James Angleton
James Angleton; drawing by David Levine

“The threat” was James Jesus Angleton’s preferred term for the Soviet Union during his twenty years as chief of the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff. He did not distinguish between the country itself and the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, the KGB and its allied intelligence services in Eastern Europe. Angleton was a convinced man, and for a dozen years, until his forced retirement in 1974, he had the intelligence services of the West tied up in knots trying to prove that the chief instrument of “the threat” was deception on the grand scale. This deception consisted of a twin effort to penetrate and ultimately to control Western intelligence services, and to divide and disarm the West politically through agents of influence and the artful manipulation of events and appearances. For years, to take a notorious example, Angleton claimed that the apparent split between the Soviet Union and China was a brilliantly conceived act of deception. How the Soviets planned to exploit this deception was something Angleton never spelled out exactly; he never spelled out anything so far as I know. But he suspected the worst—not surprise attack and nuclear war, but a kind of slow chipping away at the independence of Soviet neighbors in everwidening circles.

That puts it more baldly than Edward Jay Epstein does in his new book Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and the CIA, a richly suggestive but ultimately inconclusive work, which comes closer than Angleton himself ever did to laying out his case for the dark view of Soviet intentions. The book is important in two ways: as a contribution to the biography of Angleton, perhaps the most interesting and certainly the most divisive figure in the history of American intelligence; and as an argument for thinking twice before accepting Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost as evidence that the cold war is over. It is the result of ten years of the author’s elliptical conversations with Angleton before his death in May 1987, of Epstein’s exceptional lay expertise in the history of postwar counter-intelligence, and of much reflection on Sun Tzu’s fifth-century BC classic, The Art of War. It was Angleton who suggested Sun Tzu’s book to Epstein when he wanted to know what use KGB deception could be in a world armed with nuclear weapons—a characteristically circuitous answer.

But it is a very good suggestion. Unlike Angleton, Sun Tzu is very much to the point. “All warfare is based on deception,” he says.

Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity, When near, make it appear that you are far away…. Anger his general and confuse him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance. Keep him under a strain and wear him down.

Epstein implies, but does not quite say, that this is a good description of the strategy that may lie behind the face Russia is presenting to the world under Gorbachev—a weak country at the end of its economic tether, eager to renounce its dark past, ending political repression at home, experimenting with democracy, pulling back from foreign adventures, weary of the burden of arms, anxious for trade, ready to join the family of nations. In a remarkable speech in London in April Gorbachev shared his concerns with the world: the environment, drugs, AIDS, terrorism, human rights, the danger of nuclear war—it was all there, everything the West has been longing to hear. “The world community stands at the crossroads of two policies,” he said. “One…is a policy of force. It is rooted in the past. The other policy…(is based upon) the world’s integrity and interdependence. The priority of universal human interests is its imperative.” It is hard to argue with that. Is it all an elaborate trick?

Epstein has been thinking about counterintelligence for so long that he has learned to answer broad historical questions the way the professionals do—with a chain of evidence based on intelligence cases. This is not the way scholars of the Soviet Union would traditionally go about it, but Epstein’s book, like Angleton’s career, must stand or fall on his reading of these cases. The problem for a layman like Epstein is that the raw data for the solution—accepting for the moment that there is or can be a solution—lies in two vast collections of information, one in the files of the CIA, the other in Moscow. What Angleton knew came mainly from Soviet-bloc intelligence services and what Epstein knows comes mainly from Angleton and other American intelligence officers. It comes down in the end to what people say, and how we judge what they say. What Angleton says, and how we judge what he says, are central to the argument for grand deception.

Angleton’s career in the intelligence business began during the Second World War, when he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and was assigned to the X-2 or counterintelligence branch of the OSS in London. The best account of these early years is to be found in Robin Winks’s Cloak and Gown, a fascinating and useful omnium-gatherum of information about intelligence built around short accounts of the careers of four Yale men who worked for the OSS, including Angleton, class of 1941, and the literature professor who recruited him, Norman Holmes Pearson, who also worked for X-2 in London. There Pearson was privy to the dramatically successful British “deception operation,” which controlled all German agents in Britain under the direction of the “XX” or “Double-Cross” Committee. Pearson referred afterward to counterintelligence as “the Queen on the board” in the great intelligence game. In London for a time Angleton worked alongside and got to know H.A.R. (“Kim”) Philby, the Soviet agent who crossed his path on later occasions, to Angleton’s subsequent embarrassment.


