I first met James Jesus Angleton in the dining room
of the Madison Hotel in Washington. Several months earlier
he had been fired as the chief of the counterintelligence
staff at the CIA. On the phone, he insisted on a particular
table in the corner for "security reasons."
I knew nothing then about his secret
world of counterintelligence, but I thought he might
be able to help with the book I was writng on Lee Harvey
Oswald. The missing piece in Oswald's career was the
nearly two years that he had spent in the Soviet Union
before he returned to the United States and moved to
Dallas. What had happened to Oswald during this period?
Had he had any connection with Soviet intelligence during
this period? Had the KGB sponsored his return to the
U.S? Had he been given any mission? The Warren Commission,
which had been given the responsibility of investigating
the assassination, had been unable to answer these question
when it wrote its report in 1964.
I had completed six hour of interviews
with Nosenko, but I found
several of the assertions he made about the KGB's treatment
of Oswald inconsistent with other evidence furnished
the Warren Commission. To be sure, Jamie Jamieson, his
CIA handler, had assured me that he was utterly reliable.
Yet, I was not completely satisfied. For example, his
insistence that the KGB had never contacted Oswald during
his stay in the Soviet Union seemed implausible since
Oswald had loudly advertised on his arrival that he
had some secret information of special interest to the
My doubts were further stirred by
a lunch I had with a Soviet diplomat in Washington earlier
that week. Igor Agou had informed me that my request
for visa to go to Russia to find out about Oswald's
stay there was unnecessary. "There is no need for you
to go to Russia. The best source on Oswald's visit there
is in America... Yuri Nosenko". I found it curious that
the Soviet Embassy would recommend that I see a Soviet
traitor: indeed, the same traitor the CIA had also recommended
I then went back to see Jamieson.
I asked him why the Warren Commission had not used this
Nosenko as a witness. After all, his defection was known
to the KGB, as was his access to the Oswald file. He
could have filled an important gap.
He then told me, for the first time,
that there had been some "minor problem" with Nosenko
at the time. He assured me that now it was cleared up,
which was why I was permitted to see Nosenko.
When I asked further about the nature
of the "problem," he said that it was "too sensitive"
to be discussed. He closed the issue by saying "in any
case, it is not relevant to your book".
I decided that I needed to know more
about Nosenko. Since current CIA officers wouldn't talk
about the "problem," I began looking for ex-officers.
Angleton fit the bill: he had been fired after the New
York Times revealed that he had been involved in illegal
counterintelligence operations in the United States.
Angleton arrived in a black homburg,
looking like someone that central casting in Hollywood
might have chosen for the part of a master spy. Even
though he was six feet tall, he shuffled down the hall
with a stoop that made him seem shorter— and older,
He was ghostly-thin , with finely sculptured facial
features set off by arched eyebrows. Throughout the
evening, he drank vintage wine, chain-smoked Virginia
Slims and coughed as if had consumption. A quarter of
a century in counterintelligence had extracted some
Angleton told me a little about
his extraordinary life— the little he wanted me to know.
He was born in 1917 in Idaho. During a punitive raid
on Mexico the year before, his father, William Angleton,
cavalry officer in the Idaho national guard, courted
and married his mother, a seventeen year old Mexican
beauty. The family then moved to Italy, where his father
worked for the National Cash Register Company. Living
in a magnificent villa overlooking Rome, he became quickly
accustomed to the wines and cuisine of Europe. He attended
school at Malvern, an elite public school in England.
In 1937, with war tensions building in Europe, he returned
to America and enrolled at Yale. While there, he founded
and edited "Furioso", a quarterly devoted
to original poetry. To write for it, he recruited a
number of world renown poets including Ezra Pound, Archibald
MacLeish, and e.e cummings. After he graduated in 1941,
he went on to Harvard Law School. A year later, both
he and his father volunteered for service in the OSS
-- America's socially exclusive espionage service (nicknamed
Oh-So-Social"). His intelligence career began in England.
He was one of a small grouped of promising recruits
who were handpicked to learn the secrets of the most
arcane part of espionage--counterintelligence. After
being trained by English counterintelligence experts
who had long experience in running double-agents in
what became known as the Double Cross System, Angleton
went on to Rome. As the war came to an end, he so excelled
at finding his way through the labyrinth of Italian
-- and Vatican-- politics, that he was singled out by
the William Donovan, the Director of the OSS, as its
"most professional counterintelligence officer."
