The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton 
by Jefferson Morley.
Scribe, 336 pp., £20, December 2017, 978 1 911344 73 5
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James Angleton​ , chief of counterintelligence at the CIA for twenty years, was not the ideal spy. The ideal spy is a mouse-coloured blur in the crowd, someone like George Smiley, described by his wife as ‘breathtakingly ordinary’. There was nothing ordinary about Angleton. Once experienced, his history, his appearance, his manner, and his stubborn refusal to be clear were all indelible. I spent an afternoon with him once in the old Army and Navy Club in Washington. Everything about him held my attention, starting with his history as a counterintelligence officer in London during the Second World War, fresh out of Yale. But it was the man himself, sitting on the edge of an overstuffed club chair, pulling a Virginia Slim from a cigarette packet, that really left an impression. No man was ever more deliberate, from the way he lit and held that cigarette, and followed it with another, to the cock of his head and the play of his eyebrows and his wide mouth, which said much that he declined to put into words. But the thing I carried away at the end of two hours was the way his person, so focused and unhurried, and his style of thinking had fused over the previous thirty years.

When we met I knew nothing about intelligence professionals but was trying to learn. Angleton had been retired for 18 months and was free to speak. He was worried, almost in despair, that American intelligence was being destroyed by Senate investigators digging up and publishing the CIA’s operational secrets. I wanted to know what difference it made. ‘These secrets are all about things we were doing to them,’ I said. ‘They already know all that. Where is the harm?’

A look of infinite weariness clouded Angleton’s face. His eyebrows sighed; the harm was so basic. His voice slowed and dropped. ‘I would say,’ Angleton told me with sombre precision, ‘that the detail given away will allow the other side to triangulate and build up a chrono that’s very deep.’

‘What’s a chrono?’ I asked.

At that his eyebrows gave up hope for Western liberal democracy. But he explained patiently.

What I learned was this. A chronology is one of the basic tools of intelligence analysis, a listing of facts on a given subject in chronological order. The evidence that goes into a chronology is first collected in a ‘serial’. A serial is basically a file containing every bit of information on a given subject in the order it was received. Rigour is achieved in two ways: there is no scanting of detail and no quarrelling with the evidence. If the report says subject X showed up in place Y on day Z, in it goes, even if you know subject X had been buried in a distant city a month before. That report, as given, means something and you can never know what, for sure, until the end of time, if then.

The central thing to understand is the primacy of information, properly interpreted. Angleton ran the CIA’s Counterintelligence (CI) staff from 1954 until he resigned, very unhappily, a day or two before Christmas 1974. What he left behind him in the CI Staff was an unresolved dispute and many filing cabinets filled with information about Soviet intelligence operations, especially those intended to place or support or conceal or disguise agents inside Western intelligence organisations, or simply muddy the waters around them. Angleton believed that the information collected, analysed and interpreted by his staff had unmasked a vast KGB deception operation to place and control penetration agents – ‘moles’, as they were sometimes called – inside Western intelligence services. The KGB operation, as Angleton saw it, was so vast that a later study commissioned by the CIA called it ‘the Monster Plot’. Angleton’s people had no proof positive of what the KGB was trying to do, no explicit document, no defector who had laid it all out. What they had was an analytical technique, sometimes called ‘mirror reading’, which helped to establish who the Russians were pushing on us. Distinguishing the bad cases came from knowing how to interpret the evidence.

Angleton’s fascination with the power of close reading began when he was a student at Yale in the late 1930s in the era of I.A. Richards and the New Criticism, which held that the meaning of a poem came from the poem itself, and was completely independent of the history of the poet. Indeed, it was hardly necessary to know even the name of the poet. Done right, the New Criticism teased out the significance of words to form a matrix of implication that allowed the meaning of a poem to emerge. At some point about a decade into Angleton’s career as a counterintelligence analyst he began to adapt the close reading of the New Criticism to the identification of KGB penetration agents. You might think of it like this: the discrete bits of information in a chronology are like the words of a poem, each with its own freight of implication. When you quit thinking about the real world (the life and times of the poet) and concentrated on the meaning of the words (how the bits connected) then you began to see what the Russians had hidden – the Monster Plot. A fuller account of the development of Angleton’s mind can be found in two previous books, Robin Winks’s Cloak and Gown (1987), which describes his introduction to counterintelligence in London during the war, and Michael Holzman’s James Jesus Angleton: The CIA and the Craft of Counterintelligence (2008).

