The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton

Here are some highlights from this 2017 book:

* The New Criticism that Angleton treasured was a powerful method, not merely for its insights into poetry but for its implicitly conservative worldview. It was not value-free. On the contrary, its proponents would argue vigorously that it was a method deeply rooted in a particular set of values, a method, in the final analysis, for promulgating those values. The elevated strictures of the New Criticism that exalted his favorite poets would prove formative for Angleton. He would come to value coded language, textual analysis, ambiguity, and close control as the means to illuminate the amoral arts of spying that became his job. Literary criticism led him to the profession of secret intelligence. Poetry gave birth to a spy.

* The red-trimmed first issue of Furioso, adorned by an impish devil wielding a switch, was mailed out in May 1939. Costing just thirty cents, the publication was a literary bargain. In its twenty-eight pages, there was Pound’s odd contribution, and a letter from the poet Archibald MacLeish arguing that the new communications medium of broadcast radio would be the salvation of poetry. Angleton’s friend E. E. Cummings, also a known poet, contributed a poem. The soon to be renowned Dr. William Carlos Williams added three more.25
One canny Yale graduate student named Norman Holmes Pearson was especially impressed with this collection of fresh, arresting literary work. Pearson was a gimpy young man, almost a hunchback. He smoked a pipe and read Sherlock Holmes detective stories for pleasure, which proved to be good cover for the unlikeliest of spies. Pearson made a point of introducing himself to Angleton.

* WHEN YALE CLASSES ENDED in May 1939 Angleton returned to Milan by boat. The ten-day voyage took him from New York to Genoa. A train took him to Milan and a reunion with his parents and siblings. Angleton wrote a letter to Pound, asking if he might visit him in Rapallo again. He wanted Pound to meet his father.
Hugh Angleton, then fifty years old, was not a poet or a writer. He was a man of business. Like Ezra Pound, he admired the ambitions and spirit of Italian fascism… As a man with connections, Hugh wanted to get to know his son’s friend, the great poet, who dared to say fascism and Americanism were two sides of the same coin.

* “What will remain from this struggle is an idea,” Pound declared in early 1941. “What spreads and will spread from the determination to have a New Europe is an idea: the idea of a home for every family in the country. The idea that every family in the country shall have a sane house, and that means a house well built, with no breeding space for tuberculosis bugs.…”
Pound likened twentieth-century European fascism to nineteenth-century American democracy in its rejection of collectivism. The new Europe, he said, was merely following in the path of the United States.38 Over the next four years, Pound would deliver more than 120 speeches over Radio Rome, most of them rife with folksy language, images of infestation, historical references, and anti-Semitism, all wrapped in a belligerent spirit of racial chauvinism.

* ANGLETON DID NOT RETURN Cicely’s passion, at least not immediately. In his last year at Yale, Angleton’s charmed life had suffered unsettling setbacks. At a time when the U.S. Army was welcoming hundreds of thousands of young men, he was rejected by the Selective Service, probably because of his recurring tuberculosis.46 Optimistically, he applied to Harvard Law School, despite the fact that his poor grades pulled him down to the bottom quarter of the Yale class of 1941.47 He was rejected.
Angleton’s friend Norman Holmes Pearson wrote a letter to Harvard, asking them to reconsider.48 Pearson, then thirty-two years old, surely qualifies as the most improbable spymaster in American history.49 An assistant literature professor from a prosperous New England family, Pearson had few obvious qualifications for a life of deception and intrigue. He was a genteel man of unobtrusive appearance who walked with a limp, left over from a spinal injury in childhood. He was also a founding spirit of the global enterprise of espionage, propaganda, and violence known as the Central Intelligence Agency.
Pearson’s letter to Harvard proved convincing, and Angleton was admitted.50 Reprieved from unemployment, Angleton intended to make good by studying international law and contracts and then going into the family business.51 He was headed for a career of selling cash registers or perhaps publishing poets, but Norman Pearson wasn’t done with him.
Pearson, like many other young Ivy League professors, went to war by joining the newly created Office of Strategic Services. The OSS, as it was known, resembled an elite university in its mission to collect and disseminate information. The OSS was the brainchild of William Donovan, a Wall Street lawyer known as “Wild Bill” for his aerial heroics in World War I. For years, Donovan had been telling his friend Franklin Roosevelt that the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany meant there would be another war in Europe, one that the United States would have to join. America needed a foreign intelligence service, and probably sooner rather than later, he told FDR. After Pearl Harbor, Donovan had won the argument.
The British already had a foreign intelligence agency, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), established in 1909, sometimes known as MI6. So the officers of the new American OSS were sent to school at the British intelligence facility in Bletchley Park, north of London. There, Pearson joined the SIS men in teaching the novice Americans the arts of espionage and special operations as perfected by the world’s greatest colonial power.

* Norman Pearson had arranged for him to join the OSS. Before long, he was immersed in another form of basic training, this one in the hills of Maryland. Sixty OSS recruits marched up hills, danced through obstacle courses, and took night compass runs through the woods. The men who passed through the OSS training course became Angleton’s colleagues and friends for life.
Some came from similarly privileged backgrounds. Frank Wisner, the scion of a wealthy Mississippi family, had attended the University of Virginia. Others were older men of humbler origins, experienced in ways unknown to Angleton’s Yale classmates. Winston Scott, a former FBI agent, had grown up in a railroad boxcar in rural Alabama. He had a photographic memory and a Ph.D. in mathematics. Tom Karamessines was a taciturn lawyer who had worked as a prosecutor in New York City. Bill Colby was a Princeton man and army paratrooper who would lead sabotage raids in occupied Norway. Dick Helms was a white-shoed navy lieutenant who had worked as a wire-service reporter and once interviewed Adolf Hitler.
Angleton would know these men for as long as they lived.

