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The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton-Jefferson Morley

9781250080615_p0_v1_s550x406

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

ISBN-10: 1250080614
ISBN-13: 978-1250080615

 

 

 

The Best and the Brightest-David Halberstam with a New Introduction by the Author

20180619_235509I have often wondered why my uncle and many other veterans that I have met, were sent to Vietnam.   He and others never speak of the war, choosing instead to internalize their memories and feelings.  But from the few things about being Vietnam that my uncle has told me,  I cannot image what it was like to be fighting a war in a jungle 13,000 miles away from home. Today he is seventy-two years old and his memories of Vietnam are as sharp today as they were when he left the country to return home.  And there is a part of him that still remains in Vietnam, never to leave its soil.    He is one of five-hundred thousand Americans that served in a war that claimed fifty-eight thousand lives.

The reasons for America’s involvement in Indochina have been muddled and in some cases omitted from discussions.   Secrecy became the standard method of communication in more than one administration in Washington as the United States became deeper involved in a conflict with no end goal in sight.  Daniel Ellsberg gained fame and infamy when he revealed the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the country.   The New York Times later published a review of the documents and today it is available in the form of a book titled The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War.  The book is enlightening and contains a trove of information regarding how and why decisions were being made in the White House as control of the government passed through several presidents.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) published his own memoir of the war, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.  The book has its fans and critics. McNamara has often been blamed for the war and the vitriol towards him was so strong that in later years he declined to talk about the conflict.   True, he was a participant in the events leading up to the war, but many other players had a hand in the game which became deadlier as time went on.  To understand their roles and the policies enacted, it is necessary to revisit the  complete history of U.S. foreign policy in Indochina.  David Halberstam (1934-2007), author of The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert F. Kennedy, conducted his own research into the war’s origins and the result was this New York Times bestseller that is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Halberstam admits that he knew Ellsberg and in fact, he reviewed the Pentagon Papers as he wrote the book.  In addition he conducted hundreds of interviews but was careful not to reveal any of their names.  When Ellsberg was indicted and had to stand trial, Halberstam was subpoenaed to give testimony, unaware then of how Ellsberg came into possession of the documents.  But what started out as a look at the life of  former National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy (1919-1996), grew into this definitive account of the reasons for the Vietnam War.

The book follows a carefully guided timeline and the story of Vietnam begins in China before moving on to Korea and eventually Southeast Asia.  These parts are critical for they set the stage for foreign policy decisions in the years that followed and explain many of the mistakes that were made.  As President Eisenhower winds down his time in office, a new young Catholic Democrat gripped parts of the country as he declared himself the next person to occupy the White House.  By the time John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) took office, the road to Vietnam had already been paved.  It is at this point in the book where the pace picks up and never slows down.   The concept of the best and the brightest came to Halberstam as he thought of a phrase for Kennedy’s cabinet of intellectuals who were set on reshaping Washington in the image they believed was right to push the country forward.  One by one he introduces us to all of the characters that have a role in the story, tracing their origins and helping us to understand how they reached their positions in the government.  Some of them are as mysterious as the country’s then paranoia about communism taking over the world.  But as they come together, something still is not quite right and Vietnam becomes the issue that will not go away.  And for the thirty-three months Kennedy was in office, the American involvement would grow in Indochina but the nation had not yet entered a war.   The growing crisis however, had begun to cause a rift in the White House and the deception employed by those loyal to the military and war hawks is eye-raising and chilling.  I also believe that it helps explain Kennedy’s murder in November, 1963. We can only guess what would have happened if he had lived.  There are those who strongly believe we would have withdrawn from Vietnam. I believe that is what would have happened, probably sooner rather than later.  But Kennedy was gone and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, inherited the nightmare of Vietnam.

As Johnson settles in to being the new Commander-In-Chief,  Indochina becomes a thorn in his side and he becomes conflicted with the decisions he will eventually make.  This part of the book is the crux and the key to the final push by the military for a war.  Many of Kennedy’s cabinet members continued to stay and at first worked under Johnson.  But as time passed and the ugly truths about Vietnam came back from Saigon, they would fade out as Johnson led the nation down the path of escalation.  Halberstam is a masterful story-teller and the scenes he recreates from his research are spellbinding.  Nearly everyone in the book is now deceased but as I read the book I could not help but to scratch my head at their decisions and actions.   The warning signs of Vietnam loomed ominously large but tragically were ignored or discounted.   Washington suffered from a tragic twist of fate: although it had the best and the brightest in Washington, they still made mistakes that literally made little sense. And that is a central theme in the book. The war’s architects were all brilliant individuals with endless accolades yet they failed to understand what was considered to be a peasant nation far away from home. Many of them would suffer in one way or another.  For Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam eventually became the final nail in the coffin that sealed his chances at reelection.