Winks provides a good portrait of the young Angleton in London and later in Italy where he was chief of X-2 by the end of the war. (Before attending Yale, Angleton had spent much of his youth in Italy, where his father was the representative of the National Cash Register Company.) When the OSS was disbanded in the fall of 1945 Angleton stayed on in Italy with a caretaker unit, and then transferred to the newly created CIA in Washington in 1948.

Any history of Angleton’s obsession with the deeper strategems of Soviet intelligence must begin with Philby’s two-year tour of duty in Washington from late 1949 until his abrupt recall, demanded by the CIA, after the disappearance of the British diplomats Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in May 1951. After Philby’s own defection in 1963, Angleton sometimes hinted he had known Philby’s true allegiance all along, but the truth is that Angleton was late to catch on. In Paris in 1952 he assured an American diplomat, James McCargar, that there was no reason he shouldn’t see Philby in London, adding, “I am still convinced that Philby will one day be the head of the SIS”—the British Secret Intelligence Service. During Philby’s tour in Washington Angleton, like many other CIA officers, had lunch with him often and shared secrets. He knew nothing of Philby’s most important task in the United States—to be the liaison with the FBI and Army Security Agency officers handling the super-secret interception of encoded Soviet messages, called VENONA.

These messages, and especially a sheaf of cables from September 1945, painstakingly read with the aid of a partially destroyed Soviet code book picked up on a battlefield of the Finnish-Russo war of 1939–1940, were studded with the cryptonyms of many Soviet agents, some still unidentified. Among them were references to “Homer,” soon established as Maclean, and “Stanley,” Philby’s own code name. Philby showed astonishing aplomb as the investigation closed in, but what impressed Angleton most, when he reflected on it later, was the deft Soviet exploitation of a perfect intelligence loop, allowing them to monitor a dangerous investigation day-by-day through an agent on the inside. VENONA pretty much unraveled the Soviet intelligence nets that had been established between the wars, but Philby’s position at the closing of the loop allowed the Soviets to minimize the unraveling’s effect.

Angleton’s chief rival for control of counterintelligence in the CIA in the early 1950s was William King Harvey, a former FBI agent, who wrote a memo to the agency’s director, General Walter Bedell Smith, shortly after Burgess and Maclean disappeared arguing that Philby was also a spy—the basis for Smith’s demand to the British that Philby be recalled. But Harvey was transferred to Berlin in 1953, and a year later Angleton was appointed to run the new Counterintelligence Staff, the position he held for the rest of his career. It was the job of the CI Staff to protect the integrity of CIA intelligence operations by serving as a kind of internal guidance module, keeping track of who’s who and what’s what in espionage activities in order to insure that information gathered from spies had not been poisoned at the source—in short, that it was not the product of deliberate Soviet attempts to deceive. Keeping spies out of the CIA was the job of the Office of Security.

Angleton eventually built a staff of three hundred, but he had no agents in the field, had no authority to place bugs or telephone taps, ran no foreign operations. What he did have was unparalleled access—copies of all cables to and from the CIA’s Deputy Directorate of Plans (DDP), of intercepted communications of exchanges with the counterintelligence staffs of allied services, of the debriefings of Soviet defectors. His main activity was to analyze this ocean of information about Soviet intelligence operations for the telltale signs of manipulation and interference that would betray Soviet control. He concluded that nearly but not quite all Soviet defectors were “dispatched”—sent to deceive—and that in most cases defectors generated by CIA officers in the field were “bad,” or run by the other side.


But that wasn’t the worst of it. All intelligence services attempt to “muddy the waters” through the use of deception, double agents, the release of importantly false information concealed within a bouquet of the trivial but true, and so on. Angleton convinced himself that Soviet intelligence revealed a deeper plot to send defectors who would support each other’s bona fides and back up “bad cases” generated in the field. A penetration agent or mole within the targeted service—an undiscovered Philby, say—would then “close the feedback loop,” allowing the Soviets to monitor and adjust their operations, and gradually gain control of what the target service “knew” about the Soviets. The enterprise would be a replay of Britain’s “Double-Cross” operation during World War II. But this time around, control of intelligence would be used by the Soviets for a broader purpose—to color what Western governments “knew” about Soviet political intentions, and thereby manipulate the Western response.

