Last updated on January 1, 2020
May 11, 1987 -James Jesus Angleton, the former chief of counterintelligence in the Central Intelligence Agency, dies at the age of 87 from the effects of advanced stage lung cancer. The legendary officer, who at one time also worked for the Office of Strategic Services, had been living out his final years quietly at his home in suburban Washington, D.C. In 1974 he was relieved of his command by then director William Colby after 19 years of service. His termination came on the heels of the search for moles within the CIA, a search that nearly destroyed the agency and was headed by Angleton.
David Wise presents to us his investigative report of the mole hunt, the lives and careers destroyed and the near implosion of the CIA. The Cold War escalated tensions between the United States and Soviet Union with each side engaging in covert espionage operations to gather classified information and military secrets. Agents, double agents and defectors kept the suspense high as they moved between the two nations causing panic and hysteria as the CIA, KGB and British MI6 searched for moles threatening to bring about the downfall of several intelligence agencies. Angleton, by all accounts, was a strange, fascinating and mysterious individual. Firmly convinced that a Soviet mole was within the CIA after the “defection” of Anatoly Golitsin, he and his subordinates began a crusade to rid the agency of moles and in the process, almost caused intelligence recruitment and operations to come to a grinding halt. Wise covers the operation and its many victims in extensive detail revealing the paranoia that spread rapidly as high level operatives found themselves cast under a web of suspicion. Many officers resigned from the agency once their reputations were questioned and others were simply let go. Years after both Angleton and Colby had left the agency, the Mole Relief Act (Public Law 96-450) was passed, providing compensation to some former employees wrongly targeted under Angleton’s relentless search for moles.
The CIA remains one of America’s most secretive agencies and the Freedom of Information Act has provided significant amounts of documents once previously classified that reveal the true nature of the operations in place during the Cold War and the hunt for Soviet moles which to this day, remains a dark period in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.