Archive for the ‘Counterespionage’ Category

I am quite remiss in posting about Sandra Grimes aka spy chaser extraordinaire. I created a draft on her after I posted on the Dames Hunting Ames, and but then instead followed up on her friend and cohort, the late-great Jeanne Vertefeuille after her passing, and then really meant to dig in and finish after Grimes and Vertefeuille published Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed. But alas, my dissertation work  is all consuming.

So here we are with something fresh: ABC TV doing a procedural on Grimes and the CIA in her hunt for the mole in the new show The Assets. Between that and a rather surprising reddit AmA by the illustrious Ms. Grimes, I feel obligate to finally, FINALLY giver her her due.

Grimes (1945 – ) is one of those individuals who is seemingly born to the life. Both of her parents worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (now Oak Ridge National Laboratories) on the Manhattan Project. The amount of secrecy surrounding not only the project, but the town itself due to the large number of people employed by the government there, could certainly influence or make one predisposed to a life of government service and national security in particular. Grimes studied and excelled in Russian during her teens and formally enrolled in Russian Studies at the University of Seattle where she received her degree.

Now this is 1966, the Cold War is well underway, and what is a gal to do with a degree in Russian if not work for the CIA? Starting off in clerical services and working her way up to the division handling  the double agent Dmitri Polyakov, a Russian asset and CIA informant (who was later arrested based on information provided by both Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, and executed for treason in 1988). Through diligence and no small amount of auto-didacticism, Grimes learned every facet of Soviet Intelligence and worked her way in to senior analyst position, then a division officer, a section chief, and later a deputy chief. It was through these experiences that she met her friend and colleague Vertefeuille.

By the late 1980s, it had become clear that CIA communications had been compromised by Soviet intelligence services. Through an extensive mole-hunt, Grimes and her task force had narrowed their gaze to Aldrich Ames, their fellow co-worker who had been taking large bribes from the Soviet Union in exchange for money for years resulting in the second greatest loss of assets in US history.

Grimes retired from the CIA in 1991.

So now Hollywood is getting in on the act with a TV series based on this infamous mole hunt. The show chronicles the years of initial loss and discovery of the existence of a mole within the CIA. And Grimes is front and center in the series which is refreshing for it’s under-played action sequences and patient story telling. It is incredibly fascinating in a particularly boring way, but yet still oddly riveting at the same. Maybe because it isn’t a hopped, testosterone soaked clam bake of sexed-up killer fembots indulging in typical Hollywood Spy-Fi? Most certainly.

And while the Grimes “character” in the show experiences the equally boring and typical “issues” facing women, like how to make time for family and career, here’s the kicker: she has an amazingly supportive husband who encourages her in her work. This is new. I have yet seen this kind of portrayal in the media for our Intel gals. Not that she should need male permission in the first place, because really, when are the gender roles ever reversed on that issue? But that said, I would have been just as happy having zero back story on Grimes, knowing nothing of her personal life, and having the story focus just on her doing her job. Sigh – c’est la vie. Maybe next time.

I cannot predict the longevity of such a show. Those in Intel will undoubtedly sink their teeth into the details, but that requires dragging out the narrative, and unfortunately that type of pacing may not last with a general audience – although it would most certainly be good for them.

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320px-elizebeth-friedman1Elizebeth Friedman (1892-1980), in three words: What A Broad.

Elizebeth was one-half of the Dynamic Duo of Friedman and Freidman. Although married to the reknowned cryptographer William F. Friedman, Elizebeth was quite the crypto-dame in her own right and is often to referred to as the America’s first female cryptanalyst.

Let me first say that I could spend this entire entry musing about the type of love letters the Friedmans sent to each other (D197%6 B9G#!& = Dearest Billy), but it’s time to get to work:

Elizebeth was born the youngest of nine children in a Quaker family. She graduated college with a degree in English Literature although she dabbled in quite a varied amount of other subjects. She was fluent in German, Latin and Greek.

After graduating college and trying to find herself via the public education system, Elizebeth was to drawn to a job at the Newberry Library in Chicago presumably for its Shakespeare collection of which Elizebeth was quite the aficionado.

However, a brilliant secretary performing the initial interview for the job, directed Elizebeth instead toward George Fabyan. Fabyan is credited with having the first private think tank dedicated to cryptology in the nation. He immediately hired Elizebeth to work at his facility Riverbank, in Geneva, Illinois, where Elizebeth worked on a project attempting to prove Sir Francis Bacon as the true author of “Shakespearean” work. The belief was that Bacon enciphered the work and by decoding the works, one could discover the Bacon’s identity.