But Angleton laid out on the page is nothing like Angleton in the room. When he wanted someone to understand the Monster Plot – someone like David Blee, for example, who took over as chief of the Soviet Bloc Division in the CIA’s clandestine wing in 1971 – Angleton would schedule time for ‘the briefing’. He didn’t tell Blee what it was all about in twenty minutes: he walked him through it, one bit at a time, in a performance that took a big part of several days. No notes, just talk. Angleton’s web-spinning intelligence was like Greta Garbo’s beauty – impossible to ignore. It is one of the two things that keep people writing about him thirty years after his death (lung cancer at 69), 44 years after he lost his job as chief of the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff, and nearly sixty years after Angleton first heard the name of the Russian defector Anatoly Golitsyn, the man who introduced him to mirror reading.

The second big thing that keeps interest in Angleton alive is the central enigma of what he feared. Put simply, Angleton was convinced, partly by Golitsyn, that the Russians were placing agents in Western intelligence services, where they were gradually seizing control. This was a reasonable fear; the British, the French and the West German services had all been penetrated by Russian agents in the first decade after the Second World War. Study of those penetrations, with the help of Golitsyn after his defection in 1961, persuaded Angleton that the CIA had also been penetrated. Catching the spy was Angleton’s obsession for a dozen years. A number of books have been published about this long and damaging dispute. Two of the best are David Martin’s Wilderness of Mirrors, published in 1980, followed by David Wise’s Molehunt a dozen years later.

Putting the case simply was something Angleton himself never did and every attempt to spell it out has faltered. There are two warring camps: a group of elite counterintelligence analysts who consider Angleton a misunderstood genius, and the rank-and-file case officers trying to recruit Russian agents, who thought Angleton’s obsession merited a medical diagnosis. Eventually a third school of interpretation emerged. Its founder was a CI analyst named Clare Edward Petty, now dead (like almost everyone in this story). Petty concluded that Angleton was himself a Russian penetration agent, deliberately tying up the CIA in knots with his suspicions and doubts and backdoor campaign to block efforts to collect the evidence that might actually decide the matter. Petty’s case, which resembled Angleton’s close reading method, was rejected by Agency analysts after respectful study. What Petty argued made plenty of sense; it was the Russians who gained from the logjam in CI. But there was no actual evidence of a Russian hand in Angleton’s history. Petty resigned and spent a number of years in retirement writing a book identifying the true author of Mark’s Gospel.

The latest​ attempt to make sense of Angleton’s life is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton, a biography by the writer and assassination expert Jefferson Morley. Angleton is a great subject for a life and the Monster Plot offers an ideal way to study classic intelligence and its role in the Cold War. Explaining how Angleton’s obsessive fear of KGB moles poisoned American intelligence for a decade would be a great intellectual and narrative feat, but Morley is strangely indifferent to that story. This is odd for two reasons: the Monster Plot is central to Angleton’s life, and it is entangled in troubling ways with something Morley has been investigating for more than twenty years, JFK’s assassination.

The Kennedy assassination is a notoriously tricky subject for researchers and The Ghost helps us to see why. Attempts to say who really killed Kennedy go quickly at first but then the vast universe of available information takes over. There is evidence for every theory but it always comes with other evidence that says ‘Wait a minute,’ leaving the researcher where he began, with an unproved theory. Morley has been working this territory since 1995. He is convinced that something large remains to be revealed and he has a firm, I would say fixed, idea of where to look for it. Stated flatly, Morley’s theory is that the key to the assassination is to be found in the CIA’s relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald, a relationship whose existence the CIA has always denied while acknowledging that it maintained a routine file on him. Morley thinks the Agency is lying and suspects that Angleton was running an operation involving Oswald which was tangled up in the killing of Kennedy and is still secret today. I am describing what Morley thinks more plainly than he does. Like many students of assassination, he never identifies in so many words what his sifting of evidence is trying to get at. It is the reader’s job to figure that out.