During the reading of the book, I also noticed at how Halberstam explained the actions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vietcong.  In order to understand why Vietnam became a stalemate, it is not just necessary to understand the failures of Washington, but the strategy of Ho Chih Minh and the generals under him.  The small peasant nation took on a colossus and refused to give up. And the battles of  Vietnam changed warfare and showed the world what many believed to be impossible.  Arrogance and in some cases, racist beliefs laid at the base of some foreign policy decisions regarding the war.  History has a strange way of repeating itself and the repeated warnings from the French fell on deaf ears as American troops landed in a place many of them knew nothing about.  Looking back with hindsight, the critical failures are clearly evident and although Halberstam shows us how we became involved in Vietnam,  we are still baffled about why.  How could so many minds filled with so much knowledge make such rudimentary and baseless decisions?   The answers are here in this book in the form of official cables that withheld information, overzealous military advisors, an unstable South Vietnamese government, National Security Action Memos and the idea that the United States could solve any of the world’s problems.   This book is a must-read for those who are interested in the history of the Vietnam War.

ISBN-10: 0449908704
ISBN-13: 978-0449908709

The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War- Neil Sheehan, Hedrick Smith, E. W. Kenworthy, Fox Butterfield and James L. Greenfield

s-l300The names of the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War that are found on the memorial in Washington, D.C., are a reminder of a conflict deemed by many to be the worst the United States has ever been involved in.  The withdrawal of U.S. forces in March, 1973, brought a sigh of relief to the American public which had long grown tired of a war with no end in sight.  The dark truth which we now know is that we did not by any means accomplish the mission.  And the mighty American war machine failed to secure a victory. I have met many veterans of the war and have an uncle who served.  What I recall most about all of them is that they do not speak of their experiences while in combat.  I know the memories are there and for some of them, they were unable to leave parts of the war behind.  Today we call it PTSD, but back then you simply found a way to move forward in life.   But why were they in Vietnam to being with?  Was the domino effect really a threat to the United States?

On May 11, 1973, Daniel Ellsberg found himself the talk of the town as charges pending against him for espionage were dismissed by U.S. District Judge William Byrne. He had been indicted for leaking what became known as The Pentagon Papers, the subject of this book and the topic of the movie The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.  The New York Times, after several battles in court, was finally allowed to move forward with its plan to publish The Pentagon Papers and contained in the pages of this book are the documents that the U.S. Government tried in earnest to hide from the American public under the guise of “national security”.   Ironically, the facts that are revealed in this book have absolutely nothing to do with national security but rather several presidential administrations that failed to find a workable solution to Indochina.

The late Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) has been called the architect of the war and was loathed by many because of it. However, the title is misleading and in some ways unfair. The war had many architects either by wishful thinking, uncontrolled ego or naiveté.  What is truly ironic is that as the war waged on, McNamara became a strong voice of dissent.  And in spite of what we have been led to believe, our existence in Indochina began many years before 1965.  The story of U.S. involvement in Vietnam is a long tale, filled with hard truths, false truths, deception and ultimately failure.  But this is how it happened and why.

The papers are divided into several sections which correspond to a different aspect of the conflict.  The administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson are examined to understand what each cabinet did and did not do as it grappled with the growing headache.   Step-by-step Southeast Asia opens up as black hole as more advisors are committed, instability rages in South Vietnam and war hawks finally get their wish as the United States jumped nearly feet first into a jungle conflict that proved to be nothing short of disastrous.  Rolling Thunder, troop deployments and South Vietnamese politics are just some of the issues that antagonized Washington for nearly a decade.

If you served in Vietnam, I forewarn you that the book might anger you in many ways. For others, this is a critical source of information in order to understand the war from a behind the scenes view.   We are often told that the military fights to protect the country and our freedoms that we take for granted.  But did a nation over 13,000 miles from U.S. soil really pose a threat to the most powerful nation on earth at the time? And what would we have accomplished if we had in fact won the conflict?   Perhaps Vietnam would have become a second Korea, partitioned between a communist controlled North-Vietnam and a U.S. controlled South-Vietnam.   Following the U.S. withdrawal, Saigon fell and the North achieved its goal of reunification.  Today the war is a distant memory for young Vietnamese but for the older generation, many painful memories remain.  The figures in the book are long gone but their actions will stay with us and the Vietnam war will always be a regrettable example of U.S. foreign policy gone wrong.

