediment. Specific characteristics are also associated with this motivation. For example, those who have the desire to work for intelligence agencies have the same thrill of espionage. Such people like keeping secrets from others because they feel it gives them the power over them.

It is also indicated that, even though agencies conduct thorough personal security background analysis, the decision to commit espionage is usually triggered by personal disruptions such as divorce, starting a new relationship, death, and exhibition of radically changed behavior (Sims, 2015).

An Analysis of Aldrich Ames’ Actions

Summary of the Case

Aldrich Ames is a former CIA employee who was arrested on charges of espionage in 1994 February 21st (SSCI, 1994). He began in 1985 and went on to pass on sensitive information for about 9 years (Spannau&Steinberg, 1994). He was a case officer that was specialized in Russian intelligence services and had access to crucial data. This is one of the contributing factors. Previously, the officer had worked in Turkey, Ankara, Mexico city and New York City. It was when assigned to the East European Division of the CIA’s Soviet cases that he started his secret mission to work for the KGB. He first approached a KGB officer at the USSR embassy and offered names of KGB officers that had offered to work with the CIA. After that, he was paid $50,000. Although it is indicated that he meant to get money from the Russian intelligence to clear his debts, he continued to be a spy for the Russians (SSCI, 1994; Kelly, 2016). Aldrich’s actions led to the death and arrest of several KGB officials that had been recruited into the CIA (SSCI, 1994). An exploration of this case reveals that money, disgruntlement, thrills, ego, and personal disruption were motivations to his actions to become a spy.


Money is one of the reasons that justify Ames’ actions. In 1983 October, Aldrich and his first wife divorced. Although there may have been previous financial strains, this change brought him further down. As part of the separation agreement, Aldrich was to pay all the outstanding credit card debt, $300 per month to his wife because of a ratified property stipulation, and miscellaneous debts that totaled to $33,350. On top of this, he had a new car loan, escalating credit card payments, and a signature loan. He was quoted saying that he was under financial pressure because of his debts and future plans to have a house and other valuables. He therefore developed a plan to get money from the KGB (SSCI, 1994). All these show that the need for money stimulated Ames’ actions.

Personal Disruption

An acute personal crisis that results in intense distress is the second motivator to engaging in espionage activities (“History: Aldrich Ames”, n.d; Wilder, 2017). In most cases, the spies believe that espionage is the only solution to their problem. However, they later regret their actions (Wilder, 2012). Ames did this too. He later said this, “I felt a great deal of financial pressure, which, in retrospect, I was clearly overreacting to,” (SSCI, 1994, p. 11). Evidence showing he was motivated by money also supports the findings that personal disruptions also triggered the decision to engage in espionage. Ames faced two of these: divorce and a new relationship.


Another factor that could have motivated Ames is dissatisfaction. Records show that the agency anticipated giving him a Deputy Chief of Station assignment in a different country after working in Mexico but was not successful. Two of his immediate supervisors judged his performance as second rate (SSCI, 1994; Weiner, 1994). One employee reported that in 1987 when Ames was not promoted, he got angry and started drinking heavily (SSCI, 1994). Irrespective of such negative report, Ames was promoted to the chief of the Soviet branch. Such negative review could have triggered his actions.

Thrills and Ego

Lastly, Ames’ ego and excitement played a role in his actions. When asked how he felt when he joined the CIA, he said he felt honored. He further explained that the CIA, the Foreign Service, and the military units always cultivated a sense of being in the elite. As a child, he liked that and responded to it. Additionally, Ames stated that it was fun working as a CIA officer, and it never stopped being so. He found it interesting (Weiner, 1994). He also perceived working with the KGB as part of the job. The CIA officer explained that the ethics of telling lies, espionage, and cover stories never bothered people, and it never bothered him too. He considered this a part of the struggle and created the sense of fun in the job (Weiner, 1994). These show the excitement he had working in this position.

Ames exhibited some narcissist tendencies. Narcissism is combination of limited empathy for others and an inflated and extremely positive view of self (DuBrin, 2012). He never showed any empathy to those he put their lives at risk and those killed. Instead, Ames found it mind-blowing that the information he provided made it possible for the KGB to wreak havoc in the CIA. He also found it amazing that the KGB arrested the agents whose names he had provided. Lastly, Ames recognized that the agents whose names he had given to the Russians were transferred, killed, recalled, and arrested, but continued to give vital information about CIA operations (Weiner, 1994). This shows lack of empathy and a personality of one who feels extremely important.

A perspective from the Theory of Planned Behavior

Lastly, Ames’ actions can be analyzed using the theory of planned behavior. It asserts that an individual’s criminal behavior is guided by three types of considerations: control beliefs, normative beliefs and behavioral beliefs. The latter are personal assessments and expectations of the outcome of his or her actions. Normative beliefs signify other people’s expectations and the willingness of an individual to submit to them. Lastly, the former represents the external factors that support the intended action (Liang&Biros, 2016; Cooke, Dahdah, Norman & French, 2016; Martin, 2017). Ames intended to get money from the KGB. He believed that this agency needed the sensitive information he would provide. He also believed that such information would not harm the nation (Weiner, 1994). An assessment of the KGB’s expectation from Ames’ view was that such information would be valuable to them; therefore, it would be easy for them to accept him. Consequently, he planned and approached one agent at the USSR embassy and succeeded. Finally, Ames had the external support he needed to make his plan possible. He was in a position to access the information, had the resources provided indirectly by the CIA, and was presented by the opportunity through his financial crisis.