* JIM ANGLETON LEARNED THE craft of counterintelligence from two masters: Norman Pearson and Kim Philby.
Pearson was the more intellectual of two. Now living in England, he liked nothing more than to spend his Sundays sipping tea in the flat of his friend Hilda Doolittle, the poet known as H.D.65 The rest of the week, he taught the subtle arts of counterintelligence, defined as “information gathered and activities conducted to protect against espionage, sabotage or assassinations conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations, or persons.”66 Angleton would prove to be his most brilliant student.
Kim Philby was more of a rising civil servant. He had grown up in a well-to-do and well-traveled family. His father, Harry St. John Philby, had parlayed his livelihood as an Anglo-Indian tea planter into a career as a confidant to the royal family of Saudi Arabia.67 His son, Kim, was educated at Cambridge and dabbled in journalism before joining the Secret Service in 1940. From the start Philby distinguished himself from his more conventional colleagues with a casual wardrobe, incisive memoranda, and a mastery of Soviet intelligence operations in Spain and Portugal. He taught Angleton how to run double-agent operations, to intercept wireless and mail messages, and to feed false information to the enemy. Angleton would prove to be his most trusting friend.
Angleton had found a calling and a mentor.
Once he met Philby the world of intelligence that had once interested him consumed him. “He had taken on the Nazis and the Fascists head-on and penetrated their operations in Spain and Germany,” he said. “His sophistication and experience appealed to us.… Kim taught me a great deal.”

SO DID NORMAN PEARSON. He imparted to Angleton his knowledge about one of the most significant activities housed at Bletchley Park: ULTRA, the code-breaking operation that enabled the British to decipher all of Germany’s military communications and read them in real time. By May 1944, the British believed they had, for perhaps for the first time in modern military history, a complete understanding of the enemy’s intelligence resources.69
Pearson also sat on the committee that decided how to use the ULTRA information. He was let in on another, even more closely held British secret: the practice of “doubling” certain German agents to feed disinformation back to Berlin so as to shape the thinking and the actions of Hitler’s generals.
It was a subtle, dirty game that Pearson shared with Angleton. The Germans had infiltrated dozens of spies into England with the mission of stealing information, identifying targets, and reporting back to listening posts on the Continent. When the British captured one of the German spies, they would “double” him—that is, compel him to send back a judicious mixture of false and accurate data, which would give the Germans a mistaken view of battlefield reality. In the run-up to the Normandy invasion of June 1944, the British had manipulated the Germans into massing their troops away from the selected landing point. The deception enabled the Allied armies to land at Normandy and start their drive toward Paris with the German resistance in disarray.
Angleton was learning how deception operations could shape the battlefield of powerful nations at war.

* From the OSS station in Bern, Switzerland, Allen Dulles, a former State Department official turned Wall Street attorney, had opened private lines of communication in early 1945 with General Wolff about the possibility of surrender.
Dulles, an amoral pipe-smoking schemer, had long experience with—and high regard for—a number of German businessmen and financiers. Dulles regarded the rise of the Nazis as an unfortunate aberration that should not taint the reputation of the good Germans who did not support them. While President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were insisting on unconditional Nazi surrender, Dulles had a different idea: a separate peace with responsible Germans to end the war more quickly. If Wolff and others broke with Hitler and ceased fighting, Dulles intimated they would be treated well by the victorious Allies.
Dulles called it Operation Sunrise. It was designed to blunt the advance of Communist forces in Europe. The Soviet army was advancing from the east toward Austria. Communist-led partisans were vanquishing the fascist regimes in the Balkans and they were surging in Italy. Dulles predicted that Hitler and his most loyal followers would retreat to Bavaria, where they would fight to the end. Angleton followed Dulles’s lead.

* “ANGLETON’S APPROACH CAN BE best understood as the implementation of what might be called ‘Total Counterespionage,’” wrote historian Timothy Naftali. “… He believed that a counterespionage service had to have an insatiable appetite for information about foreign activities so as to be in a position to restrict, eliminate, or control the ways by which other states collected their intelligence.”91
Imbued with fascist sympathies and anti-Communist passion, Angleton channeled his convictions into Anglo-American hegemonic ambition. With the analytic skills forged in Yale literary criticism and secret intelligence training imparted by the British SIS, he had unique aspirations. Angleton was intent on nurturing an intelligence network in service of the new American millennium.

* BY 1947, WELL-PLACED AMERICANS in Italy were saying, sotte voce, that young Jim Angleton had great sources in the Vatican. Some went so far as to say he was meeting on a weekly basis with Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, the Vatican’s undersecretary of state for Italian affairs.126 Angleton did not boast of such connections. It was his job to know what was going on in Italian politics, and he made sure he did.
The relationship between the monsignor and the American spy was more transactional than spiritual. Baptized as a Catholic and raised as an Episcopalian, Angleton acknowledged Jesus Christ as his Savior.127 His meetings with Montini concerned more earthly matters.
Montini was a dark, slim, self-effacing man, the son of a lawyer. One U.S. intelligence report described him as “the most authoritative person in the Vatican,” not the least because of his daily personal contact with Pope Pius XII.128 The lessons Angleton learned when he met with Monsignor Montini taught him certain timeless truths about the management of power. Yesterday’s war criminal was today’s asset. If the world was indifferent to the fate of the Jews, the Jews would return the favor. On the grounds of the Vatican, Angleton learned the religion of realism. He refused to rank ideologies of America’s adversaries in terms of morality.129

