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Aside from his sloppy tradecraft in handling money, Ames had another fault — a low regard for women. He had known Mrs. Grimes for years — they carpooled together at one point — but during interviews with her and Ms. Vertefeuille, he made plain that “he thought he was smarter than we were” and that he “viewed us as two dumb broads.” He was wrong, and fatally so.

The KGB, of course, was fully aware of the CIA’s intense “mole hunt,” most likely on the basis of Ames‘ reports. So the Soviets floated several explanations for the breaches that seemed plausible on their face — that CIA communications were flawed, or that “an officer with a Russian name” was the source. These ploys were ultimately recognized as attempts at disinformation.

Much of “Circle of Treason” is devoted to the recruited agents betrayed by Ames, and the important information they gave to the CIA during the years when the Cold War was still serious. That most of these individuals were summarily executed emphasizes the odious nature of Ames‘ conduct.

The authors state candidly that they are not telling a complete story: “When it comes to information we believe the opposition does not know or that could prove harmful to certain individuals, we have suppressed it in our book even though it would add useful background to our story.”

The book also marks an attempt by the CIA to point up its major role in the detection of Ames — something for which the publicity-conscious FBI was quite happy to present as its own success after his arrest. Several earlier books on the Ames case were heavily FBI-centric, particularly David Wise’s 1995 work “Nightmover.”

All in all, “Circle of Treason” is a disturbing read, but an essential one for anyone interested in the intricate detail work involved in a counterintelligence investigation — and a tribute to two women who helped push it to a conclusion.

Joseph C. Goulden’s latest book of 18 is “The Dictionary of Espionage” (Dover, 2012).