He was arguably the most feared and secretive intelligence officer to have worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. And although he left the agency in 1974, his name still conjures up images of the cold warrior with nerves of steel, engulfed in the world of counterintelligence and determined to protect the United States at all costs. Formally he was known as James Jesus Angleton (1917-1987), but to author Jefferson Morley, he is referred to as the ghost. The title fits appropriately for the secret life of the late CIA spymaster was one which Hollywood could never replicate on screen. By all accounts, his personality was outwardly unassuming, but behind the horn rimmed glasses, was an operative that ate, slept and breathed counterintelligence.
This project began in 1994 and the amount of research Morley has invested is impressive. Angleton did not leave behind diaries or personal writings, he was far too cloak and dagger for that He did however, testify before Congress as the CIA’s domestic mail spying program came under fire after being revealed by the press. The spymaster escaped without prosecution but his career at the agency was effectively finished. He would remain hidden in the shadows but still involved in the field until his death on May 11, 1987. The mystery surrounding Angleton helps to keep him in the public light, but what is it about him that is so fascinating?
Morley has composed a solid biography of Angleton, but there is still much about his life that has probably been lost to history. Angleton himself said that he would take things to his grave and I have no doubt that many secrets were buried with him. And next to Allen Dulles, Dick Helms, Bill Harvey, Cord Meyer and the many legendary officers once part of the OSS, Angleton stood as a gatekeeper to the trove of the Agency’s dark secrets. And throughout his life he was involved with a cast of characters who made their names famous as operatives of the agency that John F. Kennedy once threatened to scatter into a thousand pieces. As he moves up the ladder and increases his power, his secretiveness and paranoia grows at an exponential rate. His hunt for Soviet moles would prove to be one of the final nails in the coffin of his career and nearly crippled the CIA. But was he too paranoid or did he know more than he let on?
There is so much about Angleton’s life that remains a mystery. He was a family man, but his wife and children barely factor into the story. Instead, the book is filled with CIA intrigue, informants, double agents and political gambles in Washington. And sadly, it seemed that when no enemies existed, they were manufactured to suit personal agendas. And for Angleton, this might have been an underlying cause of his later obsession of moles within the government. But such was Angleton’s mind, the maze with false exits, traps and more riddles than answers. The man whom Morley calls “the ghost”, led a life which did not give away secrets and prevented even the most prying eyes from gaining too much insight. It may have been by design or just an extension of the counterintelligence legend’s way of operating.
To say that Angleton’s life was incredible would be a severe understatement. In fact, throughout every major event that takes place, the CIA seems to be close by and his actions regarding some are bizarre and even disturbing. Although detested by many, scared of by others and mind boggling to subordinates, he endeared himself to more than one president and those relationships gave rise to many questions surrounding his actions following JFK’s murder, RFK’s murder and the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer.
By the time he died, his CIA life was far behind him but the saying goes that you never really leave the agency. For James J. Angleton, the agency was his life and in a taped interview with Thames TV in 1975, he stated pointedly that he regretted nothing. I have no reason to doubt him and after reading this book I believe that you will also feel the same way. But as I read the book, I could see that in more than one way his life was quite tragic. As Morley explains, secret intelligence work was his life, but what suffered in the process was his personal life and in some cases his health. In a tragic fate, the love he would give to the CIA would not come to him from his family. Even to them he remained the elusive ghost.
Readers who are familiar with the stories from the cold-war CIA era will know many of the facts revealed in the book. We have heard the names before and their actions are now well-known. But I do think that the section on Lee Harvey Oswald is telling and adds yet another question to the mystery of Kennedy’s murder. When asked about the assassination, Angleton reportedly said ” a mansion has many rooms, I was not privy to who struck John”. Exactly what he meant we will probably never know. But what is clear is that Angleton possessed knowledge of many things that most Americans would prefer not to know.
I cannot imagine that writing a book on a secret CIA operative is an easy task. But Morley’s account of Angleton’s life is a solid work and will be appreciated by historians. Love him or hate him, there is no denying Angleton’s legacy, fame and infamy in the annals of the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Deception is a state of mind–and the mind of the state.”– James J. Angleton
“Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan” President John F. Kennedy, April, 1961
On July 26, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signs the National Security Act, establish a new intelligence agency to gather information deemed critical to the protection of the United States from foreign threats. The new agency is known as the Central Intelligence Agency and its initial members are former members of the Office of Strategic Services which had been discontinued following the allied Victory in World War II. As the Cold War heated up with the Soviet Union and new leaders came to light in several continents, the members of the new agency felt a surging sense to act preemptively to what was perceived to be direct threats to the safety and stability of the western hemisphere. Among the large number of those afraid of Communist infiltration and the end of U.S. business interest were two brothers who controlled an overwhelming majority of power over U.S. foreign policy whose names today are largely unknown to the younger generation. John Foster and Allen Welsh Dulles, the former Secretary of State and Director of the C.I.A., remain controversial and pivotal figures in 20th century American history. In this expose about their time in high posts within the U.S. government, author Stephen Kinzer reveals the dark side of the U.S. government as two brothers used the White House, military and Central Intelligence Agency to advance their financial agenda across several continents resulting in the overthrow of governments, assassination of foreign leaders and financial exploitation of smaller nations caught in the grip of U.S. occupation.