* The sense that Italy was on the brink of civil war was pervasive in the American press. “Italy Faces Her Worst Crisis,” proclaimed Look magazine. “The Communist Party is extending its gains every day as poverty and hunger grip the nation. The opposition to communism is also stiffening, with the promise of American aid. But the resistance may not be strong enough.”142
In his quest to make sure the Partito Comunista Italiano, or PCI, did not come to power, Angleton knit together friends, allies, and agents into a formidable action network. He could call on the Italian security forces, the Vatican, his father’s associates in the business world, fraternal allies in the Knights of Malta, as well as contacts in the British and French secret services.
To stem the Communist tide, Angleton proposed raising $300,000 in private funds for radio and newspaper advertising and for the “personal expenses” of anti-Communist candidates. It wasn’t enough. His bosses in Washington authorized tapping of the captured assets of the defeated Axis powers to pay for political action in Italy.143 Ten million dollars was put into an account for CIA use.

* ANGLETON’S IMAGINATION HAD AN artistic dimension. As the story later circulated, he interrupted one embassy meeting in Rome in early 1948 to ask Ambassador James Dunn if he might offer an idea.
“I thought,” he began mischievously, “we might take advantage of one of America’s great natural resources: Greta Garbo.”
The name of the Swedish actress invoked images of her sultry style. “I realize she once belonged to another country,” Angleton said, “but I believe by now we’re justified in claiming her as our own. So I suggest we import one of her best pictures.” He paused. “I’d like to expose the Italians to Ninotchka.”
Ninotchka, released in 1939, was a comedy in which Garbo spoofed Stalinist Russia. The ambassador ratified Angleton’s proposal on the spot. Actually, Angleton wasn’t the only wise guy with this idea. The Hollywood studios had printed extra copies of Ninotchka and made special arrangements to show the film in Italy as a way of contrasting golden America with ravaged Russia. At the end of the meeting, Angleton supposedly quipped, “Miss Garbo will prove a most lethal secret weapon.”147
And so she did. The Christian Democrats emerged from the election of April 1948 with 48 percent of the vote and an absolute majority in parliament. In this rather open and extensive intervention by the United States, Angleton had played a decisive role. His enemies, the Communists, would never gain control of the government in Rome, and his allies would mostly prosper. Within twenty years, Monsignor Montini would become Pope Paul VI.

* As McCarthy and others on Capitol Hill began to weave together the threats of communism and homosexuality in 1950, Washington was engulfed with two popular passions: a wave of anti-Communist fervor that liberal historians would call “the Red Scare” and a widespread revulsion against homosexuals that gay historians would dub the “Lavender Scare.” Both Communists and gays, it was said, should be purged from the federal government’s workforce.170
The Lavender Scare was felt as an extraordinary political development. Homosexuality was all but unspeakable in American culture. Some newspapers would not even mention the word. Others, like the Washington Times-Herald, one of the capital’s leading dailies, relied on abusive language. Gays and lesbians were “queers,” “pansies,” and “cookie-pushers.” In any case, to even speak of such people was unheard of and scandalous.
And then there were the facts of the matter. While the florid-faced McCarthy was often reckless, his charges were not entirely imagined.171 There were a lot of gays and lesbians in Washington. The federal government had quadrupled in size between 1930 and 1950.172 More than a few of these governmental jobs were filled by gay people migrating into Washington, looking to escape the strictures of conventional families and small-town life.173
When Senator Millard Tydings, a liberal from Maryland, attacked McCarthy for the lack of specificity in his charges, the Wisconsin Republican responded with a true story, which Tydings could not refute. One known homosexual had been dismissed from the State Department, McCarthy said, only to be immediately rehired by the CIA.
“This man who was a homosexual … spent his time hanging around the men’s room in Lafayette Park,” he declared.174
Angleton knew the man McCarthy was talking about. His name was Carmel Offie. He worked for the CIA, and Angleton could not stand him.

* CARMEL OFFIE WAS, by all accounts, an unusual and unscrupulous character. Born into a humble Italian family in Pennsylvania, he exhibited driving ambition at an early age. He studied dictation at a business school until he could take down conversations verbatim. He moved to Washington in the early 1930s, took a civil service exam, and was hired as a stenographer at the State Department. When William Bullitt, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, asked for a first-class male stenographer, Offie was hired. In Moscow, he became Bullitt’s assistant and lover. When Bullitt returned to the United States, he arranged for Offie to take the Foreign Service exam, which gained him a permanent job in the State Department.175 Offie had a knack for shady financial schemes, which he used to keep powerful patrons in his debt.
Unusually for a gay man in those days, Offie did not hide his sexual preferences. He liked to refer to his bed as “the playing fields of Eton,” the all-male English boarding school attended by the British elite. In 1943, he was arrested for propositioning an undercover police officer in Lafayette Park. After hours, the leafy park across the street from the White House was a popular place for gay men to congregate. The Washington police arrest report was the factual basis for McCarthy’s charge.

* Angleton’s response to the Lavender Scare was telling. He was not repelled by Offie’s homosexuality. He was not deterred by politics from coming to Offie’s aid. He could—and would—keep secrets on behalf of a gay man if it served his purposes and the Agency’s. One writer would later insist, without evidence, that Angleton himself was homosexual.186 Angleton certainly didn’t think of himself as gay in the way Carmel Offie did. Nor was he uncomfortable with such a man, even though he might dislike him otherwise. As always with Angleton, the imperatives of secret intelligence trumped the strictures of conventional morality.

