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I watched the movie “Breach” recently. It reminded me of my brush with spies during my years in the DC area.

breach chris cooperIn “Breach,” Chris Cooper plays FBI agent Robert Hanssen, perhaps the worst traitor to the United States in history. Ryan Phillipe is Eric O’Neill, who was assigned to work with Hanssen in order to help build the case against him in the months before his arrest in 2001. Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison.  (For more on lots of spies, you should check out the Spy Museum in DC.)

Of course I remember the case from editing a lot of stories about it for the Washington Post’s news service.

Robert Hanssen

Robert Hanssen

Some of the movie was like old home week – the FBI building, the Metro, the Federal Triangle, Memorial Bridge. Then there were a lot of shots that drew, “That’s not D.C.”

It wasn’t. According to the commentary later, much of it was shot in Toronto. Kept pulling me out of the story.

But I promised you a brush with spies, not location critiques.

In the movie, there’s mention of the previous worst-in-history

spy, CIA agent Aldrich Ames.

And here’s my brush.


Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Ames lived in Arlington, Va., the same place I lived. So did a whole lot of other people 😉 When I did a ridealong with the Arlington police, my host officer responded to a fender bender that involved the Secretary of State’s car (he wasn’t in it at the time.)

I had neighbors who worked for the FBI, CIA, State, Congress. One neighbor was the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice. And then there was the family who said they worked for State, but the other State families said were CIA. I used to get semi-regular visits from FBI and State (not the CIA), checking up on employees’ security clearances, asking questions like if I’d noticed a lot of booze bottles in their trash or heard arguments between spouses.

But Ames, also known as Rick, lived across the street from a woman who was in the five-member critique group I belonged to when I first started writing. We would rotate whose house we went to each meeting.

My fellow critique group member knew the Ames family, had looked after the son a time or two, had a visit from the FBI between the time Ames was arrested and before it became public, was kind to some of the media who camped out in front of her house after the arrest, always felt terrible for the Ames’ young son.

Aldrich Ames house

Aldrich Ames house … with opening at the curb where my car was parked every few months.

So there’s my brush – I knew someone who knew Aldridge Ames. And every four or five months, I parked in front of his house for a Sunday afternoon to discuss writing.

At least that’s the brush I know about.