The Central Intelligence Agency’s chief of counterintelligence until his dismissal in December 1974, James Jesus Angleton’s intelligence career had begun with the Office of Strategic Services X-2 branch in England in 1942. After the war, he remained in Italy, where the newly created CIA intervened in the elections on the side of the Christian Democrats to prevent the Communists from seizing power. Originally from Iowa, educated in England, Angleton was a literary scholar, an admirer of Ezra Pound’s poetry, and a skillful cultivator of rare and delicate orchids.
Always the consummate counterintelligence professional, Angleton acted as the CIA’s liaison with the Israelis until 1954 and was credited with acquiring from the Mossad a copy of Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech in which he had denounced Josef Stalin.
Following the defection of Anatoli Golitsyn in December 1961, Angleton became convinced that the West was in danger of succumbing to an ingenious disinformation campaign, and he devised the CAZAB series of conferences intended to provide an environment for the exchange of highly classified information with Allied security and intelligence agencies. Angleton’s interpretation of the Soviet threat led him to doubt the authenticity of other Soviet intelligence defectors, particularly Yuri Nosenko, who arrived in the United States in February 1964 but was incarcerated in a specially constructed facility at Camp Peary for more than four years.
A former close friend of Kim Philby, Angleton exercised a malign influence over the CIA’s Soviet operations for 20 years, to the point that every tentative approach made by potential sources to the CIA, including Oleg Penkovsky, was rebuffed as a likely provocation. At the height of his considerable control, his Counterintelligence Staff employed 300 analysts and case officers, a veritable private fiefdom inside the Agency, tolerated but later regretted by Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Richard Helms. His controversial interpretation of Soviet espionage bordered on the paranoid and included the belief that the Rote Kapelle had been a massive disinformation scheme.
Angleton, who allowed Golitsyn to review the Agency’s personnel files in an effort to identify moles, also expressed reservations about the loyalty of other CIA officers, including Peter Karlow, Paul Garbler, David Murphy, and Dick Kovich, and was instrumental in encouraging the South Africans to return a would-be KGB defector, Yuri Loginov, to Moscow following his arrest. Angleton also named an Royal Canadian Mounted Police Security Service officer, Jim Bennett, as a likely Soviet spy and set in motion a mole hunt that led the Canadian to be dismissed.
Angleton’s evidence to the Church Committee during the investigation into alleged misconduct included a defense of misleading Congress to preserve the secrecy of CIA operations, when he had been recorded inadvertently after testifying to the Church Committee in September 1975 that “it is inconceivable that a secret arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of the government.” His notoriety thereafter handicapped his ability to perform and did nothing to improve his reputation for alcohol-fueled paranoia and a devotion to Golitsyn’s increasingly discredited theories about KGB-inspired disinformation. Sacked by DCI William Colby, Angleton cooperated with an author, Edward Jay Epstein, who was sympathetic to his perspective and died in 1987. Before his death Angleton had been investigated himself as a possible mole on the grounds that he had effectively paralyzed the Soviet Bloc Division’s operations in Eastern Europe and inflicted untold harm on the CIA. However, the officer assigned the task of conducting the investigation, Edward Clare Petty, never believed the allegation and concluded there was no substance in it.