* KIM PHILBY’S FRIEND GUY Burgess was slightly taller than average in height with a combination of blue eyes, inquisitive nose, and curly hair that gave him the expression of an alert fox terrier. Said one British reporter, “He swam like an otter and drank, not like a feckless undergraduate, but like some Rabelaisian bottleswiper with a thirst unquenchable.”187 After a cocktail or two, his eyes lit up with a glint of a sexual appetite that was insatiable. Said one lover, “If anyone invented homosexuality, it was Guy Burgess.”188
In mid-twentieth-century Washington, Burgess stood out even more than Carmel Offie. In a city where gay impulses were all but unmentionable, Burgess did not conceal his witty contempt for American conventions. Before Burgess took up his post in Washington, his boss in London, who knew full well of his sexual recklessness, warned him there were three taboos he must respect in America: homosexuality, communism, and the color line. Burgess pondered the advice.
“What you’re trying to say in your nice, long-winded way,” he deadpanned, “is—Guy, for God’s sake don’t make a pass at Paul Robeson,” the statuesque African American actor known for his Communist sympathies.

* “I ALWAYS THOUGHT THERE was something wrong with Philby,” Angleton would later tell fellow CIA officer John Hart.196 He told journalist Andrew Boyle that he suspected as early as 1951 that Philby might be a spy. Such claims are not supported by any evidence.197
In fact, one of Angleton’s friends raised doubts about Philby’s loyalties at the time and Angleton did not act. The friend was Teddy Kollek, a British Zionist who had served as an SIS agent during the war before emigrating to Israel. Angleton had met Kollek in Rome after the war as the Jewish Agency organized the exodus of European Jews to Palestine. They were reunited when Kollek was assigned to work at the Israeli embassy in Washington. In the fall of 1950, Kollek paid a visit to CIA headquarters to see Angleton.
“I was walking towards Angleton’s office,” Kollek recounted, “… when suddenly I spotted a familiar face at the other end of the hallway.… I burst into Angleton’s office and said ‘Jim, you’ll never guess who I saw in the hallway. It was Kim Philby!’”
Kollek knew Philby. He had lived in Austria in 1934 when a fascist government crushed a socialist insurgency that had drawn supporters from across Europe, including the young Philby. Kollek told Angleton that Philby may have been recruited as an agent of the Soviet Union. “Once a Communist, always a Communist,” he said. Angleton stared back.
“Jim never reacted to anything,” Kollek said. “The subject was dropped and never raised again.”

* ANGLETON LEARNED THE STORY after the Memorial Day holiday in May 1951. He might have heard it from Philby himself: Donald Maclean, a top official in the British embassy, had vanished while on home leave in England—and apparently Guy Burgess had vanished with him.
U.S. and British officials had come to suspect that Maclean was a spy. The U.S. Army’s code-breaking office had deciphered a series of messages sent to the Soviets in 1944 and 1945 from a source identified only as “Homer,” who spoke of a pregnant wife in New York whom he visited regularly. At the time, Maclean’s wife was pregnant and lived in New York. British officials had just decided to summon Maclean for questioning when he disappeared.
The British traced his movements in England. They discovered that Burgess, also on home leave, had picked up Maclean in a rented car. The two men had boarded a ferry to France, where the trail went cold. The only possible explanation for Maclean’s flight, just as he was about to face interrogation, was that he had been spying for the Soviet Union. The simultaneous disappearance of Burgess was a surprise, because he had not been suspected of spying. Had someone tipped them off that Maclean was in danger? Was there a third spy in Washington, a third man?
Suspicions focused on Kim Philby. Beetle Smith asked everyone on his staff who knew Burgess, Maclean, and Philby to assess their loyalties.
Bill Harvey responded first. He consulted with Win Scott, who knew Philby from his stints in London.205 They agreed Philby was a Soviet spy and that he had tipped off Burgess and Maclean. In a memo dated June 13, Harvey noted Philby had been joint commander of a CIA-SIS operation in Albania, which was plagued with security problems. Philby had known about the code breakers’ efforts to identify the Soviet agent known as “Homer.” And, of course, Philby had shared his house with Burgess. Harvey argued forcefully that these constituted too many coincidences to allow an innocent conclusion.
A few days later, Angleton said Philby was guilty only of being too fond of Burgess.

* Philby had been spying for the Soviet Union for sixteen years and had been deceiving his friend Angleton for seven. He had tipped off Maclean about his imminent arrest, though he never expected Burgess to bolt with him. Angleton, confronted with the possibility that his deep and warm friendship was a sham, did not allow himself to believe it. At their last meeting, Angleton told Philby he expected they would meet again.
The poignant truth, as Jim McCargar discovered, was that Angleton believed Philby was innocent.

* AFTER PHILBY’S FORCED DEPARTURE, the upward trajectory of Angleton’s career flattened for the first time. He was no longer the miracle worker of the Italian elections. The disaster of Burgess and Maclean did nothing to endear him to the dyspeptic Beetle Smith.