This fearful vision didn’t come to Angleton all at once. It dawned on him slowly, over a period of years, as he watched cases unfold from his position of unparalleled access. Perhaps the very first seed of suspicion was planted by the extraordinary case of Michal Goleniewsky, an intelligence officer in the Polish Urad Bezpieczenstaw (UB) who sent an anonymous letter to the American embassy in Switzerland in March 1958. Goleniewsky sent fourteen letters to his CIA contact before defecting in Berlin in December 1960, and many Soviet spies in Britain and Germany were arrested as a direct result of his leads. But of the fourteen letters the one with the deepest consequences reported Soviet knowledge of a West German plan to “pitch,” or attempt to recruit, the Polish intelligence officer Jan Switala in Berne.

The result was instant consternation at the CIA. Just three weeks earlier agency headquarters at Langley, Virginia, had cabled approval for an attempt to recruit Switala by the CIA officer Tennent (“Pete”) Bagley in Berne, posing as a West German. Only three CIA officers knew about the operation directly; drop copies of the cable had gone routinely to the DDP and to Angleton. This was an unmistakable sign that something was badly awry. Investigation failed to find the leak but the doubt remained—there was a mole inside the CIA.

Penetration is the nightmare of intelligence services. As chief of the CI Staff Angleton compiled over the years about one hundred “serials”—collections of material on unresolved intelligence cases accompanied by his own comments indicating where Soviet penetration had taken place. Many “serials” were based on cryptonyms in the VENONA intercepted messages, including about a dozen identified as OSS officers working for or at least known to the Soviets.1 Other “serials” referred to CIA operations in which there had been signs (“manifestations”) that the Soviets had been able to interfere, always a possible sign of penetration. The Goleniewsky case became a prominent fixture in Angleton’s serials, especially after signs began to appear that the Soviets had caught on to his defection within six weeks and used him to feed information to the CIA in later letters, “correcting” some of his earlier information.2 The entire case went completely haywire a few years later when Goleniewsky, by then living in New York City, publicly claimed to be the son and rightful heir of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II.

But even while the case was unfolding Angleton had growing suspicions that Goleniewsky had been unreliable from the beginning, and that the spies he uncovered were deliberately handed over by the Soviets for reasons of their own. Inevitably, the Polish branch of the DDP and the case officers who dealt with Goleniewsky in the field disagreed—the beginning of bad blood between the CI Staff and the rest of the clandestine service.

Soviet deception in such activities was just business as usual. Angleton’s grand vision took its final form only after the defection in December 1961 of Anatoli Golitsyn, a KGB officer already known to the CIA from debriefing an earlier defector, the KGB officer Peter Deriabin, who had switched sides in vienna in 1954. Golitsyn had spent a number of months going over KGB files on NATO in Moscow before being assigned to Finland, where he defected to the US, but he brought no names of agents, only clues. He said, for example, that the KGB possessed specific NATO documents; that the KGB had obtained full transcripts of the CIA’s debriefing of Deriabin; that a KGB friend, Anatoly Gromov, remembered that he had once recruited a homosexual Canadian ambassador to Moscow. Golitsyn had looked at a lot of paper and he had a lot of alleged clues, some of which pointed to a CIA mole.

But Golitsyn had something else to offer as well—a report that the KGB was interested in something much bigger than run-of-the-mill cases, however successfully pursued. Following the Burgess-Maclean disaster of 1951, Golitsyn said, he had proposed that the KGB pay more attention to Washington than to London. He even claimed to have spoken to Stalin of his plan. In 1958, he said, the KGB had been reorganized and had adopted a long-term plan to penetrate and deceive Western intelligence services. He predicted that since he knew about the plan, the Soviets would dispatch two phony defectors to discredit his reports.

In June 1962 the perfect candidate appeared—the KGB officer Yuri Nosenko, the son of a famous Soviet admiral. Nosenko offered himself to the CIA in Switzerland and delivered many clues to the identities of Soviet agents in perhaps ten hours of conversation with the CIA official Peter Bagley, who had gone to Geneva to debrief him. Bagley was of course thrilled with the results, but back in Washington Angleton convinced him that he had been gulled. When Nosenko defected in January 1964, Bagley and the Soviet Division assumed from the start he was sent by the KGB to deceive the CIA, not least in his claim that the Soviets had made no use of Lee Harvey Oswald for intelligence purposes, and therefore could not be charged with involvement in the Kennedy assassination.

Thereupon followed an extraordinary three-year interrogation of Nosenko, which is blandly referred to in documents as “hostile”—too pale a word for Nosenko’s harsh treatment, during which he was kept in total isolation and held naked in a brightly lit room. Nosenko’s case has never been resolved. His story contained many holes, but he insisted to the end that he was acting on his own. At the end of 1967 his treatment finally eased, and he was eventually resettled in the usual manner, paid for his agony, and taken on by the CIA as a consultant. Some CIA officers remain convinced that he lied, others that he was disgracefully mistreated—the details are too many and convoluted to unravel here.3 For our purposes Nosenko’s case is important because his defection appeared to confirm Golitsyn’s prediction, and thereby lent support to his many other claims.

