THE FALL OF JAMES JESUS ANGLETON
My part in the sacking of the notorious counterintelligence chief
Last week I wrote a column about my unforgettable afternoon visit more than a decade ago in London with the late Pervez Musharraf, the exiled Pakistani president who bragged to me about his country’s ability to hide its nuclear arsenal deep underground. Two days later, my colleague Jeff Stein, whose SpyTalk newsletter covers American intelligence, turned over his column to Jefferson Morley, an author who has spent decades tracking the CIA and other state secrets stemming from Jack Kennedy’s assassination onward.
Morley focused on the Biden administration, battered anew last weekend in the wake of negative polling, and its willingness to continue pretending that Israel, long known to have an undeclared but significant nuclear arsenal, has no such arsenal. His main target was the administration’s refusal to declassify 48-year old Senate testimony by James Angleton, the notorious onetime head of CIA counterintelligence. Angleton turned up recently as a character in A Spy Among Friends, a television series about the murderous transgressions of Kim Philby, the brilliant British intelligence officer who spied for the Soviet Union and conned Angleton, among others, in a long career of betrayal.
After serving in the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, Angleton was assigned as station chief for the newly organized CIA in Rome, where he had two main responsibilities: he was liaison to the Israeli nuclear program and was the main architect of the CIA’s postwar mission to prevent Italian politics from turning to the left after years of fascist suppression under Benito Mussolini. Instead, the CIA supported the two most prominent anti-communist groups in Italy: the Mafia and the Christian Democratic party. Political corruption was a staple of life in Italy for the subsequent decades.
I have a few things to add to Morley’s account.
Musharraf’s contempt for US efforts to monitor and, in his view, control Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal stemmed from his knowledge of America’s policy of denying that Israel was a member of the world’s nuclear club. In the 1970s and ’80s, various administrations ignored Congressional pressure to cut off American foreign aid to nations that sold or received nuclear processing or enrichment materials, equipment, or technology. The law was enforced, however, two times for Pakistan but for no other nation, including Israel.
In early 1978, President Jimmy Carter continued to look past the Israeli arsenal, but he did send Gerard C. Smith, his ambassador-at-large for nonproliferation issues, to meet with Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani president, to discuss secret Pakistani plans to build a nuclear arsenal. I was later told by George Rathjens, Smith’s deputy, that Zia, who had fought in the Second World War with the British Indian army, responded by asking Smith why he was not also talking to Israel. Smith was upset, Rathjens added, “but there was no way to answer Zia. No satisfactory answer. The Israeli bomb wasn’t anything people [in the Carter Administration] wanted to talk about. It was an embarrassment.” Rathjens went on to become one of the founders of MIT’s Securities Study Program and continued his research in nuclear disarmament.
In 1972, I left a swell job with the New Yorker at the urging of Abe Rosenthal, the cranky and politically conservative editor of the New York Times, to join its Washington bureau and, Abe promised, to write the truth about the Vietnam War as I saw it. He made it plain that he knew something was missing in the newspaper’s coverage. It didn’t take me long to understand why Rosenthal was troubled. I was part of the bureau’s foreign policy cluster, and, soon after we got to town, my wife and I were invited to a dinner at the elegant home of the paper’s senior diplomatic correspondent. It was there that I met James Angleton, who was at the time, as I would learn more than a year later, in charge of the agency’s illegal domestic spying program. He also was a big part of Washington’s Old Boys network. It was not merely a cliché. After the meal was served, the women were invited to gather together in an anteroom while the men attended to business. I still remember the look on my wife’s face.