* The Zionists had gained their state in May 1948. Using moral appeals, bombs, assassination, and weapons provided by Eastern European Communists, they drove out the British, commandeered the strategic heights of historic Palestine, and declared a Jewish homeland. They expelled most of the Arab residents and defeated the combined armies of Arab nations, which could not imagine that Jews from distant Europe could establish their own country in their midst. They could and did.
Angleton was initially wary of Israel. Many Jews espoused communism, and the Soviet Union was the first nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the Jewish state. He thought the Soviet intelligence service would use Israel as a way station for inserting spies into the West. But Stalin’s anti-Semitic purges in 1948 guaranteed that the Israelis would not fall under Soviet sway.
In 1950, Reuven Shiloah, the founder of Israel’s first intelligence organization, visited Washington and came away impressed by the CIA. In April 1951, he reorganized the fractious Israeli security forces to create a new foreign intelligence agency, called the Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks, inevitably known as the Mossad, the Hebrew word for “institute.”

* Shiloah, according to his biographer, soon developed “a special relationship” with Angleton,217 who became the CIA’s exclusive liaison with the Mossad.218
Angleton returned the favor by visiting Israel.219 Shiloah introduced him to Amos Manor, chief of counterespionage for Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, known as Shabak or Shin Bet.220 Manor was an attractive man—tall, athletic, and outgoing. Born in present-day Romania as Arthur Mendelovich, he had grown up in a wealthy Jewish family, most of whose members had died in the Holocaust. Put on a train bound for Auschwitz, he had jumped off and escaped to join the Jewish underground. He emigrated to Israel, using a forged passport. Manor joined the general security service and changed his name. He spoke Hebrew, English, French, Romanian, and Hungarian, and he had uncanny understanding of how other people thought, perhaps the most important skill a counterintelligence officer can possess.221
Manor headed up what the Israelis called Operation Balsam, their conduit to the Americans.

* ANOTHER ARENA FOR ANGLETON’S ambition was organized labor. Early on, he grasped the truth that unions were a key to political power in the democratic West, and central to Communist strategy. He needed sources in the labor movement.
That’s why he turned to Jay Lovestone, the chief of the American Federation of Labor’s Free Trade Union Committee. Growing up as a Jewish immigrant in New York City, Lovestone became a Communist. As the leader of the American Communist Party in the 1920s, his independent ways were rebuked by Joseph Stalin himself. In a decade of intra-Communist struggle, Lovestone learned—and loved—to operate through front organizations to achieve his political goals. During World War II, he rejected communism and joined the staff of the AFL, one of the two largest confederations of American labor unions, rivaled only by the more left-wing Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO.223
In a mutually agreeable arrangement Angleton hired him. Lovestone handled the AFL’s relations with labor unions around the world. The CIA funded him. He not only reported to Angleton but also helped him build his own intelligence network.

* IN THE DARKNESS OF room 1018 of the Statler Hotel in New York City, someone or something lifted Frank Olson off his bare feet, off the carpet, and propelled him headfirst toward the window overlooking Seventh Avenue. Whether it was a man or mental demons, the source of the force was so powerful that Olson’s body exploded through the glass window and sailed out into the cool night air of midtown Manhattan. In the first second, Frank Olson fell sixteen feet; in the second, sixty-four.
“It was like the guy was diving, his hands out in front of him, but then his body twisted and he was coming down feet first, his arms grabbing at the air above him,” said the hotel doorman, who looked up at the sound of breaking glass.
The falling man struck a temporary wooden partition that shielded the construction under way on the hotel’s facade, then tumbled to the sidewalk, landing on his back.226
It was 2:25 A.M. on Saturday, November 28, 1953.
Up on the tenth floor, inside the room from which Olson had been ejected, there was a wide-awake man named Robert Lashbrook. He was a chemist for the CIA’s Technical Services Division. He looked out the shattered window. Olson’s body lay on the sidewalk below. He had better things to do than go down to see if poor Olson was dead. Lashbrook could (and would) console himself with the thought that he himself hadn’t killed Olson, and that he was forbidden by the Agency and the law from saying anything more about what had happened in room 1018.
The story Lashbrook couldn’t tell was that he was under CIA orders to control Olson, a U.S. Army scientist. Olson had been given a dosage of LSD to see if it would compel him to tell the truth about what he knew of certain operational matters involving bioweapons research. The CIA had ordered Olson be taken to New York over the Thanksgiving holiday to talk to an Agency-cleared doctor. After a few days, Olson became upset. He wanted to go home, which was not allowed. Olson’s will conflicted with the CIA’s ways in room 1018 and Olson went out the window.

* COUNTERINTELLIGENCE WAS A CHALLENGE very much like the literary criticism Angleton had learned at Yale. To interpret the enemy’s communications and its documents required teasing meaning from texts that were filled with the kind of ambiguities his friend the critic William Empson delineated in poetry. Angleton’s counterintelligence was radical in the sense that it went to the root of the CIA’s functions. As one Agency chronicler put it, “Counterintelligence is to intelligence as epistemology is to philosophy. Both go back to the fundamental question of how we know things. Both challenge what we are inclined to take most for granted.”6
Recalling a line from his favorite poem, “Gerontion,” Angleton described KGB deception operations as a “wilderness of mirrors” designed to disorient the West. Taken to its extreme—and Angleton would take it there—counterintelligence suggested that the more reliable a source appeared to be, the more likely he was to be a Soviet agent. It was poetry of sorts. The improbable but undeniable impact of Ivy League literary criticism on geopolitics was embodied in Angleton.

* Like Senator McCarthy, he [J. Edgar Hoover] regarded the Agency as a nest of liberals, atheists, homosexuals, professors, and otherwise feminized men who specialized in wasting the taxpayer dollar.
Hoover responded to Angleton’s overture with disdain. He sent a junior agent to serve as a liaison with Angleton’s office. Angleton responded by loading the young man with drinks and reams of high-quality reporting.9 Hoover, who loved having dirt on his enemies, responded grudgingly.