ISBN-10: 1631582925
ISBN-13: 978-1631582929

Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford-Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin

5-Presidents-ftrThe 20th Century was filled with some of the most earth-shattering events the world has ever seen.  The home video shot by Abraham Zapruder that recorded the assassination of John F. Kennedy stands as one of the most important pieces of motion picture ever captured.  During that film, as former Firs Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy reaches to the trunk of the car to retrieve a portion of JFK’s skull, a secret service agent can be seen leaping on the trunk of the car as the motorcade sped down the Stemmons Freeway en route to Parkland Hospital.  The agent, Clint Hill stands out in the film as only one of two agents to make any major movement to help the fatally wounded Kennedy and Gov. John Connally. Hill would go on to serve three more presidents and today is a best-selling author with several books published about his time working in the United States Secret Service.

Teaming up with Lisa McCubbin, who worked with Hill on his first book, ‘Mrs. Kennedy and Me’ and subsequent memoir ‘Five Days In November’, Hill recounts his experiences during a career that stretched over five administrations, beginning with the legendary Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The secret service of today is far advanced from the days of Eisenhower’s administration and as Hill shows us, the secret service was still developing as the agency tasked with the daily protection of the commander-in-chief.  As Eisenhower’s administration comes to an end, a new president takes office and his administration would change Hill’s life forever.  Primarily assigned to guard Mrs. Kennedy, she and Hill become close friends and as fate would have it, he was included in the motorcade on November 22, 1963.   The murder of JFK and the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson are still surreal and continue to capture the public’s attention as more books are published about that day.

Moving on to Johnson’s administration, we see the stark contrast between the two presidents.  But Hill allows us to see the private side of LBJ, not often seen or discussed in books or magazines. He would stay with Johnson throughout the remainder of his term until the top office in the land was assumed by Richard M. Nixon.  Nixon’s presidency and the events that followed would shock not only Hill but the entire nation.   The Vietnam War and Watergate scandal permanently marked Nixon’s time in office and his resignation is the only one to have ever occurred by a sitting U.S. President.  The prior resignation of then Vice-President Spiro Agnew began to erode the already crumbling confidence in the U.S. government.  And by the time that Gerald Ford took office, things had reached the point where the nation was threatening to become unhinged.   Regardless of their personal shortcomings or questionable judgment calls, Hill stood by each one and recalls his time with each and remarks fondly and gracefully on the proud career he left behind.

This book is not a “smoking gun” about JFK’s murder nor is it a gossip column.  It is a memoir by a remarkable person who had an even more remarkable career.  His life was and is extraordinary by far and in the book an entire cast of characters make an appearance such as Arnold Palmer, Frank Sinatra and even Elvis Presley.  Assassinations and attempted assassinations,  infant deaths, racial tension, war and social change are relived as Hill’s memory comes alive.  And as he Hill points out, not many agents have worked in as many details as himself making his story all the more valuable as a piece of history recounting America’s most dangerous moments.

ISBN-10: 1476794138
ISBN-13: 978-1476794136

 

 

Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case-Allen Weinstein

51pnoJy3i3L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_January 21, 1950-Alger Hiss is convicted in a second trial on the charge of perjury stemming from his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee regarding his relationship with former defector and Soviet spy, Whitaker Chambers.  The Hiss-Chambers case showcased the widespread paranoia and phobia in the United States of the ideology of communism and its believers.   Years before Joseph McCarthy went on a tirade and nearly destroyed the lives of an endless number of respectable U.S. citizens,  a  young congressman from California name Richard Nixon spearheaded the campaign to root out communist and counter espionage in the United States government.  The congressman later became President and is the only one to have resigned in office.

Allen Weinstein has painstakingly recreated the case from beginning to end, examining the childhoods of both men and the very different paths each took in life.  To this day, the whole truth about what really happened between Hiss and Chambers continues to elude even the most efficient of researchers.  Hiss himself sometimes gave conflicting information or in other cases withheld it and Chambers proved to be a believable  but questionable witness with many eccentric traits.  What started out as case of accusations, eventually turned into an investigation that drew the attention of the President of the United States, the Justice Department and J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I first read about the Hiss case after reading the books of author David Talbot.  Motivated to learn the full story of this sensational case in United States history, I picked the book up on Amazon and what I’ve found is the definitive account of the case which showcases the political climate of the United States during that era and the deep tensions between the United States government and the Soviet Union.  In later years, there would be many more cases of spies defecting such as Kim Philby, Anatoly Golitisin, Yuri Nosenko and the infamous Robert Hanson, portrayed brilliantly by Chris Cooper in the thriller ‘Breach’.   The Soviet-U.S. spy defections and paranoia of communist influence would ruin many lives and nearly destroy the intelligence agencies of three nations.

ISBN-10: 0817912258
ISBN-13: 978-0817912253