Interesting sure, but hardly the good stuff. It was during Elizebeth’s five years at Riverbank that she met and eventually married her husband, William, a fellow and brilliant cryptographer. However, the outbreak of WWI and the creation of MI-8, the US Army’s Cipher Bureau, inspired the Friedmans to jump ship and head to Washington. DC proved to suit Elizebeth well.  She worked for US Naval intelligence which led to a stint at the Treasury Department and it was there that Elizebeth really began to shine.

Remember that the 1920’s were the time of Prohibition. Elizebeth put her smarts to the task of deciphering communiques, via both written and radio-communicated messages, between smuggling rings. During her tenure our gal-pal was responsible for solving over 12,000 messages. All done by training a cadre of cryptanalysts and by staying abreast of improved deciphering techniques and the subsequent hardware that was being developed which kept her one step ahead of the game.

But her career wasn’t all busting rum-runners and smugglers. Among her many exploits, Elizebeth created a security system for the International Monetary Fund, was responsible for breaking the code on notorious American spy Velvalee Dickinson (more on that dame later), and broke Chinese codes for the Canadian government despite the fact she didn’t even know the language. That’s one hell of a career right there.

But not the end of Elizebeth’s story. After retiring from government work, Elizebeth and William returned to their work on Shakespeare eventually publishing the definitive book arguing against the idea of Sir Francis Bacon being the real author of the works.

William passed on in 1969 and Elizebeth set to work compiling their career worth of papers into a stunning collection of cryptographical works. She passed along herself in 1980 in New Jersey.

1990’s were not a good time for the US intelligence community. Both the FBI and CIA has suffered terribly at the hands of traitors in the form of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, but it is Ames who is considered to have done the most damage to the CIA’s overseas assets.

Ames began working for the CIA in 1962, by 1969, he was a case officer. Adultery, followed by a consequential divorce, alcoholism, and not being able to live within his means made Ames the perfect candidate as a double agent. Ames began spying for the Soviet Union in 1985 and did not cease until his arrest in 1994. During Ames’ career as a traitor, 10 Soviet agents working for the US were executed, at least 10 others were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Gulag, and it is assumed that hundreds of intelligence operations were revealed to the Soviets.

The CIA suspected a mole but put little resources toward the endeavor. The idea that someone within The Old Boys Club betraying them, was too much for the guys at the top to deal with. But finally, in 1986, an obligatory team was put together to track down the CIA’s most deadliest mole.

Enter Jeanne Vertefeullie. Jeanne was a quiet, solid, 54 year old case officer for the CIA since the 1950’s. She was a bit of loner but was in possession of an astounding institutional memory. Before the time of supercomputers, if you needed to sniff out clues in a thousand or so case files, one needed to have a supa-dupa memory chip in their noggin. One would need to be intimately familiar with every fact from every case related to that problem. Jeanne had not only the experience but that memory chip and set to work tracking down the mole.

Jeanne was given a small team and only a smaller wink of hope, but the addition of fellow Intel-gals from the Agency, Fran Smith and Sandy Grimes, both veterans in Soviet Intelligence, gave Jeanne the experience she needed to set to work.

Now no one ever said that the CIA was a bastion of Female Empowerment, in fact, sadly, after so many years, it is still quite the opposite, but the skirts who have had the fortitude to stick it out and carve out a place for themselves inside the Agency, must be admired. Of course, during the time of this investigation these dames on the Mole Hunt were often referred to as the “Little Gray-Haired Old Ladies”, but these ladies were going to have the last laugh.

Eight years of diligent work finally paid off in the capture and imprisonment of Aldrich Ames. Consider this: Jeanne turned 60 in 1992 and was thus forced to retire from the CIA as was policy. Sure, she could of traipsed off into the sunset and left this Mole Hunt behind to become someone else’s problem, but she stayed on at the CIA as a contractor for the sole purpose of catching her man. After 6 years investment into the case, Jeanne was not about to give up when her quarry was in her sites.

Also consider that during the final years of the chase, Ames was assigned to the CIA Counterintelligence Center where he was in an ideal position to cover his activities and direct the investigation towards other colleagues. Which he did.

When Ames was brought in for questioning and sat face to face with Jeanne Vertefeuille, the broad heading up the team that brought him down, Ames calmly and casually informed her that he had offered up her name as a possible mole.