* THE LAND AND PEOPLE of Israel had captured Angleton’s imagination. The revelations of the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews during the war and his now regular visits to the newly created Jewish state had dissolved his inherited anti-Semitism. By the mid-1950s, Angleton liked nothing better than to leave the cramped office politics of Washington for the austere frontier of the Holy Land.

* It was true he had no qualms associating with, even helping, anti-Semites like Ezra Pound, Valerio Borghese, and Eugen Dollmann. It was true he did not care for Jewish businessmen—he found them grasping. He abhorred Jewish Communists for their amoral atheism.
The Zionist Jews were a different story. Angleton did not think they were greedy or amoral—far from it, in fact. The best of them were abstemious and principled, and they were nobody’s victim. With enemies on every border, they were not tempted by compromise. The Israelis, he came to believe, were a model for the United States and the West. The anti-Semitic schoolboy had grown up to be an intuitive Zionist.

* ANOTHER SOURCE OF ANGLETON’S power was his friend Jay Lovestone, the former Communist leader turned anti-Communist operative. As executive director of the Free Trade Union Confederation, Lovestone had a secret budget from the CIA and a global network of contacts. Before long, Angleton and Lovestone effectively controlled what American labor unions had to say about U.S. foreign policy.

* Angleton controlled the CIA’s file on [Lee Harvey] Oswald for four years—from his defection in October 1959 until his death in November 1963.

* “AN EVEN-HANDED ASSESSMENT OF Angleton’s career would discern two distinct phases to it, although most of his detractors concentrate on the second,” wrote CIA historian David Robarge. “From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, he and his staff provided a useful voice of caution in an Agency seized with piercing the Iron Curtain to learn about Soviet intentions and capabilities.”
And then he lost his way.
“For roughly the next ten years, distracted by unsubstantiated theories of Soviet ‘strategic deception,’ Angleton and his staff embarked on counterproductive and sometimes harmful efforts to find moles and prove Moscow’s malevolent designs,” Robarge said.
In the Agency’s institutional perspective, Angleton faltered at a time when U.S. intelligence was vulnerable.
“He was losing his sense of proportion and his ability to live with uncertainty right around the time, 1959–63, when it became startlingly evident—agents compromised, operations blown, spies uncovered—that something was seriously amiss with Western intelligence and more aggressive CI and security were needed.” 1
Angleton’s disintegration was hastened by a cable from Beirut station that brought sickening news: Kim Philby had turned up in Moscow.

* Angleton’s power had reached a peculiar apex. The ambush in Dallas on November 22 marked the worst failure of U.S. intelligence since December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It had happened on Angleton’s watch. Yet such was his bureaucratic genius that he managed to wind up in charge of the Agency’s investigation of the accused assassin. During Kennedy’s presidency, his staff knew more about the obscure and unimportant Lee Oswald than just about anyone in the U.S. government. After the president was dead, he orchestrated the cover-up of what the CIA knew. Angleton intuited the devastated mood of the men and women who ran the U.S. government in late 1963. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to find out. They won’t allow themselves to find out.

* No matter who fired the fatal shots in Dallas, Angleton had failed disastrously as counterintelligence chief. He could have—and should have—lost his job after November 22. Had the public, the Congress, and the Warren Commission known of his preassassination interest in Oswald or his postassassination cover-up, he surely would have.
Instead, his malfeasance, abetted by Dick Helms, went undetected. Angleton would remain in a position of supreme power for another decade.

* Like Machiavelli, Angleton believed conspiracies were a key to understanding power. “Many more princes are seen to have lost their lives and states through these [plots] than by open war,” Machiavelli wrote. “For being able to make open war on a prince is granted to few; to be able to conspire against them is granted to everyone.”

* Angleton acted as a Svengali to a generation of Anglo-American intelligence officers and intellectuals. Svengali, the fictional hero of a nineteenth-century French novel, was a show business impresario who hypnotized a young girl into becoming an international singing sensation and then led her to doom. Angleton was a seductive maestro of ideas and action. His theories persuaded experts, editors, spies, journalists, novelists, and diplomats to follow him faithfully, sometimes to their own regret.
Angleton played Iago to four U.S. presidents. He was perhaps not so evil as the villainous adviser in Shakespeare’s Othello. But, like Iago, Angleton was a sympathetic counselor with his own agenda, which sometimes verged on the sinister. Angleton served the men in the Oval Office with seeming loyalty and sometimes devious intent.

* THE MUTUAL DISLIKE OF Jim Angleton and Bill Colby was no secret or surprise to colleagues who knew them both. Their differences had flared throughout the course of their intertwined careers.

In Italy in the 1950s, they clashed over the wisdom of the CIA’s funding an “opening to the left.”42 In Vietnam, they differed on the need for special counterintelligence units. At home, they disagreed about the value of Operations CHAOS and LINGUAL. Colby distrusted Angleton’s methods and mentality. Angleton did not care for Colby’s actions, tone, or style.

In one sense, theirs was a professional struggle. Each man was doing what he thought his job required. Colby was a paratrooper, a paramilitary man, a covert operator. He wanted the CIA to focus on running spies and stealing secrets. Angleton was a literary critic, an analyst, a counterintelligence officer. He was looking for double agents, disinformation, and penetration operations.43 But the antagonism between them flowed from deeper sources, ones that were both personal and political.