The Ghost is Morley’s second full-scale life of an American intelligence officer. The first, published ten years ago, was Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. Long before Scott was named the Agency’s chief of station in Mexico City he had known Angleton in London during the war when both were working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor of the CIA. Both were young, separated by the war from their wives, and loved intelligence work. Both met, liked and became friends with Kim Philby, who was then working for the SIS. When Angleton and Scott met him, Philby had been a penetration agent for the Russians for a decade. He was a golden boy and might have risen to the very top of British intelligence but for a run of bad luck when his roommate, Guy Burgess, defected to Russia with a third man under active investigation. Serious investigators understood in a minute that it wasn’t by chance that Philby was caught up in this catastrophe, but Angleton, who had shared many long lunches with Philby in Washington, resisted the obvious conclusion. Even a year later, after the SIS had compelled Philby to resign, Angleton told a friend in Paris that he thought Philby was all right. ‘I still feel,’ he said, ‘Philby some day will head the British service.’ All doubt was removed in 1963 when Philby defected to Russia, one jump ahead of investigators. By that time Angleton had been chief of the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff for nearly a decade. What he felt about Philby’s betrayal may only be imagined because he kept his thoughts to himself and rarely – perhaps never – mentioned Philby’s name again.

Morley​ tells the Philby story in both his books, and he tells it well. But he makes no serious attempt to weigh its full impact on Angleton’s character, or to track its role in Angleton’s passion to expose the mole in the CIA who he was morally certain was there. Morley has a novelist’s narrative gift, but he lacks the novelist’s fascination with character. Nor, though he writes mainly about spies, is he very interested in spy stories. What draws him on are unanswered questions about the Kennedy assassination: not all the unanswered questions, of which there are a zillion, but just a very few, and especially the one Morley himself dug up with the help of a friend in 1995.

Morley’s discovery was an improbable consequence of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, which stirred up a public outcry against continued government secrecy. The then director of the CIA, Robert Gates, promptly ordered the release of a large number of files to the National Archives. Later, Congress passed the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act requiring the CIA and FBI to release virtually all records even tangentially related to the assassination. Since then about five million pages have been made public, including a not quite final batch last year. None of the newly available files has materially changed the conclusion of the Warren Commission that Oswald acted alone but they have expanded public knowledge of the inner workings of the CIA by several orders of magnitude.

Poring through these files in 1994 was a friend of Morley’s, John Newman, who was completing a book called Oswald and the CIA, published in 1995. Among the new files Newman spotted some routing slips from the CI Staff which recorded the arrival of documents circulated by the FBI, the National Security Agency and a dozen other offices and organisations. Chief of liaison for the CI Staff in the early 1960s was Jane Roman, then in her late forties and, like her boss, a veteran of the OSS. Roman’s job included the signing of routing slips, which brought her to the attention of Morley, who was then a reporter working for the ‘Outlook’ section of the Washington Post. He asked Roman for an interview and she agreed. They met on 2 November 1994. Newman came too and did most of the talking.

Newman’s interest was focused on two FBI reports signed for by Roman in August 1962 and September 1963, which were then routinely added to the 201 file (a ‘personality’ file) on Oswald opened by the CIA Staff in 1959. Both FBI reports concerned Oswald and by the 1990s both had been publicly known for a long time. What caught Morley’s eye was an anomaly of the sort that can keep an assassination researcher active for years. In Morley’s view the FBI files raised a question about an exchange of cables in October 1963 between CIA headquarters in Washington and the Agency’s station run by Winston Scott in Mexico City.

The exchange began with a cable dated 8 October from Mexico to Washington seeking a name trace on one ‘Lee Oswald’, who had phoned the Soviet Embassy on 1 October, following up on a visit three days earlier. On 10 October, CIA headquarters in Washington responded with a brief summary of files on Oswald’s defection to Russia in 1959, concluding with ‘latest HDQS info’ of May 1962 reporting that the State Department ‘had given approval for their [Oswald and wife’s] travel with their infant child to USA’.

What Newman and Morley wanted to know when they met Roman in 1994 was why the CIA did not mention the FBI files in its cable to Mexico City on 10 October. Scott had asked for a name trace on Oswald but CIA headquarters in Washington didn’t tell him everything. Why?

