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David Wise


US Trade Hardcover

ISBN 0-06-017198-7

Publication Date:

357 pages; $25.00

Date Reviewed: 04-02-1996

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Non-Fiction, Mystery

It's easy to turn a great traitor into a romantic hero. The business of spying lends itself to extravagance, to sweeping gestures, to bold figures making strong statements in a hail of bullets. But the great traitor of the late twentieth century, Aldrich Ames, is also the great exception. In 'Nightmover', David Wise traces Ames' story, revealing the great traitor as nothing much more than an insecure file clerk with the keys to the office and an axe to grind. 'Nightmover' is frightening in the very mundanity of its story, in the everyday nature of the greed that lead to dozens of deaths.

Starting with his arrest in 1994, 'Nightmover' jumps back traces, in roughly chronological order, Ames' career in the CIA, his Kafkaesque service as a mid-level bureaucrat in an enterprise that lost track of its own dimensions. In hindsight, of course, it's all crystal clear. The only guy with a 40K$ Jaguar in the parking lot was moonlighting for the KGB and its military equivalent, the GRU. Wise, a veteran investigative reporter who has covered the US intelligence for 20 years, is able to get behind the anonymouse clerk's face, and show the frustrated employee who stepped onto a slippery slope and never returned.

Unfortunately, Wise does jump around a bit much, and those totally unfamiliar with the affair will take a little while to acclimatize to his hip-hopping around the timeline. But once the main characters of the drama, Ames, and his wife Rosario, are sketched in, things quickly and inevitably fall together, from the first deal where Ames told himself he was scamming the Russians, selling them information they already had, to the steady grab-bag of secrets he began to deliver, to the trace and capture of the unlikely villain.

Along the way, Wise makes it quite clear that there was ample warning to anybody with eyes and the slightest concern that something bad was happening in Rick Ames' life. He was habitually and embarrassingly drunk, a condition most of his co-workers tolerated and covered up. He was driving an expensive car, had paid for a huge house with cash, and explained both vaguely as either the rewards of wise investment, or gifts from his mother-in-law.

Just as fascinating as Ames' downfall is the process of finding the mole, a search that lasted for nearly eight years. Along the way talented agents are ignored or sidestepped, office politics torpedo hot leads and different sections of the enormous CIA bureaucracy manage to hold out on one another, thus losing the chance of catching the mole. Wise does jump around a bit, but the picture comes together, slowly, inevitably. Rick Ames was not as much a super-spy as he was a bureaucrat gone bad. In 'Nightmover', Wise dissects a case of high-level espionage and finds within not a tale of daring escapades, but the mundanity of a system so ineffective that it does not know when it is fatally ill.