By all accounts Golitsyn was a proud, difficult, combative man, and he quarreled heatedly with the Soviet Division debriefers who demanded that he provide more details. In March 1963 he insisted on going to England, where he quickly established a close relationship with the British Secret Intelligence Service—so close the SIS allowed him to see raw files in the hope that they would prod his memory. In August he returned to Washington and insisted that he had now remembered enough to pinpoint Soviet agents inside the CIA. But this time he refused to have anything to do with the Soviet Division. Angleton’s CI Staff took over the handling of Golitsyn, and Angleton himself—who had never been to Russia, knew no Russian, and never knew a Russian other than Golitsyn—fell under Golitsyn’s spell. As Epstein quotes Sun Tzu:

He who is not sage and wise, humane and just, cannot use secret agents. And he who is not delicate and subtle cannot get the truth out of them.

Subtlety was Angleton’s passion, and his delicacy in “eliciting” leads from Golitsyn brought them up by the bucketload. In a sense Angleton and Golitsyn were made for each other. In the intelligence business the phenomenon of “falling in love with your agent” is well known. No one ever fell harder than James Angleton.

But all defectors sense at once that they are loved for a season only; when they have no more to tell they are gently dropped. It is a sign of Golitsyn’s genius that he found a way to make the marriage last. Angleton was ready to see a deeper pattern behind Soviet intelligence activities and Golitsyn confirmed his darkest fears. He insisted that his deep knowledge of the KGB ethos would allow him to sniff out traces of Soviet interference if he were only allowed to go through the files of agency personnel and operations. This ought to have set off warning bells. The conventional wisdom of counterintelligence stresses that what defectors know is precious only so long as it is uncontaminated by other information. They are quick learners as a rule, soon sense what their interrogators want, and will plunder every available source in order to deliver. Abandoning caution, Angleton gave Golitsyn unprecedented access to the files, and Golitsyn delivered.

Golitsyn’s “methodology,” soon notorious throughout the CIA’s clandestine service, can be best seen at work in the search for moles within the CIA. On his return from England Golitsyn said that moles would be found at the CIA’s Berlin base, where many cases had turned out badly over the years. He identified one by his alleged Soviet cryptonym—“Sacha,” the diminutive for Alexander. A Pole was involved, whose name began with K. Two candidates were quickly found—a contract officer and translator from the Russian, and a regular CIA officer who had been in charge of technical support throughout Europe. Both were shipped to other posts although both denied they were agents. But Golitsyn’s claims didn’t stop there. The real purpose of the “agents,” he said, had been to compromise their superiors, who had of course been recruited in turn. Angleton’s suspicions fell upon two veterans of the CI’s Soviet Division, Richard Kovich and David Murphy, who had handled the “agents” implicated by Golitsyn. Nothing was said to them, but their careers went quietly awry: Kovich was shipped off to Latin America; and Angleton even went so far as to warn a French intelligence chief that Murphy, newly appointed to run the CIA’s Paris station in the late 1960s, was a Soviet agent. The blight of Golitsyn’s “methodology” ruined other CIA careers as well.

Golitsyn’s leads and Angleton’s growing confidence that he had grasped the pattern of Soviet efforts—“the logic of penetration,” which he explored in frequent conversations with his sole Russian—created a decade of turmoil in Western counterintelligence. One of Golitsyn’s leads suggested high-level Soviet penetrations in France, but when French counterintelligence officers tried to explore the subject with Golitsyn they quickly found that every French official they mentioned was marked down as a Soviet agent by the officers from Angleton’s office who sat in on the interrogation. Another lead precipitated a bitter controversy when Angleton personally told the head of one Norwegian agency—wrongly, as it turned out—that the secretary of the man who ran another agency was working for the Soviets. Following on Golitsyn’s leads, Angleton told the British Special Intelligence Service (SIS) that the British Labor party leader Hugh Gaitskell, who had just died, had probably been murdered by the Soviets in London in order to advance their own man, Harold Wilson, by then prime minister. Like so many of Golitsyn’s leads, it trailed off to nothing, but the damage done in Britain was enormous.