Morley’s story in the Post on 2 April 1995 quoted Roman as having been surprised by the number of high-level CIA officers who had signed off on the 10 October cable, including Thomas Karamessines, deputy director of the clandestine wing of the CIA; J.C. King, chief of the clandestine wing’s Western Hemisphere Division; and William Hood, at that time chief of operations under King. Roman said she didn’t know why the 10 October cable made no mention of the FBI reports, but guessed (in Morley’s words) they ‘may have been circulating in other CIA offices and been unavailable to the cable’s authors’. But according to Morley, Roman added: ‘I would think that there was definitely some operational reason to withhold’ the new information from Mexico City. What that reason might have been Morley didn’t suggest in his Post story.

Morley’s story appeared in the Post under the headline The Oswald File: Tales of the Routing Slips – Six Weeks before JFK’s Murder, the CIA Didn’t Tell All that It Knew. Roman was horrified by the headline and its suggestion that the Agency had been hiding something. She sat down and composed a handwritten letter of protest to the Post, saying: ‘I bitterly regret this decision [to talk to Morley] … My statements have been seriously contorted, taken out of context or, at best, misinterpreted … For the record,’ she added, ‘I have never heard or read that there was any CIA relationship, direct or indirect, with Oswald … I do not recall saying that the withholding of FBI information from CIA Mexico Station was deliberate, nor do I believe it.’

But Roman never sent her four-page letter to the Post. Instead, a year later she sent a copy of the letter to Max Holland, a long-time student of the Warren Commission, who recently sent me a copy. Roman also wrote to Jeremy Gunn, the executive director of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board, telling him she had agreed to the interview with Morley ‘against my better judgment. The article published was sensationalist, scurrilous, tendentious, words taken out of context, implications of CIA duplicity and involvement. I was so upset that I wrote a letter to the Post right off, but it was much too long to send and I couldn’t seem to write a short enough one.’

Morley did not let the matter rest. Karamessines and King had both died long before the document releases in the 1990s but Morley arranged an interview with William Hood while he was researching Our Man in Mexico. Hood told Morley that he was surprised the 10 October cable had been signed by so many high-level officials, that he was puzzled by the omission of the FBI reports, and didn’t know why they had been left out. According to Morley, Hood added: ‘I don’t find anything smelly in it.’

Morley devotes twenty or more careful pages to the cable anomaly in Our Man in Mexico and treats at even greater length a separate complex episode: the relationship between a group of Cuban students in exile and David Atlee Phillips, a covert operator working for Scott in Mexico City. Phillips had been one of the organisers of the coup which overthrew the leftist government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Later he was deeply involved in failed CIA efforts to topple Castro in the early 1960s. During the months leading up to the Kennedy assassination Phillips and the CIA provided direction and funds to the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil. In August 1963 a DRE member had an angry encounter in New Orleans with Oswald, a self-appointed champion of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.

What emerges from this tangled history is the scale of the Agency’s efforts to destroy Castro and his government. What doesn’t emerge, but which Morley darkly suspects, is that Oswald was somehow caught up in CIA plotting by Phillips or Angleton or possibly both, and that the assassination occurred in effect under the Agency’s nose, and quite possibly with its foreknowledge and its direction. Morley has been collecting evidence about these two matters for more than twenty years. The Ghost and Our Man in Mexico offer not just the best, but everything he has got. If he has a case – evidence enough to take before a grand jury – then this is where it is. But Morley resembles Angleton when it comes to helping you see what he is trying to say. He suggests his case, but he doesn’t make it.

Morley,​ like Angleton, has been thinking about one thing for ever. The hidden thing that obsessed Angleton was his discovery through close analysis that the KGB had spun a web of deception which had tricked Western intelligence services into thinking black was white, that bad cases – KGB penetration agents – were good cases. Anatoly Golitsyn, who defected from the KGB in Finland in 1961, was an immensely persuasive man who told the CIA the next defector would be a provocation, the term of art for someone dispatched to deceive. In effect, Angleton, his CI Staff and the Soviet Russia (SR) Division were ready and waiting when Yuri Nosenko showed up in Geneva in June 1962, eager to sell information. No, he didn’t want to defect; he just needed a modest sum to restore funds he’d stolen for a girl. Two CIA officers debriefed him at length: Tennent Bagley, whose Russian was weak, and George Kisevalter, who had been flown specially to Geneva because Russian was his mother tongue. When Nosenko got the money he went home. Bagley was thrilled by everything Nosenko told them until Angleton persuaded him that everything was wrong; Nosenko was a provocation, part of the Monster Plot which Golitsyn was helping Angleton to see.

