ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A distraught Rosario Ames said Tuesday that she had no knowledge of her husband's activities in the intelligence world and is bitterly angry over the shattering of her family's life by the couple's arrest on spying allegations.
In her first interview since her arrest on Feb. 21, Ames contended that portrayals of her as a "Mata Hari" figure in an alleged conspiracy that funneled CIA secrets to the Russians could not be further from the truth.
"I never worked for the Soviets," she said in the hourlong interview, which was conducted in the presence of her attorney, William B. Cummings, at the Alexandria city jail. She is being held there awaiting possible federal grand jury indictment or a plea bargain in her case.
The Colombian-born Ames and her husband, Aldrich H. Ames--a 31-year CIA veteran--were arrested on espionage conspiracy charges. The FBI alleged that Aldrich Ames had been paid at least $2.5 million by the Soviets and later the Russians to spy for them as a CIA mole since 1985.
Rosario Ames and Cummings indicated that they expect another extension of the deadline for grand jury action in the case as they work out details of a plea bargain with government prosecutors. The Times reported April 7 that Aldrich Ames, 52, has indicated willingness to cooperate with investigators as they try to assess damage done by his alleged spying, but only if they recommend leniency for Rosario, who is 41.
In the interview, Rosario Ames recounted the difficulties of being held in jail for nearly two months and broke down in tears as she pointed to a photograph of her 5-year-old son, Paul, saying: "He is the one who keeps me going."
She told of struggling with "anger, resentment and bitterness" toward her husband--feelings that now have settled into "great sadness and bewilderment."
Asked the source of her anger toward her husband and whether she felt "that he brought all of this upon the family," she said: "I don't know if I want to. . . ."
Cummings, who had set the ground rule that Rosario Ames would not discuss evidence in the case, cut her off, saying: "I think that's probably too close."
Ames also waved off questions about excerpts from government wiretaps on the couple's phones that depict her as a driving force in her husband's alleged spying.
In one recorded conversation, included in an unusually detailed FBI affidavit, Rosario Ames cautioned her husband against carelessness in carrying sensitive documents or cash, apparently from his Russian handlers, in suitcases that he was checking as airline baggage.
In another, she berated him, allegedly for failing to leave a timely signal for the Russians, saying: "Well, honey, I hope you didn't screw up."
Asked to comment on the recordings, she said: "I would love to, but I can't right now. Maybe in the future I will be able to."
"Her position is that the tapes do not reflect the nature of her relationship with her husband," Cummings said.
"Yes, he's right," Ames said.
"Beyond that, it's not something we can discuss right now," Cummings said.
Rosario Ames did strongly challenge the government's describing her as "a paid source for the CIA" in Mexico City in 1983, where she was working as a cultural attache for the Colombian Embassy.
Her relationship with the agency involved permitting a CIA friend from the U.S. Embassy to use her apartment for "certain meetings he needed to conduct with people that he couldn't have at the office," Ames said. She also introduced the CIA friend, whom she did not identify, to friends from diplomatic circles in Mexico City, she added.
"I was never interviewed, officially hired, or met anybody else from the CIA," she said. "I was never asked to, and he (her CIA friend) knew better than to ask me to betray my country, Colombia."
She dismissed as "absolutely false" reports that Aldrich Ames, who is known as Rick, recruited her for CIA work while both were in Mexico.
She said she did not know that Aldrich Ames--whom she said she met at a Diplomatic Assn. function in Mexico in 1982--was in the CIA until he proposed marriage just before leaving Mexico in 1983.
Ames said she was shocked to find he was with the agency, and that "I didn't like it too much."
"I share this cultural prejudice, I guess, of the CIA that most Latin Americans feel," she said. "When you mention the CIA in Latin America, people imagine all sorts of terrible things--not without good reason in a lot of cases."
Whenever Rosario Ames was asked about evidence cited in the FBI affidavit or whether any CIA colleagues took part in her husband's alleged activities, she denied having knowledge of her husband's work.
"I have no idea about it," she said. "I have very little knowledge of Rick's work or his superiors."
As for incriminating evidence that the FBI reportedly recovered from Rick Ames' computer during a search of the couple's home after their arrest, she said: "That's my husband's computer, not mine. So I can't answer that."