Cold Warrior

And a final look at espionage histories touching on Kim Philby.

Raw Feed (1995): Cold Warrior: James Jesus Angleton — CIA’s Master Spy, Tom Mangold, 1991.Cold Warrior 

Fascinating story of one man’s obsession and paranoia and how it greatly crippled the CIA’s intelligence work against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

After reading this book, it’s a wonder we fared as well as we did against the Russians then, and it is an explanation for why human intelligence operations against the U.S.S.R. so miserably failed to see the crumbling of the Soviet Empire and its economic weakness or the crushing of the Czechoslovakian revolt. Angleton, head of CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff for 20 years (1954-1974 and the first to hold the position), crippled the agency by his paranoia and obsessions; yet, as Director of Central Intelligence William Colby said, it’s doubtful he actually caught a single spy. He was a brilliant man at bureaucratic intrigue and Machiavellian intrigue. Many people who worked at CIA never met him; he would direct counterintelligence operations against US citizens and CIA officers and leave no paper trail linking it to him as shown by his clever scheme to sell out Yuriy Loginov (an alleged KGB double agent) to his former masters. He was worshipped as a master of Counter Intelligence by his peers in Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa; a man with intimate contacts with Israeli intelligence.

The tale is simple in its outlines and fascinating in its details. Angleton felt severely betrayed when his colleague and friend Kim Philby turned out to be a KGB double agent. He even went so far as destroying all the voluminous records of his conversations with Philby out of embarrassment over what secrets he spilled. When egomaniacal KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn came over to the CIA with grandiose notions of knowing the KGB’s inner workings (he had only been a relatively low ranking KGB officer who did no operational work in the field) and revelations of a “monster plot” run by Philby, he found a very – disastrously so – ready ear in Angleton. The monster plot had three main elements: the Sino-Soviet split was a fake, the KGB was mounting a massive penetration of Western intelligence services, and – most importantly for later developments – that all defectors after Golitsyn would be fake. (In some ways, I find this notion the most incredulous and wonder how even a suspicious counterspy could presume to predict the motives of any possible future defectors.) Angleton swallowed it all. Suspicions were cast on loyal CIA officers and agents and agents at friendly agencies. Angleton did much to sour relations between French and American intelligence agencies with accusations of Soviet moles. Careers were ruined; people were falsely imprisoned. Particularly shameful was the case of Yuriy Nosenko who was imprisoned for 4 years by the CIA because it was believed, as per Golitsyn, that he was a double agent for the KGB – this despite the fact that he helped uncover major KGB moles with much more specific information than self-proclaimed expert of KGB operations Golitsyn (not to mention the vital information he had on Lee Harvey Oswald’s lack of ties to the KGB).

Angleton’s refusal to accept the veracity of vital information given by defectors hurt the Soviet Division of the CIA and its efforts to provide the U.S. with vital intelligence. In some cases, he simply buried some valuable information from these CIA agents in the USSR in his cavernous safes because he believed the source to be tainted. Other times, he refused to sign off on the recruitment of double agents in the KGB (I was surprised to learn that sometimes spies really do sit around cocktails and try to “turn” each other) lest they be KGB “provocateurs”. Any defector that supported the bona fides of Nosenko was suspect. Eventually, Angleton was fired because of scandalous public revelations of his running surveillance operations on U.S. citizens in the U.S.. It provided an excuse for Colby to fire him. The contention of CIA psychologist John Gittinger that Angleton became a paranoid after Philby’s betrayal seems believable. Golitsyn and Angleton fed off each other, their world views mutually reinforcing each other. Golitsyn’s contentions that all following defectors would be fake was simply reinforced when they would vouch for each other’s credibility.

Intelligence work rarely deals in certainties, and intelligence agencies do certainly engage in disinformation, so Angleton’s obsession with secrecy is understandable; indeed, his job required it. But he took it too far. As the epigraph of the concluding chapter says (paraphrased), a secure agency gets nothing done if it is obsessed with security above all else. That saying of William Donovan’s sums up this book and Angleton’s career. Not only did he cripple intelligence gathering, but he caught no spies. (One bizarre feature of the Counterintelligence Staff under him was that they spent a large amount of time studying Cheka’s Trust operation from the 1920s – a masterpiece of deception but of little use in fighting the Cold War).

Other bits of note was the CIAs efforts to go through Angleton’s files and safes (including taking months with safecrackers to break into safes whose combinations had been lost) after he left and discovering all sorts of intelligence information he had not passed on or, in one case, mail he had illegally intercepted. And there was the embarrassing revelation that Golitsyn had personally – and against regulations – been allowed by Angleton to take very sensitive case files out of the CIA building. (Golitsyn, in his career as a CIA consultant, got to see all kinds of sensitive files from various Allied intelligence services.) Angleton, in his paranoia and suspicions, seems to have become lost in, to use his memorable phrase (he was a lover of poetry and could be an elegant writer), a “wilderness of mirrors”. I find it interesting that Angleton’s successor, George Kalaris, found himself, confronted with fragments of half-truths and unsubstantiated claims, developing the same paranoia after 2 years. He left the job after two years and, concluding that the job itself could induce this outlook, recommended that no one hold the job longer than 2 years.


Reviews of more espionage related works are indexed on the Espionage page.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.