“Angleton is one of those people who will always be shrouded in mystery.”
When CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton died in 1987 of lung cancer in Washington, D.C., at age 69, the New York Times said, “His counterintelligence office was considered one of the most secret in the agency, and the problems it analyzed resembled the multidimensional chess games depicted in the best espionage fiction.”
He was born in Boise, his parents having met in Mexico when his father was serving under Gen. Blackjack Pershing. His mother was Mexican.
James attended a private boarding school in England (where they call them “public”) where “He learned all about snobbery, prejudice, and school beatings.” Years later he said, “I was brought up in England in one of my formative years and I must confess that I learned — at least I was disciplined to learn — certain features of life and what I regarded as duty.”
Then the family moved to Italy where his father bought the Italian subsidiary of National Cash Register Company, and later joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) — forerunner of the CIA.
Between the two world wars, James studied at Yale, became a poet and magazine editor, while hobnobbing with literary greats — American poet-laureate Reed Whittemore, physician-poet William Carlos Williams, poet-author E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot and Idaho’s Ezra Pound. Then he studied at Harvard.
Biographer Tom Mangold described him as speaking “with a slight English accent (probably not an affectation after three years in the country), and was tall, athletic, bright, and handsome … By conventional standards he was a poor student, frequently missing class, excelling only in those subjects that interested him, and occasionally failing those that didn’t.”
Tall and scholarly looking, he seemed destined to be a poet or scholar of some kind, but he ended up in the spy business. During World War II he followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the U.S. Army and was assigned to the OSS, stationed in London in counterintelligence.
Junio Valerio Borghese of the historic Italian Borghese family was an Italian naval officer in charge of an elite commando unit similar to today’s Navy Seals that made daring underwater attacks. After Italy surrendered and joined the Allies in 1943, he stayed with the Germans.
After the war, U.S. intelligence wanted Borghese for questioning. Angleton found him, promised him a fair trial, disguised him in an American uniform and drove him from Milan to Rome for interrogation.
Borghese was convicted for collaborating with the Nazis but not as a war criminal and escaped hanging but was locked up for four years.
In London, Angleton met intelligence agent Kim Philby who was being groomed to head up MI6 — Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.
“Once I met Philby,” Angleton said, “the world of intelligence that had once interested me consumed me. He had taken on the Nazis and Fascists head-on and penetrated their operations in Spain and Germany. His sophistication and experience appealed to us … Kim taught me a great deal.”
Then Philby was exposed as a double-agent working for the Russians. In 1963, Philby followed earlier British intelligence defectors Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean and fled to Moscow where he remained for the rest of his life. All three were part of the “Cambridge Five” spy ring set up by the Soviets to spy for them during World War II — the group remaining active until the 1950s.
In 1951, Angleton began contacts with Mossad and Shin Bet, the new nation of Israel’s intelligence agencies. Those ties would remain strong for the rest of his career and give him clout within the CIA and later help him expand his counterintelligence empire.
Angleton trusted no one, but he admired the intellect of Soviet KGB defector Anatoli Golitsyn and believed him when he said, “Your CIA has been the subject of continuous penetration…” CIA’s Richard Helms and FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover didn’t believe it.
Angleton was obsessed with secrecy and didn’t trust his fellow agents or the CIA’s filing system, believing the information could be stolen. He built his own power base within the CIA by keeping the most important files locked in his own office safes. Some considered him paranoid.
Nevertheless in 1954, CIA Director Allen Dulles put Angleton in charge of coordinating with his foreign counterparts, counterintelligence and domestic intelligence. His official title was Associate Deputy Director of Operations for Counterintelligence. “The Farm” could never have predicted the impact he would make.
After President Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, Angleton was told by another Russian defector Yuri Nosenko that the KGB had nothing to do with it.
The investigating Warren Commission said assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Angleton believed Golitsyn, who said the Soviets and Cubans were in on the killing. Other top U.S. intelligence officials agreed with the Commission.
In his book “The Very Best Men,” author Evan Thomas wrote that “Angleton never got over suspecting that the Russians or Cubans plotted to kill Kennedy” and believed that Nosenko was planted by the Kremlin to throw the CIA off the trail.