When the OSS was dissolved in 1945,
Angleton elected to remain in secret intelligence as
part of a minute unit, called the "Central Intelligence
Group." His job involved maintaining three by fives
cards in the registry on possible recruits-- all that
remained of the once sprawling memory of an all but
defunct intelligence service. With the rapid deterioration
of the Soviet-American relations, he assumed it was
only a matter of time before Congress authorized a new
espionage service. This came about in 1947 with the
creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Angleton then, at the age of thirty,
had come to so personify the art of intelligence that
the CIA briefly considered using his profile as its
official logo-- though the idea was rejected. He returned
to Washington in 1949 to take over as the liaison with
other allied intelligence services. Since the CIA still
relied heavily on the British, French, German and other
"partners" to do much of the dirty work in post-war
espionage in Europe, such as setting up agent networks
in Eastern Europe to spy on the Russians, he was in
a very central position in the inner circle of western
intelligence. It also brought him into direct contact
with the leading anti-Soviet specialists in the European
intelligence services, H.A.R. "Kim" Philby.
Angleton was far more circumspect
about this dangerous liaison. Philby had arrived in
Washington, a few months after Angleton's return, as
the liaison between MI-6, the British secret service,
and the CIA. He was, if anything, overqualified for
the job. Clever and quick-witted, Philby had distinguished
himself academically at Cambridge University, before
joining British Intelligence in 1938. where he had a
meteoric career.. After having worked against German
diplomats in Spain-- and cultivating among them a number
of sources for MI-6, he was transferred to the Anti-Soviet
section, which targeted Soviet diplomats as prospects
to be approached and, if possible, subverted into working
for the British. Then, in 1944 , he was promoted to
being the head of this section. As such, he directed
all the operations aimed at recruiting Russians to spy
on the Soviet Union-- which was still an ally of Britain
and the United States. As the Cold War heated up, his
section became the most important element in MI-6. His
transfer to Washington thus was more than a routine
assignment. British intelligence, with its half-century
experience in espionage, was the senior partner in the
Anglo-American alliance; and Philby's mission was to
lay the ground work for future cooperation between it
and the CIA in the secret war. As Angleton and other
top CIA officials were told by the British, Philby was
slated to head the British Secret Service on his return
On this basis, Angleton entered
into what he admitted was an eventually disastrous,
working relationship with Philby. They had much in common.
Philby's intelligence career had roughly paralleled
his own. They both also had similar literary and epicurean
tastes. About once a week, they dined together at Harvey's
restaurant in downtown Washington. It was called "The
Kim and Jim Show"; two dedicated intelligence officers,
the reputed best and brightest of their services, discussing,
as Angleton put it, "Cabbages and kings". ( Philby later
noted that Angleton "He was one of the thinnest men
I ever met, and one of the biggest eaters".)
Angleton couldn't help being impressed
by Philby's cynical view of world politics or amused
by his waspish humor. At these, and more formal meetings,
Philby eventually got down to business. He presented
long list of questions. As CIA liaison, it was Angleton's
job to furnish it-- unless, as in a few rare cases,
the information was specifically embargoed from the
British. For some eighteen months, he responded to Philby's
questions. These talked about everything from CIA plans
for the recruitment of Russian agents to more general
evaluations of secret information received from behind
the Iron Curtain.
It emerged in the spring of 1951,
however, that British intelligence was not the recipient--
or at least the exclusive recipient of this secret information.
The CIA learned through a break of the Soviet diplomatic
code that some of it was passing into the hands of Soviet
intelligence. Two British diplomats, Guy Burgess, and
Donald Maclean, were identified as possible sources
for some of the data; both, however, defected to Moscow
before the mystery could be clarified. U.S. intelligence
remained convinced by the intercepted coded messages
proved that there was a third man, and by August, the
cross hairs of the investigation intersected on Kim
Philby. It appeared virtually certain that at least
some of what Angleton told Philby was getting to Moscow.
Although there was no legally admissible evidence against
Philby, caution was the better part of valor. Philby
was recalled to London and secretly cashiered from MI-6.
