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Seductresses and Secret Soviet Sympathizers? Save It for 007

Hoosier CIA veteran says most Americans found to have been spying for Russia were just after the money

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Spy stories are full of seductive femmes fatale and secret Communist moles. An Indianapolis-born CIA veteran says the stories of real-life traitors are usually a lot less exciting.

Gene Coyle spent 30 years in the CIA, including stints in Moscow and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, and recruited a few foreign sources a year to help U.S. intelligence. He says some were driven by ideology, viewing their aid to the CIA as a step toward reform in their countries. Conversely, in the first decade after World War Two, some of the most prominent espionage cases in America, from Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to Alger Hiss, involved accusations of Communist sympathies. But Coyle told Mensa's national conference in Indianapolis that over the last 60 years, Americans found to have been spying for Russia have typically had a simpler motivation: money.

Coyle says that's the case with three CIA officers he knew during his time at the agency who were eventually exposed as Russian agents. He says no one had to recruit Aldrich Ames, Jim Nicholson or Edward Howard  -- they all went to Russian intelligence themselves and volunteered to sell secrets. With Howard, Coyle says, there was an element of revenge as well because Howard had been fired from the agency. But Coyle says Ames and Nicholson had both gone through expensive divorces and were looking to raise money. 

James Bond-style temptresses aren't entirely extinct. Marine Corporal Clayton Lonetree, a Marine guard at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow when Coyle was stationed there, was convicted of being lured into espionage by a Russian woman on the embassy staff. But Coyle suggests even that case was less a seduction into supporting the Russian cause than a socially awkward and naive Marine unaccustomed to a woman paying attention to him

Of the three CIA officers, Coyle worked most closely with Ames, the most damaging double agent in agency history. The two were in the same section for nearly a year and saw each other daily. Coyle says he considered Ames a friend -- he recalls visiting Ames' office on a Friday, then opening the newspaper on Tuesday to learn of Ames' arrest. Now in retirement in Bloomington after a teaching stint at IU, Coyle says jokingly he's thought about driving to the federal prison in Terre Haute where Ames is serving a life sentence to visit him -- "with a baseball bat."

But Coyle says Ames didn't care about Communism, or any ideology other than "what was good for Rick." If Ames had been in business, Coyle says, he'd have been another Bernie Madoff. Because he was in intelligence, Coyle says, the means at his disposal to get money was the access he had to CIA secrets.

Coyle sees a parallel with steroids in sports or the Soap Box Derby cheating scandal in the 1970s. He says both show a philosophy of doing what you can get away with if it benefits you, regardless of who else might get hurt. He says there'll be more Ames cases in the future if that attitude becomes prevalent.

Sean Connery as James Bond in "Thunderball" (Photo: MacGregor/Getty Images)

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