Many years have passed since the Dulles brothers controlled the foreign policy of the U.S. government but the effects of their policies were felt and are being felt even today. Following World War II, many nations began to seek a different course after witnessing and in other cases, learning of the atrocities in Nazi controlled Germany and in parts of China occupied by the Japanese Army. The Soviet Union, seeking to expand its influence and domain, began to offer to support smaller nations looking to break the shackles of colonialism and implement an independent government. This new form of free thought combined with the looming threat to business interest and monetary gains would result in some of the darkest moments in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Some of these actions would forever tarnish the reputation of the C.I.A. and even today in 2016, more information once classified is coming to light revealing the true nature of business of the once mysterious agency.
One month after the assassination of John. F. Kennedy, former president Harry S. Truman penned an article including a strong advisory that the nation needed to watch the actions of the C.I.A. Since its inception, the agency had grown to become a government in itself and as Stephen Kinzer shows, the collaboration between two brothers in positions of power, had deadly implication for those determined to be enemies of the United States. Patrice Lumumba, Mohammed Mossadegh, Jacobo Arbenz and Fidel Castro are only a few of the many figures that became targets of the Dulles’ vengeance. Kinzer’s research brings the past alive and takes us right into the lion’s den to bear witness to the process in which the plots unfolded and the course of history was change. And similarly as author David Talbot also points out in ‘The Devil’s Chessboard‘, the agency at its height, was unstoppable committing illegal and treasonous acts. The programs known as Operation Paperclip, Operation Sunrise, MK Ultra and ZR/Rifle have opened the public’s eyes to the deadly and mind-boggling programs initiated by the agency in under the tutelage of Allen Dulles himself as both an operative of the C.I.A. and as its director. And many of these actions came with the blessing and encouragement from Foster as Secretary of State to President Eisenhower.
Today, the Dulles’ brothers are nothing more than relics of history to most. Foster died on May 24, 1959 and Allen on January 29, 1969. And aside from Washington Dulles International Airport, their names have been forgotten by most. But as Stephen Kinzer reminds us in this excellent inside look into their lives and actions, there was a time in United States history when the two of them controlled U.S. foreign policy and waged their own secret world war.
The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government-David Talbot
July 26, 1947- President Harry S. Truman signs into law the National Security Act, establishing the formation of an intelligence agency dedicated to serving the president. The end result is the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency. Later in life, Truman came to regret the law as the CIA grew beyond his original intentions into an unaccountable, dangerous and highly suspicious agency seemingly under the control of no one. Stories of operatives such as Allen Dulles, Bill Harvey, Richard Helms, David Atlee Phillips, Cord Meyer, Jr. and James Jesus Angleton are both endless and legendary. But what was really going on within the CIA and what was the true nature of its relationship with the White House? David Talbot presents to us his investigative report into the dark side of the CIA and the secret government within the United States.
January 29, 1969-Allen W. Dulles dies at the age of 75 of complications from pneumonia in Washington, D.C. Dying with him is an unknown number of secrets of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. The former director of the CIA, former intelligence operative of the OSS and member of the Warren Commission, was relieved of his post by President Kennedy following the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961. Kennedy and Dulles continued to maintain a strained relationship that would never fully heal. Although officially relieved of duty, Dulles continued to engage in intelligence operations and keep close contact with top members of the CIA. And nearly fifty years after his death, his name evokes both admiration and fear. However, as more information comes to light about the dark operations of the agency he lead, the more we are exposed to the dark side of Allen W. Dulles and his older brother and former Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.
In March, 1945, the Allied forces in conjunction with the OSS, conducted Operation Sunrise, the black operation that obtained the freedom of several high-ranking Nazis including Karl Wolff. Dulles, at the time working for the OSS, spearheaded the campaign which was done secretly under the radar of the oval office. This mission would be one of many in Dulles’ career that could have caused international turmoil and embarrassment. Operation Sunrise was followed by equally as controversial programs such as Operation Paperclip, ZR/RIFLE and MK/ULTRA the agency’s attempt at a real life Manchurian Candidate. All of the details are included in this book and the full story is beyond shocking.
The agency faced its biggest challenge under the Kennedy Administration. Kennedy, convinced that he was unable to trust information provided by the CIA, vowed to shatter the agency and placed the control of covert operations under the control of the military. Following his assassination, the policy was reversed, authorizing covert operations in domestic and international affairs resulting in disastrous foreign policy which culminated with the Vietnam War. Dulles wouldn’t live to see the war’s end, but his agency’s role in the conflict is still the topic of debate. Talbot’s account of the strained relationship between the Kennedys and the CIA reveals an administration at war with its own intelligence community and one that ended violently in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Many of the figures in the book are now deceased, but the book reveals a very disturbing part of U.S. history that continues to haunt this nation and forces us to ask ourselves what power truly is and who really wields it? And just how much do we know about the intelligence community and what their objectives are? Additionally, the book a critical asset to JFK assassination researchers and those who desire to know the truth about what happened in Dealey Plaza.