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
Currently, in the Midwestern United States, Opioid addiction is causing the deaths of hundreds of men and women. Their deaths and the rise of Heroin use is a direct affront to the long-standing war on drugs. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is fondly remembered for her eternal slogan “just say no”. Narcotics are still largely illegal but more states have begun to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana which has allowed entrepreneurs to invest their savings into a new and profitable industry. The story of America’s war on drugs is long and often misunderstood. Allegations , rumors and explosive revelations have all contributed to cast the dark cloud over the battle against narcotics. Douglas Valentine decided to explore the history of the war on drugs and in this eye-opening book, he tells the story of the history of America’s battle against drugs and the rise and fall of the legendary and infamous Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).
Students of history will be familiar with the story of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962) and his participation with the U.S. Government to defeat the Axis powers during World War II. The story on the surface sounds simple enough, but as Valentine shows us, Luciano was only a small part of the puzzle and there was more to his role than meets the eye. Further, the relationship between Washington and the Italian American mafia would take on monstrous proportions an in the process taint the FBN’s reputation. The bureau was under the guidance of the later Harry Anslinger (1892-1975) and rivaled the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). Anslinger made a name for himself as a director whose agents made cases that resulted in convictions but whose personal racial prejudices and desire for recognition caused him to make decisions that would have far-reaching effects for years to come. Valentine did an impeccable task of researching the topic and the revelations contained in the book are nothing short of jaw-dropping. And the interviews with former agents of the FBN are shocking to say the least but provide valuable insight into what made the FBN a success and what ultimately led to its failure.
Anslinger plays a prominent role in the book but the story heats up and takes on a life of its own as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) makes its appearance. Organized in 1947 through the National Security Act signed into law by President Harry Truman, the Agency, as its known, grew into an uncontrollable secret apparatus of the Unites Government that engaged in espionage, assassinations and as we learn in this book, narcotics trafficking. Rumors of the Agency’s involvement in the rise of drugs of America have held in place for decades. In fact, the allegations proved to be true and the story was broken by late journalist Gary Webb (1955-2004). But what many people did not know then and perhaps now, is that the story was far deeper and much uglier that most would be willing to accept. The FBI also plays a large role in the story of the FBN and Valentine brings the three together exposing the complicated and tension filled relationship between the three organizations.
Before beginning this book, it is necessary for the reader to accept that many unpleasant truths will be revealed. A complicated web of deceit and complicity was constructed that allowed thousands of people to profit off the misery of millions. But more frightening is are ways in which narcotics were able to enter the country with the help of those in high places and the impossibility we now face of their removal. The story is filled with legendary names such as Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), Vito Genovese (1897-1968), Tibor Rosenbaum, James Angleton (1917-1987), Richard Helms (1913-2002) and Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975), among others. But what is paramount is that Valentine has put together an extraordinary jigsaw puzzle that allows the reader to see the dark side of governments and the reality of war as highlighted in the conflict in Vietnam. The revelations about the CIA’s role in the war alone are enough to earn the wrath of veterans still with us today. Valentine spares nothing and gives us the facts, as ugly as they are. The beauty of the book however, is the author’s genius is connecting the characters and providing a mental map of the endless connections between law enforcement, politicians, mobsters, intelligence officers and rebels of all sorts. The information is staggering and at times during the book, I literally could not believe what I was reading. And I do not believe Valentine did either as he was writing this book. I forewarn readers that as an American citizen, this book may cause grief and outrage at the actions of the United States Government domestically and abroad. It is not an easy pill to swallow but the truth is rarely enjoyable.
The FBN earned a legacy as the most successful drug enforcement agency in American history, but paranoia of corruption and an internal investigation by Andy Tartaglino, devastated the bureau and changed the course of history forever. The story of the demise of the bureau is told here in the book from start to finish and it is sure to leave readers shaking their heads. Today the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is the premier federal organization responsible for investigating narcotics trafficking. Time will tell if the bureau will reach the heights of the famed FBN but as we can see very well, drugs are here to stay. As we look back through Valentine’s work, we can only hope that history does not repeat itself. This book is the place to start in understanding the true nature of the business of narcotics and how it propagated throughout our world.
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.
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.