As Angleton observed, intelligence services do not "relish
in exposing their own weaknesses."
He was fascinated with the irony
that he unwittingly had been the CIA's liaison with
Soviet intelligence. The problem was what he termed
"the vulnerability of the intelligence-gathering system"
itself. Espionage services, as he explained it, must
depend ultimately for their prized commodity-- secrets--
on sources inside the enemy camp. Individuals, who are
betraying their country, or, hidden microphones. And
either can be detected by the enemy. If they are, information,
true or false, can be placed in their path that will
From this perspective, and with the
advantage of hindsight, Angleton set out to reconstruct
Philby's career. He found that all the early successes
against both the Germans and Russians in the 1940s came
from Philby having available to him secret information
unavailable to other British intelligence officers.
He concluded that it had been probably provided by his
contacts Soviet intelligence which had been stage-managing
his rise in British intelligence. If so, his promotions
first to being head of anti-Soviet operations and then
Washington liaison were no accident, but part of a Soviet
design. Moreover, if Philby could be moved into such
positions by Soviet intelligence, so could other of
He spent the next three years working
on the problem. The solution went beyond. ferreting
out individual agents (who, he pointed out would then
be replaced by unknown ones.) What was necessary was
somehow thinking like the KGB and anticipating its targets.
Angleton proposed creating a small "think tank" that
would literally enter the mind of the enemy. It would
piece together a mosaic from all the separate contacts
that Soviet intelligence had with western intelligence
services, a mosaic that would yield a picture of the
Allan Dulles, the Director of Central
Intelligence in 1953, bought the idea. He attached the
new unit, Angleton's "counterintelligence staff," directly
to the office of the Deputy Director for Plans, who
was in charge of running the clandestine side of the
Initially, according to Angleton,
it was so secretive that not even executive officers
in the CIA knew its true function. It had two main functions,
liaison with other services, and record-keeping. Through
the liaison function, Angleton held the strings in his
hand that connected with other American intelligence
services, including the FBI and National Security Agency,
as well as with the British, French, Germans, Italian
and Israelis intelligence. He was through these liaisons
able to trade and exchange information, available to
none of the other divisions of the CIA, about intelligence
activities around the world. This network eventually
gave Angleton great power within the CIA.
Angleton was also given the responsibility
for keeping, and updating, the CIA's central registry
of foreign agents. These sources had been recruited
and operated by case officers in the six geographic
divisions of the CIA. These were the Soviet Russia Division,
the Western European Division, the Eastern European
Division, The Middle East Division, The Far East Division
and the Western Hemisphere Division. The Soviet Russia
Division, which had over half the clandestine personnel
of the CIA in it, would, for example, maintain contact
with Soviet sources, mainly diplomats, military attaches
and KGB officers, who supplied information to the CIA.
The responsibility that Angleton assumed in updating
their records in the registry was determining which
of the double-agents were "bona fide" sources. If an
agent was labeled "bona fide" it meant that he was under
the control of the CIA (and therefore had not been detected
by the KGB). If he did not receive this stamp from Angleton,
it meant that the agent could still be under the control
of the KGB. From this vantage point, Angleton played
a key role in the spy war for the next two decades.
Since Angleton's counterintelligence
staff had the responsibility for evaluating information
supplied by KGB defectors, I assumed that he would be
in a position to clarify what Nosenko had been telling
me about Oswald and the KGB. I had no idea then that
Nosenko had been the subject of a bitter ten-year debate
inside the CIA that had destroyed a half-dozen careers,
and which helped precipitate the downfall of Angleton
himself. Not knowing the mare's-nest of issues surrounding
this case, I expected a simple answer when I asked him
"Was there any problem with Nosenko's veracity?"
Angleton answered, with a thin smile,
suggesting a deliberate understatement, "Truth is always
complicated when its comes to defectors". He then added
that the case was "still sensitive" and he could not
discuss it. With that, he abruptly cut off the conversation
about Nosenko, and moved on to a subject of which I
had no understanding at all: Orchids. Ordering another
bottle of vintage wine, he went into elaborate detail
about the pollinating conditions for Dendrobian, Phalaenopsis,
Cattyleas, Cymbidian and other tribes of orchids, especially
their deceptive qualities. He explained it had not been
the fittest but the most deceptive orchid that had survived.
