The Monster Plot
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.
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.
After the Fall
‘We had gained ten years of extra life since 1960,’ John Lanchester writes, drawing attention to the shocking decline in life expectancy since 2010, ‘and we’ve just given one year back’ (LRB, 5 July). Later he notes that ‘politicians took the crisis as a political inflection point … and seized the opportunity to contract government spending and shrink the state.’ A decline in life expectancy represents thousands of lives cut short. One recent study in the medical journal BMJ Open estimates that there will be 152,000 additional deaths by 2020. This is a staggering number – the equivalent of a 7/7 attack every working day – caused not by war or disaster but by political expediency.
It’s true, as John Lanchester says, that there hasn’t been much change made to banking rules in the UK Parliament, but in EU law, where it really matters, there has been a re-regulation of the financial system greater than any in history. An incomplete list of new EU financial regulations since the crisis would include: the Capital Requirements Directive and regulations that fundamentally change how the riskiness of banks is calculated, and therefore what banks are required to do to hold a banking licence in the EU; the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive and Regulation, which transforms trading and research; the European Market Infrastructure Regulation; the Bank Resolution and Recovery Directive; three versions of the Credit Rating Agency directive; the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive; the package of insurance rules known as Solvency II; the Central Securities Depositories Regulation; the Prospectus Directive; the Money Market Funds Regulation; and the Securitisation Regulation. Still coming down the tracks is the Fundamental Review of the Trading Book and the European implementation of rules on the ‘total loss absorbing capacity’ of major banks, plus a package of measures on non-performing loans.
All these are Level One regulations, which are expanded and given force by the Level Two clarifications from such regulators as the European Banking Authority. Right now, the EBA – a body established since the crisis – is working on 37 Level Two documents. Sheer quantity doesn’t necessarily amount to quality, but considered as a whole, this package touches virtually every part of the banking and financial system, ‘shadow banking’ included. Entire business lines have been shut down in response; others have been created from the ground up. This does increase the complexity of the system – a weakness, as Lanchester points out – but the changes are real and profound.
Even according to the measure of increased equity, which Lanchester rightly recommends as a simple way to cut through the nonsense, there has been significant change. The Bank of England, which by international standards is a tough taskmaster for the banks it regulates, says banks have ten times the level of equity they held before the crisis. That’s not ‘a matter of degrees’, it’s an order of magnitude. There has been a lot of movement, too, on bank fines. UK banks have set aside more than £44 billion just to cover PPI mis-selling claims. Bank of America has paid fines and restitution amounting to $76 billion, mostly for mortgage mis-selling. By comparison, Volkswagen paid just $4.3 billion for a decade-long conspiracy to poison the air of American cities by cheating emissions tests. Fining bank shareholders without locking up individual bankers may not satisfy public anger, but these are among the largest corporate fines in history.
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’.
Readers whose interest in W.N.P. Barbellion was stirred by Blake Morrison’s review of the latest reissue of The Journal of a Disappointed Man may like to know that his pamphlet about the bedbug published by the British Museum in 1917 wasn’t the only work to appear under his real name – Bruce Cummings – during his brief life (LRB, 21 June). It was preceded by The Louse and Its Relation to Disease, Its Life-History and Habits and How to Deal with It, which came out in 1915, priced one penny. There Cummings draws partly on the researches of Dr A.E. Shipley’s The Minor Horrors of War, published the same year, by which time the vermin of the human body had become an endemic pestilence in every army engaged in trench warfare, and therefore an object of urgent scientific inquiry.
Justice for Charlotte
Oliver Hill-Andrews writes of Krishna Dronamraju’s Popularising Science that ‘with any luck it will inspire someone else to do justice to Haldane’ (LRB, 24 May). I hope that person also does justice to Charlotte Haldane. J.B.S. gained public attention with Daedalus; or Science and the Future (1923). Charlotte publicised his work through the Science News Service, which she set up for that purpose in October 1925 before they were married. With Julian Huxley and Gowland Hopkins alongside J.B.S. on her letterhead for academic weight, she edited and sold his essays to the popular press.
Her fluency in French and German enabled her to draw on European as well as British research. She wrote most of the general pieces herself, signing some with her own name and others ‘By a Scientific Correspondent’. Within two years she had doubled J.B.S.’s income. The Science News Service papers are housed in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. A full account of Charlotte’s contribution to J.B.S.’s scientific work is in my biography of her from 1998.
Hill-Andrews says J.B.S. was dismissed from Cambridge ‘for his involvement with her’. More precisely, instead of resigning to prevent the accusation of the moral tribunal (the Sex Viri) of ‘habitual immorality’ from being published while they awaited Charlotte’s decree absolute, J.B.S. presented the committee with the report in the Times of her divorce proceedings, to show that he had denied the charge of adultery. The committee decided it had not heard all the evidence, and he was reinstated. Charlotte soon discovered J.B.S. was impotent, which was the major cause of their marital problems. They both wanted a child.
During the marriage Charlotte wrote novels about the effect of vain scientific wishes on women; Peter Firchow was the first to suggest that her Man’s World was the source for Huxley’s Brave New World. She also continued to popularise and secure high fees for J.B.S.’s writing, even after Helen Spurway entered their lives.