“But most reputable students of the Kennedy assassination,” Thomas said, “have concluded that Khrushchev and Castro did not kill Kennedy, if only because neither man wanted to start World War III.”
In 1975 after Watergate, the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee chaired by Idaho Sen. Frank Church investigated government intelligence operations. Testifying was James Angleton who had been accused of stonewalling the Warren Commission investigating the JFK killing.
What Angleton told the Commission has never been made public — but will be in October 2017.
Maybe there will be new information about the allegedly destroyed diary kept by known JFK mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer, a Washington socialite and artist who went to ritzy private schools, Vassar College and cavorted with the rich and famous.
Mary married Cord Meyer, a Yale graduate and Marine Corps lieutenant she first met in 1942 and they had three sons. One was killed in a car accident. Then the marriage fell apart, with both having extra-marital affairs. One of Mary’s was an Italian gigolo who sailed the Mediterranean with his dog and promised to marry her but then dumped her.
While raising her two surviving boys, Mary went back to painting in a garage-studio at the home of her sister, Toni, and husband Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post. Among their friends were James Angleton and his wife, Cicely d’Autremont, whom he married in 1943. She was one of Mary’s closest friends at Vassar.
All of this made Mary part of an elite social group that brought her in contact with President John F. Kennedy. Biographer Nina Burleigh wrote that Mary became “a well-bred ingénue out looking for fun, and getting in trouble along the way.”
She and JFK would meet sometimes two or three times a week in a relationship that lasted two years up until his death. She recorded the affair in a diary that would include names, and answers to questions.
Did she and JFK smoke pot, or do heroin and LSD obtained from Harvard psychology lecturer Timothy Leary? What was the Secret Service doing?
But where was the diary?
On October 12, 1964, Mary was taking her usual daily walk along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in Georgetown when she was shot twice with a .38 — in the head and the back. About 40 minutes later, Washington, D.C., Police Detective John Warner arrested an unobtrusive African-American named Ray Crump.
He was acquitted at trial — they never found the gun. To this day, many sources claim that Mary Pinchot Meyer was murdered by the CIA because of her involvement with JFK and drugs, but that claim remains unproven.
Both the Angletons and Bradlees conspired to find the diary and destroy it because of its incriminating content. They did find it, read it and then burned it. But did Angleton keep a copy before it was destroyed?
James Angleton continued relentlessly to ferret out moles in the CIA and did find some, but his power and distrustful nature made everyone at Langley nervous. Finally, in 1974 CIA Director William Colby fired him.
What more will the world learn in October?
It was an interesting life for the boy from Boise.
• • •
Syd Albright is a writer and journalist living in Post Falls. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Deception is a state of mind, and the mind of the State.”
— James J. Angleton
Spy’s kids join Sikh religion…
“The children of the notorious spy James Jesus Angleton (a sinister figure in the Meyer story and a character out of central casting who spent his days obsessively mole-hunting, and his downtime growing orchids and making trout flies) were not only completely estranged from their father, but retreated from the world to spend their lives on an ashram.”
— Biographer Nina Burleigh for the daily beast
Memoir of a CIA wife…
“There was nothing in the room except a large reproduction of El Greco’s ‘View of Toledo.’ It showed a huge unearthly green sky. Jim was standing underneath the picture. If anything went together, it was him and the picture. I fell madly in love at first sight. I’d never met anyone like him in my life. He was so charismatic. It was as if the lightning in the picture had suddenly struck me. He had an El Greco face. It was extraordinary.”
— Cicely Harriet d’Autremont Angleton
Founded in 1942, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had responsibility for collecting and analyzing information about countries at war with the United States, and also helped organize guerrilla fighting, sabotage and espionage. In 1947, the newly established CIA took over OSS operations.
About James Angleton…
“As a young man, Jim was bone thin, gaunt, and aggressively intellectual in aspect. His not entirely coincidental resemblance to T. S. Eliot was intensified by a European wardrobe, studious manner, heavy glasses, and lifelong interest in poetry.”
— Richard Helms, former CIA Director