Angleton came of age in Italy in the 1930s, when fascism was popular and attractive. In the eyes of his friend Ezra Pound, Benito Mussolini was not a strutting dictator; he was positively Jeffersonian. As a young man at least, Angleton had admired the fascist ideal of a strong cooperative state with some communal ownership of property and a leading role for the church. After the war, he treated fascist allies with care. On Election Day, he tended to vote Republican. Intellectually, he was secular, anti-Communist, and Zionist.

Colby was the son of an army officer. He spent his boyhood on military bases, absorbing the democratic esprit of the mess hall and the barracks. It was a point of family pride that Colby’s grandfather, also an army officer, had gotten into trouble for writing an article denouncing the unjust acquittal of a white military officer who murdered a black soldier.44 Colby came of age supporting the Republicans of Spain, not Wall Street. Politically, he was progressive. Intellectually, he was a liberal Catholic.45

If Angleton was a poet-spy, Colby was a soldier-priest. Angleton thought Colby was a naïf; Colby thought Angleton a reactionary. Ultimately, Angleton was a creative theorist, Colby a disciplined moralist, and that made the difference in who would lose his job first.

People had a tendency to underrate Colby. He was slight of build, modest in his manner. Angleton’s Israeli friends thought him an unworthy adversary. “They saw Angleton as a man of imagination, of history,” said Ted Jessup, son of former Tel Aviv station chief Peter Jessup, who heard his father’s conversations with top Mossad officers. “They thought Colby was some clerk.”46

Colby’s advantage was that he had common sense. He understood that the postwar world in which the CIA was born had passed. The Agency had to absorb the new realities in America. The antiwar movement—which many CIA wives and children supported—was not the product of a Communist conspiracy, even if the movement heartened the Soviet Union and its allies. The animosity between China and the Soviet Union was real, not the sham that Angleton still argued it was. Even Nixon, impeccably anti-Communist, had gone to Moscow and Beijing to inaugurate a new spirit of superpower relations called “détente.”

Colby tested Angleton’s theories against known realities. He said he sat through several long sessions with Angleton, “doing my best to follow his tortuous theories about the long arm of a powerful and wily KGB at work over decades.”

“I confess that I couldn’t absorb it,” Colby said, “possibly because I didn’t have the requisite grasp of this labyrinthine subject, possibly because Angleton’s explanations were impossible to follow, or possibly because the evidence just didn’t add up to his conclusions. At the same time, I looked in vain for some tangible results in the counterintelligence files and found little or none.”

* When Angleton insisted the Huston Plan was a matter of national security, not politics, Church was roused to attack again. He brought up something Angleton had told the committee in executive session two weeks earlier. Angleton had been asked why the CIA had ignored an order in 1970 from President Nixon to destroy a small stockpile of biological weapons. Angleton could have ducked the question, but he wanted to make his point.

“It is inconceivable,” he replied, “that a secret intelligence arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of government.”

Those were the most notorious words Angleton would ever utter. Under Church’s withering interrogation, he tried to withdraw them, but he surely believed what he said. There was nothing shocking to him about the CIA doing its job.

“When I look at the map today and the weakness of this country,” Angleton said, “that is what shocks me.

* ANGLETON’S LOYALTY TO ISRAEL betrayed U.S. policy on an epic scale, and his former colleague John Hadden knew it. In 1978, Hadden, the retired Tel Aviv station chief, made the long trip from his home in Brunswick, Maine, to Washington, D.C. He had a story he needed to tell the right people: how Israel stole nuclear material from the United States government on Angleton’s watch.

The story of the great uranium heist at the NUMEC plant in Pennsylvania continued to attract official interest. Over the years, the story of the loss of hundreds of pounds of fissionable material from the Apollo facility had been examined by several government agencies. The question was whether the Israelis had used NUMEC to divert enriched uranium to Dimona and then used it to build their nuclear arsenal.

The CIA’s scientists reviewed the evidence. Without judging the legal questions, they all agreed that enriched uranium from NUMEC had been obtained by the Israelis. “I believe that all of my senior analysts who worked on the problem agreed with me fully,” said Carl Duckett, deputy director of the CIA responsible for technical and nuclear intelligence. “[T]he clear consensus in the CIA was that indeed NUMEC material had been diverted and had been used by the Israelis in fabricating weapons.”138

The Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission looked into the matter and found their efforts stymied by a lack of cooperation from the CIA and from NUMEC president Zalman Shapiro, as well as by a studious lack of interest from Capitol Hill. The investigators found no proof of diversion, but they did not have access to all the classified information available to the CIA scientists. When former NRC staffer Roger Mattson managed to get access to the CIA records, he concluded that NUMEC was the only possible source of Israel’s fissionable material.139

John Hadden said the same thing. “A crime was committed 10 or 20 years ago,” he wrote in a memo for the record, “a crime considered so serious that for its commission the death penalty is mandatory and no statute of limitations applies.”

A good CIA man, Hadden never spilled classified information, never reported out of channels. He spoke only with the senior staff of the AEC or the House Interior Committee.140 He prepared twenty-nine talking points to support his memo’s conclusion: that NUMEC was a front company deployed in an Israeli-American criminal conspiracy to evade U.S. nonproliferation laws and supply the Israeli nuclear arsenal.

“If the crime had been committed intentionally and was not the result of carelessness,” Hadden went on, “then the circumstances warranted a finding of high treason with a mandatory death penalty.”

The only other explanation, he wrote, was “gross incompetence on the part of those responsible for security in certain areas.”