The perpetuation of most species of orchids depend on
their ability to misrepresent themselves to insects.
Having no food to offer the insects, they had to deceive
them into landing on them and carrying their pollen
to another orchid in the tribe. Orchids are too dispersed
in nature to depend on the wind to carry their pollen.
To accomplish this deception, orchids
use color, shape and odor to mimic something that attracts
insects to their pods of pollen. Some orchids play on
the sexual instincts of insects. The tricocerus orchid,
for example, so perfectly mimics in three-dimensional
the underside of a female fly, downs to the hairs and
smell, that they trigger mating response from passing
male flies. Seeing what he thinks is a female fly, the
male fly swoops down on the orchid, and attempts to
have sex with it-- a process called psuedo-copulation.
In doing so, the motion causes the fly to hit the pollen
pod, which attaches itself to his underside. The fly
thus becomes an unwitting carrier. When the fly then
passes another tricocerus orchid, and repeat the frustrating
process, it pollinate that orchid.
It gradually became clear that he
was not only talking about an insect being manipulated
through deception but an intelligence service being
similarly duped, seduced, provoked, blinded, lured down
false trails and used by an enemy.
The last waitor was waiting for us
to leave. It was almost 1 a.m. Angleton seemed drunk
and I was disappointed. I had learned more than I ever
wanted to know about botany but nothing about the subject
at hand. As he got up to leave, I made a final try to
get back to Nosenko. "But can Nosenko be believed about
the assassination?" I asked.
He was silent for a long moment,
obviously disappointed that I had not grasped the meaning
of his orchid discourse. "I told you I could not discuss
cases," he said. "But you might want to buy orchids
for your greenhouse..."
"I don't have a greenhouse, but
He cut me off. Why don't you come
with me to Kensington Orchids next time I go."
January 26, 1976, Kensington,
The high humidity in Kensington
Orchid house so fogged my glasses that I hardly see
Angleton. He was examining a long, spiny orchid with
a flash light. "See this oncidium orchid," he said,
as I approached through the corridor of plants. "It
has an almost exact replica of a bee's head on its petals."
He meticulously traced the upside-down bee's head for
me with his flashlight. "Here's the illusionary foe—
the killer bee." Unable to distinguish the simulcrum
from the real bee, the wasp is triggered to attack.
When it plunges its stinger through the petal, the orchid's
pollen pod adheres to it. The wasp then flies away and,
if it sees another similar orchid, attacks again. But
this time its stinger deposits the pollenate from the
first orchid on the second. Angleton explains, " provocation
is the means by which this species survives". Such deceptions
work in nature, Angleton explains, because the deceived
does not have the differentiate the real from the fake.
I asked if the CIA possesses that
"It had counterintelligence," he
said, speaking in the past tense.
"So did they know if Nosenko was
real or fake."
Without answering, he proceeded on
to a nearby odontoglossum orchid. He explained it blinded
its carrier through deception. Its nectar odor lured
moisquitos into its the coils of its fleshy tubes. When
the moisquito pushes around a bend it runs into a spike
of pollen pod, which jams into its eye. When it then
back out of the tube, it is temporarily blinded. So
it flies around until it smells a similar nectar and,
again, following the trail of odor into a tube, it runs
into another spike, which it willy-nilly pollinates
with the pollen in its eye. "Did you come to buy orchids?"
"I came to Washingtonton for a second
interview with Nosenko, tomorrow?" Angleton drove me
back to the Madison hotel in his silver Mercedes. On
the way back, he played a cassette of an Israel violenist
he said he had had privately recorded, Evidently, Angleton's
private world extentend to even his music. After several
brandies in the Madison bar, he asked me what I planned
to ask Nosenko.
"Any suggestions?" I replied.
He then dictated, with precision
I had never heard before from anyone, thirteen questions.
(see Missing Pieces)
They contained names and aliases I had never heard before—
Rumyanstev, General Rodin, Shitov, Colonel Semonov and
Corevan, for example, as well as KGB units like the
13th Department of the First Chief Directorate (which
was rumored to handle assassinations abroad). I wote
them down and asked if he could further elaborate.
can't do that. I would be revealing secrets. All
you need to know-- and all I can tell you is that
Nosenko never got his bona fides-- not while I was at