The Role of the CIA in Assisting Ames’ Espionage

The only commendable phenomenon is the patience and the cautiousness that Vertefeuille and other investigators exercised to find enough evidence to arrest Ames and his wife (McKelvey, 2014; Cornwell, 2013; “The People of the CIA”, 2013). However, the agencies poor management responses led to prolonged espionage activities.

Poor Management

Weaknesses in the management system of the CIA provided Ames with opportunities to commit espionage. The agency failed to recognize one of the major signs of espionage among his employees. Ames was in a position with access to sensitive information. He had a lot of wealth with unexplained sources, yet the agency never took the initiative to launch an investigation (Lowenthal, 2014; Shapira, 2018). Additionally, he worked in the intelligence division where the CIA experienced compromised operations, yet he was never suspected.

Secondly, Ames had declining performance ratings, had drinking problems, and occasionally breached security protocol, but was still given a position with access to classified information in the SE division (SCCI, 1994). The immediate supervisors were negligent and failed to recognize personal changes that could have prevented the occurrence of espionage.

The manner in which reports about changes in his life and unprofessional actions were responded to shows high level of negligence that enhanced his continued criminal activities. For example, an employee reported that Ames had wealth beyond his earnings. An investigator was assigned on the case in 1988 and worked on it until 1990. He started a two-month training course and the investigation stopped. Additionally, as required by the CIA protocol, a background check was conducted on Rosario. It is not clear how they missed the fact that Rosario’s parents were not wealthy as claimed by Ames in justification for their wealth (Shapira, 2018; SSCI, 1994). These and many more acts that are negligent extended the activities of the offender. 


Two main points can be inferred from this analysis. First, the agency’s laxity provided Ames with the opportunity to spy. Secondly, his personal traits provided a stronger motivation. Money has been found to be the prevalent trigger of espionage activities, and Ames was not an exception. Furthermore, he experienced a personal crisis that triggered the thought of spying in exchange for money. However, the CIA officer also had some personal traits such as self-importance that encouraged him into the activity. According to the theory of planned behavior, his beliefs supported the crime, he anticipated positive reaction from the foreign counterintelligence officer, and knew that he had the external resources to support his actions. Ames had it all planned.


Burkett, R. (2013). An Alternative framework for agent recruitment: From MICE to RASCLS.

Studies in Intelligence, 57(1): 7-17.

Charney, D. L. and Irvin, J. A. (2016).The psychology of espionage.Journal of U.S. Intelligence

Studies, 22(1): 71-77.

Cooke, R., Dahdah, M., Norman, P. and  French, D. P. (2016). How well does the theory of

planned behavior predict alcohol consumption? A systematic review and meta-analysis.Health Psychology Review, 10(2): 148-167.

Cornwell, R. (16 January 2013).Jeanne Vertefeuille: CIA officer who unmasked the spy Aldrich

Ames. The Independent.Retrieved from

DuBrin, A. J. (2012). Narcissism in the workplace: Research, opinion and practice.Cheltenham,

UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Fischer, L. F. (n.d). Espionage: Why does it happen? Retrieved from

History: Aldrich Ames.(n.d). FBI.Retrieved from

Jackson, G. M. (2012). Predicting malicious behavior: Tools and techniques for ensuring global

security.Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley & Sons.

Kelly, J. (2016). Spy stories: How a batten professor helped the CIA recover from betrayal.

Retrieved from

Liang, N. and Biros, D. (2016). Identifying Common Characteristics of Malicious Insiders.

Annual ADFSL Conference on Digital Forensics, Security and Law. 8. Retrieved from

Lowenthal, M. M. (2014). Intelligence: From secrets to policy. Los Angeles: CQ Press, 2014

Martin. (28 October 2017).Theory of planned behavior: Definition, explained, examples.

Cleverism. Retrieved from

McKelvey, T. (8 January 2014). The woman who tracked down a CIA mole.BBC News

Magazine. Retrieved from

Michalak, S. (2014).Motives of espionage against one’s own country in the light of idiographic

studies. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 42(1): 1-4.

Nunamaker, J. F., Burgoon, J. K. and Giboney, J. S. (2016). Special issue: Information systems

for deception detection. Journal of Management Information Systems, 33(2): 327-331.

Parsley, P. (2015).The characteristics of spies and mercenaries. Retrieved from

Sarbin, T. R., Carney, R. M. and Eoyang, C. (1994). Citizen Espionage: Studies in Trust and

Betrayal. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). (1994). An assessment of the Aldrich H. Ames

espionage case and its implications for U.S. intelligence. Congressional Document.Retrieved from

Shapira, I. (26 January 2018). ‘Rick is a goddamn Russian spy’: Does the CIA have a new

Aldrich Ames on its hands?The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Sims, K. E. (2015). Unauthorized disclosure: can behavioral indicators help predict who will

commit unauthorized disclosure of classified national security information?Thesis. Retrieved from

Spannau, E. and Steinberg, J. (1994). The strange spy case of Aldrich Ames.EIR, 21 (11): 58


The People of the CIA … Ames Mole Hunt Team.(2013). Central Intelligence Agency.

Retrieved from

Weiner, T. (31 July 1994).Why I spied;AldrichAmes.The New York Times. Retrieved from

Wilder, U. (2012). Inside the mind of the spy: Agents struggle in the shadows. Retrieved from

Wilder, U. M. (2017). The psychology of espionage.Studies in Intelligence, 61(2): 19-36.

Why Do People Spy? (2017). Discernum. Retrieved from