The Monster Plot

Thomas Powers

  • The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton by Jefferson Morley
    Scribe, 336 pp, £20.00, December 2017, ISBN 978 1 911344 73 5

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.

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