Golitsyn’s leads, backed up by VENONA intercepts, for example, convinced Angleton that Averill Harriman, the former governor of New York, ambassador to Russia, and Lyndon Johnson’s negotiator with the North Vietnamese in Paris, was a Soviet agent.4 Angleton also believed that American journalists were working for the Russians and the Romanians (which amounted to the same thing, in Angleton’s view), and for a time he took seriously Goleniewsky’s report—a product of his later years, passed on to the British after his claim that he was heir to the tsar—that Henry Kissinger had been recruited by the Russians in Germany shortly after the war.

But it took two other claims of Golitsyn’s to push Angleton over the edge. First was Golitsyn’s view, mentioned earlier, that Chinese-Soviet enmity was a hoax to lull the West, a conviction Angleton carried to the grave, despite the astonishment of Chinese and Soviet experts who politely grilled Golitsyn on the subject in meetings referred to by skeptics as “the flat earth conference.”

Perhaps more important was Golitsyn’s inspired claim that buried within the KGB was a secret KGB, a tiny group that alone knew the details of the master plan. No one from the inner circle ever left the Soviet Union, and no Soviet diplomat who knew what they were up to was allowed out of the country either. Thus no case conducted by the CIA in the field and no defection of a KGB officer abroad could clear up the mysteries because only one person with knowledge of the secret KGB had ever managed to escape—Golitsyn.

Summarized briefly, Angleton’s inventory of suspicions has an air of delirium, and it seems scarcely credible that they were the chief concerns of Western counterintelligence for a decade. Argued singly, his cases sounded questionable but interesting. But taken as a whole, they implied that Western intelligence services were a plaything in the hands of KGB puppeteers. The result was an atmosphere of distrust and personal bitterness, strained relations with allies, and a growing paralysis of CIA efforts to recruit agents to give information about the Soviet Union. By the late 1960s the CI Staff was shutting down virtually every case originating in the field; furious case officers, never told what had gone wrong, began requesting transfers out of the Soviet Division. Those who remained found ways to slip around the CI Staff, built files of their own, and broke the rules by discussing cases with each other. Finally a Soviet Division officer, Leonard McCoy, convinced CIA Director Richard Helms that Angleton’s suspicions were crippling the agency. Internal suspicions were destroying morale. The only way to resolve the doubts inspired by Golitsyn was to find some new defector with fresh information, but the CI was blocking every effort.

Reorganization followed, in which Soviet Division officers were all let go on the theory that a new staff could not have been penetrated. The new division chief, David Blee, eventually paid a call on Angleton for “the briefing.” I have heard such briefings described many times. They are all the same—Angleton in his office behind a desk piled high with paper, chain-smoking the cigarettes that would kill him, the window blinds drawn down behind him. This is the Angleton of legend—a tall, stooped man with a basement pallor, who drew the metaphors for his trade from his hobbies, fly fishing and orchid growing. He could be eloquent about the sexual lives of plants, the brilliant strategems by which insects were lured to carry pollen.

In his youth, at Yale in the late 1930s, literature had been his great love, especially the poetry of Eliot and Pound. Now he worked on the subtlest texts of all—the deception buried in cases as elusive as a difficult poem. His discussion of Soviet intelligence cases going back to the 1920s and 1930s made a finely linked construction, but the way in which he connected the cases was hard to follow. Almost any detail might bring an abrupt switch in his account from one case to another—a name, a place, a date, a bit of operational craft. So it went. At each critical juncture Angleton would only raise his eyebrows—as if to say, don’t you see? It was up to his listeners to spell it out: if A then B, which can only mean C—was that it?

Some intelligence professionals like to toy with the uninitiated, but never Angleton; no man ever took the burden of knowledge more seriously. He was trying to tell you, but some inner restraint—some combination of temperament and devotion to secrecy—prevented him from doing so directly. It was more or less clear that Angleton felt the Soviets had spun a monstrous web to further, and at the same time to conceal, their deeper purposes in the world, but just how that web was put together, what those intentions were, how Angleton knew it was so—at that point you were on your own, with only Angleton’s body language as guide. Blee got the full treatment. At the end of three or four hours with Angleton he asked, “Is that it, Jim?” Angleton said, “That’s it, Dave, you see the pattern, don’t you?” But Blee didn’t see the pattern. He felt Angleton had lost his way in a maze constructed of mirrors.

