James Woolsey and the CIA: The Aldrich Ames Spy Case

Case Solution

Philip Heymann, Howard Husock, Esther Scott
Harvard Kennedy School ()

When James Woolsey, a Washington lawyer and longtime Capital Hill associate, became director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1993, he inherited a bomb that would soon be made public. A joint CIAFBI investigation had revealed that Aldrich Ames, a former employee of the agency, had sold secret service secrets to the Soviet Union. Ames had compromised the safety of the Soviets who tried to help the United States in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a large house and luxurious cars. The public announcement of the Ames scandal in February 1994 would pose a dilemma for Woolsey. The agency harshly criticized the response from the public and Congress, which centered on the fact that the CIA failed to acknowledge Ames’ duplicity for nearly a decade. There was a widespread expectation that Woolsey would severely punish those who failed to discover Ames’s activities. On his part, however, Woolsey wasn’t sure what kind of punishment, if any, was appropriate. As the public clamor for “heads rolling” grew, Woolsey had to consider what was fair to longtime CIA officials, what was best for the morale of a troubled agency, and what was expected of the CIA. public. HKS case number 1339.0.

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