It was either treason or incompetence, Hadden said. If one of those terms applied to his former boss, Jim Angleton, so be it.141

Angleton had regular professional and personal contact with at least six men aware of Israel’s secret plan to build a bomb. From Asher Ben-Natan to Amos de Shalit to Isser Harel to Meir Amit to Moshe Dayan to Yval Ne’eman, his friends were involved in the building of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. If he learned anything of the secret program at Dimona, he reported very little of it. If he didn’t ask questions about Israel’s actions, he wasn’t doing his job. Instead of supporting U.S. nuclear security policy, he ignored it.

Angleton thought collaboration with the Israeli intelligence services was more important. And the results proved his point, he believed. When Angleton started as chief of the Counterintelligence Staff in 1954, the state of Israel and its leaders were regarded warily in Washington, especially at the State Department. When Angleton left government service twenty years later, Israel held twice as much territory as it had in 1948, the CIA and the Mossad collaborated on a daily basis, and the governments of the United States and Israel were strategic allies, knit together by expansive intelligence sharing, multibillion-dollar arms contracts, and coordinated diplomacy.

The failure of the U.S. nonproliferation policy to prevent the introduction of nuclear weapons to the Middle East in the 1960s is part of Angleton’s legacy, and its effects will be felt for decades, if not centuries. He was a leading architect of America’s strategic relationship with Israel that endures and dominates the region to this day. He was, as his friend Meir Amit said, “the biggest Zionist of the lot.”

* THE JFK STORY IS a blight on Angleton’s legacy. His handling of the Oswald file before the assassination of President Kennedy has never been explained by the CIA. His conspiracy theories about KGB involvement have never been substantiated. His animus toward those seeking to investigate JFK’s assassination was constant and arguably criminal. If the evidence of his actions had been known to law enforcement, he could have, and should have, been prosecuted for obstruction of justice and perjury.

When it came to the assassination of President Kennedy, Angleton acted as if he had something to hide. The question is, What? Angleton spoke for the record about JFK’s murder on four occasions. All four times, he insinuated the assassination of the liberal president might have been influenced by the KGB.

“I don’t think that the Oswald case is dead,” Angleton told the Church Committee. “There are too many leads that were never followed. There’s too much information that has developed later.”142

It was a curious admission. Angleton was chief of the Counterintelligence Staff for eleven years after JFK’s assassination. If there was any new information or any new leads into Oswald’s possible contacts with the KGB, Angleton himself was personally responsible for investigating them. He apparently never did so.143 The documentary foundation of Angleton’s KGB conspiracy theories was—and is—vanishingly thin.

Yet whenever the JFK investigation turned to the CIA’s preassassination interest in Oswald, Angleton stonewalled.

* All of which begs the harder question: Was Angleton running Oswald as an agent as part of a plot to assassinate President Kennedy? He certainly had the knowledge and ability to do so.

Angleton and his staff had a granular knowledge of Oswald long before Kennedy was killed. Angleton had a penchant for running operations outside of reporting channels. He articulated a vigilant anti-communism that depicted the results of JFK’s liberal policies in apocalyptic terms. He participated in discussions of political assassination. And he worked in a penumbra of cunning that excluded few possibilities. “Angleton possessed a unique grasp of secret operations,” Dick Helms wrote in his memoirs. “… Jim had the ability to raise an operation discussion, not only to higher level but to another dimension.”147

Angleton made sure he could plausibly deny his monitoring of Oswald from 1959 to 1963. His admirers today can still plausibly deny he was involved in JFK’s assassination.

What cannot be plausibly denied is that Angleton’s actions were illegal. He obstructed justice to hide interest in Oswald. He lied to veil his use of the ex-defector in late 1963 for intelligence purposes related to the Cuban consulate in Mexico City. Whether Angleton manipulated Oswald as part of an assassination plot is unknown. He certainly abetted those who did. Whoever killed JFK, Angleton protected them. He masterminded the JFK conspiracy cover-up.

* * *

ONE ACHIEVEMENT CANNOT BE denied Angleton: There was no high-level KGB penetration of the CIA on his watch. The Soviets ran hundreds of agents in the United States from 1947 to 1974, but after Kim Philby’s departure, they never had an agent with access to the top of the Agency.

Of course, Angleton denied any such achievement. He insisted to the end of his days that the Agency had been penetrated by one or more KGB moles. He had made sure it didn’t happen, yet he insisted it had. He deserved credit, but he couldn’t take it. About his greatest accomplishment, he was dead wrong. Such was the contradictory legacy of James Angleton.

He was an ingenious, vicious, mendacious, obsessive, and brilliant man who acted with impunity as he sought to expand the Anglo-American-Israeli sphere of influence after the end of World War II. Like his friend Ezra Pound, his mastery was sometimes indistinguishable from his madness. He was indeed a combination of Machiavelli, Svengali, and Iago. He was an intellectual, charming, and sinister. In retirement, at last, he was harmless.

* Angleton ably served the United States of America for the first half of his career, and escaped accountability for the rest. He has been condemned for his mole hunt, but he was only doing his job as he saw fit—and his superiors approved. The mole hunt was theoretically defensible. His flouting of U.S. nuclear security policies on behalf of Israel was not. He was never held accountable for suborning justice in the investigation of John Kennedy’s assassination. He lost his job for spying on tens of thousands of Americans, but he never had to defend his deeds in a court of law. He often acted outside the law and the Constitution, and, for the most part, he got away with it. He died in his own bed, a lifetime burning to the end.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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