A lot of CIA people concluded that Angleton was crazy. There may be something to this. The range of his suspicions does suggest paranoia, but this diagnosis was hard to establish because Angleton was always in control of the evidence. He never cleared skeptics for the information that would prove his case. To me he seems to have suffered a radical loss of the ability to live with uncertainty. When World War II was over, the spy runners on our side, Angleton included, got a chance to find out who had been running whom. But the cold war went on and on, and the mysteries compounded. Small wonder if this never-ending uncertainty proved too much. But the explanation may be simpler. Angleton was intellectually proud; he was slow to make up his mind, but once he had done so he stuck to it. So far as I know, Angleton never admitted that he had been wrong about anything, to anybody.

Edward Jay Epstein of course cannot know if Gorbachev is only carrying out the grand deception predicted by Golitsyn nearly thirty years ago. He is not so much convinced by Angleton’s case as he is swept along by it, intrigued by it. Epstein can be an able analyst, quick to spot the flaws in an argument, but he makes no attempt to weigh Angleton’s case in Deception. What animates him is only the fragile possibility it might all be true. A kind of intellectual playfulness is characteristic of all of Epstein’s books. His account of Lee Harvey Oswald in Legend, for example, builds a circumstantial, inferential case that the Soviets had every reason to take and retain an intelligence interest in Oswald. But did they? Epstein never says. He has dug up the Nosenko case in a masterful job of reporting, but he tells this story in order to heighten the mysteries that remain, not to resolve any.

In Deception, Epstein argues that Soviet intelligence likes to play games, that it has mounted sizable deception operations in the past, that the Soviet Union has habitually misrepresented itself, that it may have systematically hidden the accuracy of its missiles through technical deception, that governments and their officials are frequently led astray by what they want to believe, that Western belief in Soviet weakness is mainly based on what the Soviets say about themselves, and that Sun Tzu says this is the way to lull enemies and win wars without fighting. With evidence to support it this would provide an outline for a plausible interpretation of current events. But like an inverted pyramid, it rests on an infinitesimal point, Golitsyn’s lonely claim that the KGB laid a plan for just this sort of grand deception thirty years ago. We’ve got only Golitsyn’s word for it.

Of the many defectors since Golitsyn came to Washington, none has ever backed up his claims that a secret KGB is engaged in grand deception. Lacking proof, Angleton’s argument—the heart of his murky briefings—fell back on close analysis of the cases in which Golitsyn was involved. If he were right about Nosenko, for example, one had to entertain the possibility he was also right about the KGB policy of grand deception. As chains of reasoning go, this one was fragile. A better test is the case of China, but how can one reasonably argue that the last twenty years of Chinese-Soviet relations have all been orchestrated to lull the West?

In the counterintelligence world nothing just happens, but in the real world a great deal does. A secret arm of government may slip a phony piece of paper into a sheaf of the real, but Golitsyn and Angleton were arguing something altogether different—that none of the paper is real, the defectors are all phony, the secret intelligence is all disinformation. The real real world is a handful of men in the bowels of Moscow, pulling strings. We have heard such stuff about the Freemasons, the Sanhedrin, the Anti-Christ in Rome, even the Trilateral Commission. Angleton, in my view, properly deserves the charity of a medical excuse, but what’s Epstein’s excuse? He has an obligation to the reader to pass some sort of judgment on these wild claims, but gives us nothing of the kind.

In the end Angleton himself fell under suspicion. Nothing ever came of it, but the men who worked alongside him finally lost patience with him, wearied of his secrecy and suspiciousness. They forced him to retire, drastically cut back his office to a staff of eighty or so, and rewrote the CI charter. For a time Angleton was convinced that these changes had been masterminded by Philby in Moscow; he even suspected the CIA director who fired him, William Colby, was a Soviet agent. He quit saying it before he died, but I very much doubt he quit thinking it. He spent his unreconstructed final years fly fishing, raising exotic flowers, and giving occasional interviews to writers who found it difficult to pin down just what he was trying to tell them. He told Epstein he was still trying to work out some of the finer points, but Epstein’s book makes a convincing if unintentional case that Angleton was on the wrong track.

More facts about the Russians won’t get us anywhere in understanding Angleton’s conspiracy theories. We must look at the man himself. His fearful vision has a pathological cast—nothing was the way it seemed, enemies were everywhere, only Angleton had the key, skeptics had secret motives, he had figured it all out for himself, the world was doomed if it failed to heed his warnings. This is not the intellectual style of a man in charge of his reason. But I am not a clinician, and Angleton’s personal history is still largely a blank, so it is only surmise when I say that somewhere inside Angleton there seems to have been a small boy facing a big secret in lonely terror.

This Issue

August 17, 1989