Entry dated :: March 19, 1975
Washington, DC  
James Jesus Angleton:
The Orchid Man

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 Soviet Union.

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 to me.

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 toll.

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 to London.

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 mislead.

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 their agents.

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 enemy's thinking.

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 CIA.

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 Nosenko..."

He cut me off. Why don't you come with me to Kensington Orchids next time I go."

January 26, 1976, Kensington, Maryland

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 ability.

"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?" he asked.

"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.

"I 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 the CIA."



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