Two years later, Nosenko was back in Geneva, determined this time to defect. He brought information the CIA could not ignore: a claim that he had been in charge of the KGB file kept on Oswald during the two years he lived in Russia. Angleton’s shop and the SR Division were certain from the first minute that Nosenko’s reappearance was a provocation; the timing (two months after the assassination) and the story he brought (Moscow had nothing to do with it) were just too perfect. And there was other evidence that suggested a Russian connection. At the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City in late September 1963 Oswald met with a KGB officer named Kostikov. Ears pricked up; Kostikov was connected to the KGB’s 13th Department, which specialised in assassinations. Once the CIA had Nosenko safely under control in the US the SR Division embarked on a prolonged effort to ‘break’ him – force him to admit he had been ‘sent’ and to reveal his mission. The effort went to extremes, confining Nosenko under cruel conditions and dividing the clandestine service with bitter argument over the Monster Plot.

A researcher looking for evidence of a Russian or Cuban connection could find plenty more, especially when it comes to motivation. It was easy to argue that Kennedy had humiliated Khrushchev just a year earlier when he forced the Soviet Union to pull its short-range nuclear missiles out of Cuba, and Castro knew that the CIA was actively seeking to assassinate him in the fall of 1963. But none of that seems to interest Morley much. He remarks that Winston Scott was troubled by the identification of Kostikov. ‘The revelation that he had assassination experience was ominous,’ Morley writes. But does he find it ominous himself? Evidently not. He devotes to that possibility not a hundredth part of the intense focus he brings to the anomaly of the cables. Morley has now devoted 23 years to those cables, but his case – if it can even be called a case – still stops with the old question: why didn’t Angleton’s shop tell Mexico everything it knew about Oswald two months before the assassination?

Morley scants the history of Angleton’s obsession with the Nosenko case. As doubts rose and spread, Angleton dug in his heels. His faith in the Monster Plot grew rigid and bitter. The chief of the Agency’s clandestine wing, Angleton’s long-time friend (but also boss) Richard Helms, worried that the Nosenko matter would blow up in the newspapers. He never lost faith in Angleton, a man he had known since OSS days and had trusted to protect the CIA from the ultimate Cold War nightmare – discovery of a high-level Soviet penetration. But after many hesitations, Helms finally ordered an end to the argument over Nosenko, who was released from confinement, granted citizenship, and soon hired by the CIA as a consultant. Helms also reassigned David Murphy, the chief of the SR Division, to become chief of station in Paris, replacing him with Rolfe Kingsley. A few years later, by this time director of the CIA, Helms brought in David Blee from the Near East Division to run the renamed Soviet Bloc (SB) Division. Blee protested that he had no intensive background in counterintelligence. Helms, still seeking to soothe hard feelings, said that was what he wanted – somebody from the outside, who could take a fresh look at all the old arguments. Blee brought with him one of his case officers from NE, a man we’ll call Harold, or Hal for short. Hal had a history of running cases against Russians in Berlin and Czechoslovakia.

Not long after Blee arrived at SB in 1971 he was contacted by Angleton, who was still chief of the CI Staff and wanted to set a time for ‘the briefing’. Angleton was an elusive figure in the clandestine service; many officers had never seen and couldn’t recognise him, but everybody had heard about ‘the briefing’. Angleton made time to brief every new division chief with a thorough account of ‘the threat’ – Angleton’s version of what the KGB had been up to for the previous forty or fifty years.

Blee was busy in his new job. Angleton wanted a lot of time and it took a while for the two men to settle on a date. Eventually Blee told Hal that the SB would have to run itself for a few days. ‘We saw nothing of Blee for a week,’ Hal told me. ‘At the end of it he called me into his office and told me he’d spent the whole week listening to Angleton lay out the case – every detail and nuance.’

Angleton’s office was cluttered and dark. He kept the blinds drawn at all hours to prevent any attempt to look in. His desk, the bookshelves, a side table were all piled high with old files, books, obscure magazines, newspapers in half a dozen languages. It was behind this wall of paper that Angleton had for years pored through serials on Soviet cases, more than a hundred of them according to Ed Petty. When Blee arrived Angleton had to swivel around in his chair to see past the paper to get a fix on Blee. Of course he was smoking.

Memory of Angleton has dimmed since his resignation in 1974. What people remember is his monomania about the Russians. But Angleton in the 1960s was a figure of real authority and his knowledge of cases – the raw material of counterintelligence analysis – was unequalled. It went back to the dawn of the Soviet era in 1917. What Blee heard during a string of long afternoons was a meticulous recital of cases and the web connecting them.

Think of Nosenko – he was sent, of that Angleton was certain. What was he sent to say? That Russia had paid no attention to Oswald, wanted nothing to do with him. This is where the mirror comes in. Nosenko was too perfect. He was telling us something we wanted to believe and couldn’t ignore: that the Russians weren’t behind Oswald. Don’t you see? The Russians simply pushed Nosenko onto us. And once we took him, and judged him a good case, he was in a position to feed us an endless stream of bad information.

Nosenko wasn’t the all of it. Angleton had his hundred serials to tie together and built his deep chronologies with care – if this, then that, detail piling on detail. He never wrote it all out. He told it to people with a need to know: new division chiefs, case officers overexcited about a hot new case, even foreign intelligence chiefs Angleton wanted to warn. Blee got the full treatment – three or four hours straight for three or four afternoons. At the end, when Angleton felt the case by now was surely airtight, he said: ‘That’s it, Dave, you see the pattern don’t you?’

Later Blee described the moment to his colleague, Hal – Angleton peering at him through his huge horn-rimmed glasses and saying: ‘Now do you see it?’

‘Hal,’ said Blee, ‘I didn’t.’ In the moment, Blee added, he felt sorry for Angleton, but then Blee just put all the mirror-reading nonsense aside and pushed the SB Division to run cases against Russians.

The rest​ of Angleton’s life was a long sad diminuendo. It remains one of the classic human stories of the Cold War, but that is not what interests Jefferson Morley. He has built his book around three harsh judgments. First, that ‘an epic counterintelligence failure culminated on Angleton’s watch.’ Second, that ‘the ambush in Dallas marked the worst failure of US intelligence since … Pearl Harbour.’ These are bold, crowd-pleasing claims but rest on no argument or array of evidence. If the assassination was a ‘counterintelligence failure’, it must have been carried out by an intelligence service. Whose? Russia’s? Cuba’s? Morley does not even make, much less seriously consider, either claim. A failure of ‘US intelligence’ is more general. The assassination certainly represented a failure by the Secret Service, which had failed to protect the president, but Morley has nothing to say about the Secret Service. It is the CIA he wants to hold to account. But in what sense was the assassination an Agency failure? The Mexico station successfully picked up Oswald’s contacts with Cuban and Russian diplomats in search of a travel visa, but nothing in that exchange suggested Oswald was a threat to the president. Indeed, it is very unlikely he had thought of it himself by early October. The details of Kennedy’s visit to Dallas, a decision on his motorcade route through Dallas, and the job Oswald found in the Texas School Book Depository, with its high window overlooking the president’s car, all lay in the future. The best source on what Oswald was actually feeling, thinking and planning at the time is Priscilla McMillan’s book Marina and Lee, published in 1977. But Morley ignores all that; he has no more interest in Oswald than he does in Cuba and Russia.

Morley’s third and harshest judgment is contained in a question near the end of his book: ‘Was Angleton running Oswald as an agent as part of a plot to assassinate President Kennedy?’

That’s a question more than a little like standing up in church to ask the minister if he is sexually abusing his daughter. A man must earn the right to pose such a question. There can be no excuse for putting it casually, and none for failing to follow it with an adequate answer. If the answer is ‘yes’ it demands a true bill of supporting evidence. Morley offers none. If the answer is ‘no’ it demands a frank admission that the answer is ‘no’, but Morley cannot bring himself to say it. With this silence he forfeits all claim to be taken seriously as a historian.

But Morley’s choice of Angleton as a subject is oddly appropriate. He and Angleton are in some ways alike. Both suffered a kind of mid-life onset of intellectual hubris. Both are tenacious in dispute, omnivorous for detail, never admit error, and are certain they are right. Yet at bottom both seem to know they have been trapped by their own certainty. Each lays out his case with care and ends with a question: ‘You see the pattern, don’t you?’ It’s a plea, the thing that made Dave Blee feel sorry for Angleton. If you see it, they are not alone.

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Vol. 40 No. 14 · 19 July 2018

Thomas Powers pays close attention to what I have to say about James Angleton’s part in the assassination of President Kennedy in my book The Ghost, but scants what I have to say about other important aspects of Angleton’s career (LRB, 10 May). First, I say that Angleton’s molehunt was misguided and damaged the CIA. Powers says I should have pondered the question at greater length but I argue the evidence we have is sufficient. Old questions should not detain us from considering new evidence about Angleton’s lesser-known deeds.

Second, Angleton sponsored the illicit Lingual mail surveillance programme, which spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans. The 1977 decision of the US Justice Department not to prosecute Angleton paved the legal path to the mass surveillance programmes set up in the Bush-Cheney presidency. Lingual, I note, is the forerunner of Prism, the NSA’s mass email surveillance programme, exposed by Edward Snowden.

Third, I say that Angleton was a chief architect of the powerful US-Israeli strategic relationship, basing my claim on an extensive interview with a former Mossad chief and the private papers of a former CIA station chief in Tel Aviv.

Fourth, I credit Angleton with a major achievement: the agency was never penetrated by a foreign intelligence agency on his watch. His paranoia about the Monster Plot may have been misplaced but it was effective.

As for the Kennedy assassination, Powers takes me to task for carefully unpacking the story of the exchange of cables about Lee Harvey Oswald between CIA operations officers in October 1963. My book adds two previously unknown facts. First, that Angleton’s staff had been monitoring Oswald’s movements since November 1959. Second, that Angleton identified Mexico City as a locus of Cuban intelligence activity that exploited American travellers to Cuba. So when Oswald showed up at the Soviet and Cuban consulates in Mexico City in September 1963 seeking permission to travel to Cuba, Angleton was notified.

How dare I ask if Angleton was running Oswald as an agent, Powers wants to know. Serious historians wouldn’t ask such a question, he says. Why not? Given Angleton’s interest in Oswald and in Mexico City, it’s plausible to think he might have used him for operational purposes. I didn’t dream up the idea. I got it from Angleton’s aide Jane Roman, who said the 10 October cable indicated a ‘keen interest’ held on ‘a need to know basis’.

Rather than address the new evidence, Powers turns to Max Holland, a JFK scholar who writes in CIA publications about ‘conspiracy theorists’ in ways pleasing to CIA officialdom. He is hardly a disinterested source. Powers unwisely embraces Holland’s claim that I misquoted Roman in a piece for the Washington Post. He quotes from an unpublished letter that Roman sent to the Assassination Records Review Board and later to Holland.

In fact, Roman sent me that letter long before she sent it to Holland. I urged her to write it, and I urged the Post to publish it. But when Roman put pen to paper, she did not – could not – disavow any of her tape-recorded comments. She couldn’t explain what was factually wrong about my piece. That’s why she never published her letter. Roman knew a great deal about Angleton’s abiding interest in Oswald while Kennedy was still alive. She just didn’t want to share it with the public.

Jefferson Morley
Washington DC

Thomas Powers writes: Jefferson Morley merits a good scolding. His offence wasn’t daring to ask ‘if Angleton was running Oswald as an agent’ but the words that follow. Here is Morley’s full thought on page 265 of his book: ‘Was Angleton running Oswald as an agent as part of a plot to assassinate President Kennedy?’ The problem with that sentence, so close to the end of his book, is that it offers no evidence of any kind that Angleton intended to kill the president or played a material role in organising or setting into motion the events that led to the killing of the president. Nobody else has such evidence either. What then gives Morley a right to suggest that Angleton was part of a plot to kill the president? The subject here is a murder. To charge a person with murder requires evidence of intent and of material acts to carry out the intent. By evidence is meant witnesses, documents, recorded conversations and the like. Morley has no such evidence and he knows he does not have it. With his decision to make the charge anyway he forfeits all claim to be taken seriously as a historian.

Auden, Seamus Perry writes on p. 9 of the LRB of 10 May, ‘professed to deplore Shelley for saying that poets were the “unacknowledged legislators of the world", a label he thought better described the secret police’. Thomas Powers writes of James Angleton as counterintelligence chief at the CIA for twenty years on p. 19 of the same issue, that his ‘fascination with the power of close reading began when he was a student at Yale in the era of I.A. Richards and the New Criticism’.

Euan Mackinnon

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